Former cabinet Minister, Jacob Nkate, has said he still have presidential ambitions ahead of 2019 general election despite chickening out of Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) July Congress chairmanship race.
Nkate who had initially declared that he will contest the chairmanship in Tonota has resorted to the secretary general position where he will face the incumbent, Botsalo Ntuane and Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness, Phillip Makgalemele. In his own view, the secretary general position is more prestigious as compared to the chairmanship since the former will put him at the helm of the party and its structures.
“I decided after getting here than I can make better contribution to party in the position of secretary general as opposed to the chairman,” he told this publication in an exclusive interview this week. “It is because the secretary general is the melting pot of all issues in the BDP; you get to travel around the country to help the structures, form the structures and supervise them. I think that is something I am good at. I have done it before.”
Nkate who served as party secretary general from 2007-2009 remark that the position of the secretary general is a much more challenging position in terms of making the party a success, as compared to that of chairman. He said although he support Masisi for the chairmanship at the upcoming congress, the two of them did not reach any deal to offer Masisi free passage to the top in exchange for the vice president position in 2019.
“The idea that I have a deal with Masisi and that he will make me vice president is not true. No deal like that exists,’ he denied and added that, “Upon arriving in a country from Japan, I thought let me hear what the situation is on the ground and my conclusion was that maybe I should support him so that I do not cause too much disruptions in my party. And then we can take it from there. If between now and 2019, me and Masisi do not agree, my rights are on the table. All the options are on the table.”
Nkate stated that he decide not to challenge Masisi because his priority is 2019 but between now and 2019 he will look at the situation if the need arises for him to compete, he will compete. He said although he had made a decision not to challenge Masisi for the chairmanship, it is a good thing that they are others who have expressed interest in contesting for the chairmanship.
“It is their constitutional right, it is a good thing and it is always a good thing when an organisation of the size of the BDP goes to congress for people to express their views. The fact that I am not standing against Masisi is a personal choice and I am not going to criticise anyone for standing,” he stated. Nkate said it is impossible for a party of BDP’s size to have people agreeing all the time, noting that it is a normal thing for people to hold different views and such should be embraced.
“The BDP has 580 000 registered members in the whole country. You want all 580 000 members to agree? We will never agree. If Botsalo [Ntuane] happens to be on the other side and I am on the other side, I think it is a healthy conversation. He is a very intelligent man and I am happy to engage him,” he said confidently.
“People who say they do not want factions, they themselves are a faction. People make look bad if I disagree with others, they say I should follow blindly. It’s not going to happen. The idea that someone like me should be quiet is wrong. I am a voice and this voice must be heard,” Nkate further stated.
ON BDP DECLINING POPULARITY
The former Minister of Education is of the view that the BDP has detached itself from the citizens, something he attributes to the declining popularity of the party. The 2014 general elections dealt BDP a blow, losing unprecedented 20 seats to opposition parties and gaining a popular vote below 50 percent for the first time since independence.
‘I think the BDP needs to reconnect with the people; to have a message that resonates with the people. I do not think people are hearing us, we need to re-message and recalibrate. We need to understand what the biggest concern of the people is. We need to hear the people and people should hear us,” he noted.
“Unemployment: huge problem, we must be able to say to people what we are doing. Health; in a lot of hospitals in Botswana, people are sleeping on the floor and in passages. I am not criticising my party. I am saying let us talk about these issues.” Nkate said the entire government machinery is engulfed with problems which people are not happy about, something which he said BDP should swiftly move to address if it is to endear itself to the voters again.
“35 percent pass rate at secondary junior level is bad, people are not happy about these. We are not a corrupt country, we do not believe in corruption but there is a perception that people can do whatever they like without anything done to them. These are the issues I want my party to engage with the people about,” he remarked.
The former A-Team faction leader insists that BDP has to find its connection with the people, and for them to do that they have to allow the people to talk to them, and to believe that they are being heard: “You do that by opening your ears, opening your eyes, opening your heart. It’s all about running an effective government.”
ON GOVERNMENT RELATIONSHIP WITH THE WORKERS
Nkate opined that the government have got it wrong; the manner in which it has been handling issues regarding workers and their unions. Since the infamous 2011 public servants strike, government have had an acrimonious relationship with the unions. Botswana Federation of Public Servant Union (BOFEPUSU) resolved in 2014 for the first time to endorse opposition in the general elections. BOFEPUSU itself was instrumental in the formation of the opposition coalition, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) which now encompasses all opposition parties with representation in parliament.
“The workers of these countries are the creators of the wealth. They are the creators of the wealth that drives the country forward,” he observed. “A government that sits and sulks for five years against the workers of the country is not going to succeed, because if the workers themselves sulk the same way, then the government is not going to go forward.” The onetime BDP Youth Wing leader said that the workers are in fact the driver of the vehicle that is Botswana.
“I want a good honest conversation to take place between the government and the workers,” he said. He said during his absence from active politics as an ambassador, he was not able to advise the party because he made a point of separating himself from politics.
ON FORMATION OF BMD
Despite being at the helm of faction in the run up to Kanye, Nkate never imagined that such would lead to a sad ending. The victory of Barataphathi at Kanye Congress in 2009 set in motion a chain of events which led to the splitting of the party, resulting in the formation of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) which forms part of the UDC coalition.
“Any split, whether is in the family, in a political party, in a company, is not a good thing. Yes it hurt us,” he admitted. “I did say when Rammidi left us in Mahalapye: bad thing, I say today that was a bad thing, the formation of BMD: bad thing. One of my most important goals should I succeed as secretary general of the BDP is to bring our people back. Because I know that their philosophy is the same as mine. You cannot take that away.”Nkate admits that BDP should have handled the matter differently to avoid the split.
CRITICISM OF BCL SALE
Nkate has expressed his displeasure with the way BCL liquidation and sale was handled. “I have a criticism on the way BCL liquidation process and the alleged purchase by Arab group is being handled. I am saying, where is the information? I am also aware that government cannot negotiate on the radio or newspapers but I think the government should give us information that will let us know that there is good and honest process,” he said. “That good process should lead to positive results. I support privatisation in some circumstances and I am not suggesting that BCL deal is a bad deal because I do not know. That is the problem.”
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.