Former Gaborone North West legislator, Robert Masitara this week revealed his intention to take head on, incumbent Mokgweetsi Masisi and cabinet minister, Nonofo Molefhi for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) chairmanship bid at the July Congress because he harbours a strong ambition of being the country’s next president.
The businessman-cum-philanthropist told this publication in an exclusive interview at his home this week that he has taken the decision to run for chairmanship and also the presidency of the party in order to carry on the legacy of President Ian Khama and also fight corruption in government departments and public enterprises.
He said he should be elected to the party top post because unlike Masisi and Molefhi, he is the only chairmanship candidate who does not belong to any faction because it is necessary to have a united BDP in 2019. “After what President Khama [Ian] has done for this country in terms of coming up with initiatives and internal control systems, I think I am the only person with the expertise to take over reins to sustain his legacy,” he said.
“I will be tapping on what Khama has done and taking it further. Every country has internal control systems and there is a need to look at them. We need someone well versed with issues of corruption, maladministration, nepotism and all sorts of manifestation of corruption,” he boasted. Masitara who has been alleging that government departments and parastatals are infested with corruption has however praised Khama’s fight for corruption noting that most of the corruption did not emanate during Khama’s presidency.
“They have long been there during the previous administrations. We are starting to feel the effects of decisions which were made 10 or 15 years ago,” he argued. “I recently told a Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) workshop that most of the problems that we are facing now including those of Air Botswana, Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) and others are results of decision which were made years ago before Khama became the president. We are only starting to feel the effects now.”
Masitara is of the view that most of the laws relating to institutions like DCEC, Financial Intelligence Agency, Directorate on Intelligence Security Services (DISS) need to be recalled and taken back to parliament to be strengthened. “Now we have other manifestations of corruption which are not covered by our DCEC Act. DCEC should be equipped with vast expertise and equipment. There is likelihood in any organisation that people can be corrupted. People holding investigative powers can be corrupted. We have to make sure that these people they investigative equitably and fairly without skewing investigation because of other influences of corruption.”
Masitara revealed part of his ambition to become president is motivated by desire to uproot rot within government and parastatals. “We can only solve issues of corruption if we solve greed. We should start with elements of greed because they are precipitates for corruption. As long as we have got human elements, we will always have those characters,” he noted.
“We can solve greed by having internal controls, life skills audits within government. Some people are misplaced. They are not supposed to be where they are because they have got no expertise and experience. But through nepotism, a form of corruption they have been hired. We need skills audit in all parastatals.”
He said there is nowhere government machinery can be expected to be effective if it is led by people who are not qualified for the positions they are holding. He further contended that many ascended to those posts because of nepotism ahead of deserving individuals who can do the job better. Among the proposed reforms by Masitara is establishing a BDP committee at which quasi-government institutions will be hauled before the committee to account for financial use and their operations.
“We need to do this as a party because people are there for themselves, not to serve. BDP should start debating policies that shape government. We are people who are at the helm of government and we should own these initiatives,” he said. Masitara said corruption is the biggest threat to the country’s economic and socio progress given that fact that all other factors of progress hang on the government’s ability to have a clean and effective government.
“Issue of corruption is at the nucleus. You look at government like a matrix. Issues of unemployment will come in, issues of diversification will come. All of them hang on the ability to fight corruption,” he said Masitara further mentioned that a perfect example is the tertiary education sector where government continue to pump money year-in-year out on unaccredited courses because there are people who are benefiting from such arrangements, but government is losing big time.
“Students are graduating from schools which do not offer quality accredited courses but government continue to pump money into these institutions. Students are being taught by teachers who are not qualified, at the end of the day graduates cannot fit within the bucket because they were not trained properly,” he said.
Policy makers must use Schools, Hospitals
Masitara said one of the injustices facing the citizenship is being given poor services by the very same people whom they have chosen to govern their affairs. He said it is necessary through a piece of legislation for policy makers to use public services like schools and hospitals.
“I once stood up in parliament, it is captured even in the hansard, and said the reason why public schools are performing badly is because our (leaders) children do not attend public schools. If the laws could be passed forcing us to take our children to these schools; forcing us to use public clinics and hospitals, we will learn that things are not right, things will change drastically,” he contended. He said public schools are in a dire state because majority of the people who lead institutions are for themselves and are not committed to delivering quality services for the benefit of the ordinary citizens.
On parastatals and funding institutions
The biggest problem facing parastatals is placing of unqualified people at the helm, as well as greed and corruption, Masitara observed. He insists that the mandates of these institutions are clear but people at the helm are serving their interests. “Instead of them bringing investors for the benefit of the country, people go there to position themselves. We need to have people with the right calibre and who are qualified,” he contended.
“When I applied funding for my forensic investigation company, I got my application rejected. Because they didn’t understand the business, they said it was not feasible. That is the problem, I had to appeal. Now the company has multi-million contracts with big organisations. South Africans are also running around establishing the same business,” Masitara stated and added that, “That is the calibre of the people who sit behind the tables. We need people who are more versed with business and versed with business evaluation. Most of youth bring good ideas; they get rejected because the officers do not understand these ideas.”
Masitara said with his background as a businessman he will lead a new generation of young entrepreneurs with sustainable ideas. He said it is necessary for government to provide proper mentoring and serious partnership with youth owned companies.
Land ownership is a time ticking bomb
The former legislator has warned that one day, the country will go up in smoke if nothing is done to rectify land allocation in urban and semi-urban areas. “One day the young people will riot and take by force land which is possessed by certain people. We cannot afford to have one person owning 300 plots in Gaborone regardless he has the money and the resources. The system should cut him off.”
“Free market economy or laissez faire does not preclude us from coming up with our own laws to guard against issues of exploitation. Even if free market tells if you have money you can buy, the system should cut you off. Otherwise the money which is being laundered can be brought here to capture the whole government.”
Investigation of the politically exposed
Masitara said people will be shocked about how people who are politically exposed amassed their wealth at the detriment of the ordinary people. He said while the Declaration of Assets law is a good thing, Lifestyle Audit law is more important because it can unearth all rot because people will be forced to explain how they accumulated their wealth against their income.
“With declaration of assets, people can hide behind relatives and other people you cannot suspect such as their drivers and their maids. With the lifestyle audit there is nowhere to run to,” he said. “Politically exposed persons should be the subjects of lifestyle audit. Anyone who has political exposure can benefit wrongly from corruption activities; CEOs, ambassadors, Permanent Secretaries, Bank CEOs, MPs, Ministers and everyone who fit among that category.”
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.