Opposition Members of Parliament are not ready to let go of the controversial multi-billion pula military spending. Opposition firebrands, Dithapelo Keorapetse and retired Major General Pius Mokgware evoked new perspectives to the debate when responding the State of the Nation Address (SONA) recently in parliament.
The Youthful Selibe Phikwe West lawmaker, Keorapetse had no kind words for what he termed a defunct National Defence Council. He also spoke strongly about the poor conditions of service for soldiers; while Major General Mokgware of Gabane – Mmankgodi constituency has a plethora of questions and wants the history of of procurement at the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) probed.
Furthermore, the two law makers want careful watch on the future multibillion pula purchases since the defence and security’s 22 billion pula budget has been approved for the National Development Plan 11 which will run for the next six years. The former army general observes that the BDF has been questionable from the time when President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama (then Brigadier General) was overseeing the procurement when he was Lt General Mompati Merafhe’s Deputy Commander under the Chief Command of his Father, the late Sir Seretse Khama the then first President of Botswana.
Mokgware’s argument coils around the millions of pula worth of tenders awarded to a logistics company named Seleka springs, which is associated with Dr Ian Khama’s brothers, Antony & Tshekedi Khama, now Minister of Natural Resource Wildlife & Tourism and the other a millionaire business mogul. Furthermore Mokgware told this publication earlier this week that more oversight has to be channeled towards the purchase of the supersonic arms of war and gripens.
“Now more billions of taxpayers’ money will be chewed up in the NDP 11 towards purchase of these military gadgets, more public funds will be embezzled on unproccedural BDF procurement tendering,” he said. Opposition cites an example of 1998 procurement. “In 1998 BDF acquired over 90 SK 105 tanks, including recovery armored and command vehicles, from Austria these were obsolete vehicles, they were overheating and could be good for very cold climates and not our semi-arid land or hot climate. It was for all intends and purposes a fraudulent procurement which couldn’thelp the BDF meets its operational needs, consequently putting our armored regiments at risk’’.
For his part the Minister of Defense Justice & Security, Shaw Kgathi continues to justify the expenditure as meeting the ever evolving security vulnerability of today‘s advanced crimes and terrorism. He labels Mokgware an “irresponsible leader”. He says these alleged unprocedural acquisitions could have happened right under his nose when he was still with the army.
CAPTURED & TOOTHLESS DEFENCE COUNCIL
The Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse observes that Botswana’s defence constitutional framework is rotten. He singled out the Defence Council which he labelled toothless and captured by the Presidency which is given absolute powers by the same constitution.
Keorapetse argues that the Defence Council is useless and incompetent as an institution mandated with defence and security oversight. Deliberating on the ineffectiveness of the Defence Council in a communiqué he sent to the WeekendPost, Keorapetse states that “Section 8 of the Botswana Defence Force Act establishes a Defence Council and the lack of functional clarity has been decried by many analysts.
The President as the Commander in Chief appoints members of the council and the Commander is an ex officio member. Keorapetse is of the view the legislators should have more say on the operations of the Defence Council. “Parliament also has a member in the Defence Council and this member has, since the president decided to appoint an MP to the council, always been picked from the ruling party side and the reason remains a myth. It is our considered view that the same principle applied on the chairmanship of the PAC should be applied when appointing an MP member of Defence Council,” he explained.
DEFENCE SPENDING AND QUESTIONABLE PROCUREMENT
According to Keorapetse, the BDF is under siege from vultures masquerading as military hardware suppliers. He observes that procurement is forced into BDF by the well-connected middle men who want to enrich themselves in many cases against the advice of defence experts. “What is procured by the BDF sometimes is unneeded; there is a need for a forensic audit and corruption investigation into all BDF major arms acquisitions,” he argues.
The Selibe Phikwe West MP says the armored regiments are supposed to be battalion size formations equipped with battle tanks including challengers, recovery and command vehicles, but currently and for many years Botswana has been with ill equipped armored regiments and the BDF is now trying to acquire 45 8by8 General Dynamics Piranha Armored Vehicles (and MDA air defence systems from Switzerland)to equip its armored personnel.
Botswana is currently negotiating for Saab Gripen multirole jet fighters which will cost the tax payer between 16-18 billion or US$1.4 billion-1.6 billion). That there were negotiations was confirmed by Sweden’s Defence Materiel Administration (FMV). “Why does Botswana want to invest in reach or a third layer of air defence without adequate first and second layers?” quizzed Keorapetse.
He further explains that are the BDF air defence guns are dead, anti-aircraft missiles are decommissioned and the army is grappling with obsolete avionics. The Gripens can reach Abuja (Nigeria) and back without refilling. “Who do we want to reach that far?” Keorapetse threw in a rhetorical question calling for arms investment that is up to date with evolving technology and ICT: “Why not invest in radar systems and other technologies to guard our airspace rather than spending on luxury? These fighter jets will only be used during BDF day celebrations, apart from training, he says.
The Legislator says the BDF needs multipurpose helicopters which can be configured according to situational needs. He adds that it also needs ordinary military vehicles for transporting soldiers in operations.
POOR CONDITIONS OF SERVICE FOR SOLDEIRS
Keorapetse, who is also the BCP spokesperson shared on Tuesday that he is surprised that the government spends on arms hardware while soldiers are unmotivated and serving on poor conditions. ”BDF men and women in uniform are unmotivated because of poor conditions of service; they are poorly remunerated; are promoted after longer periods of time, if they are lucky to be promoted; and are seldom debt free. There is no special pay model or X-Factor for the soldiers,” he observes.
According to Keorapetse the BDF continues to ignore a White Paper Authorizing unitary pay structure, urging that the pay structure must be implemented. “Training and development is slow for some and absent for many. Some officers live in tents, others in ramshackle like structures called zozos; while many live in deplorable 100 men blocks and others, including those that are married, live in shared accommodation.”
Keorapetse further points out that career development is a challenge at the army. He explained that there are soldiers who haven’t been promoted for over ten years. Training, including attainment of academic and other qualifications is slow, the MP alleges further citing that selection for training and development is not systematic: “it is haphazard and unfair. Self-development is extremely difficult because of the nature of military duties; some soldiers are misplaced in various units putting their careers in jeopardy,” he lashed out.
But there is one glimmer of hope according to the BCP MP. He notes that government must be commended for setting up the Defence Command and Staff College including the building of the facilities at Glen Valley as well as the engagement of the University of Botswana (UB) for Post Graduate Diploma and Master’s Degree in Defence Strategic Studies. He further advises that government should set up a BDF training academy under the Force Training Establishment and improve the Junior Command at SSKB and Flying school/training at Thebephatshwa air base.
“There is serious shortage of uniform and some soldiers have to cut their boots to level the uneven soles of their boot and there is also basic transport shortage. He said soldiers have no voice because bargaining structures are seen as recipe for mutiny. According to Keorapetse BDF soldiers’ conditions of service must be improved as soon as possible. “The government should also open up about the Tsa Badiri Consultancy on the conditions of the BDF soldiers, we need to know what the findings were and the recommendations as well as what has been done about the report.”
Keorapetse further notes that ideally a country must keep a young motivated and disciplined army. “BDF soldiers therefore retire at 45 years or after 20 years of service or for senior officers mostly at 55 years of age” adding that consequently, former army officers end up with monthly pensions of 20%-30% of their last salary or less, instead of the ideal 75% of last salary. He argues that this condemns former BDF soldiers to poverty upon retirement.
“This is a great security threat because trained soldiers may device unorthodox means to survive including crime or worse – such as selling of military state secrets, BDF soldiers can’t operate businesses like other civil servants could do, they can go away on trips in the bush for 2-6 months.” Keorapetse boils his argument to stipulating that the alternative therefore is for them to be paid well and for the government to contribute more to their pensions.
“There has to be a robust and well-coordinated demilitarization program to integrate soldiers into society upon retirement, The BDP must get the message that a soldier remains constant, the army can change equipment or technology, but if the soldier is unmotivated it will lose battles and the war. In fact there are worries that former and serving army men may be involved in serious crimes due to poor working and retirement conditions,” said Keprapetse.
Keorapetse further delivers BCP stance as not against military spending: “we are for spending informed by thorough security threats analysis and needs assessment, most threats the country is facing are unconventional threats; they are human security threats such as poverty, unemployment, income and wealth inequalities, environmental issues and health challenges such as epidemics, he observes.
According to Keorapetse, the region enjoys relative durable peace since the fall of oppressive apartheid and the risk of inter-state total wars in the region are small to absent. ‘’We are for the reduction of the powers of the President in relation to the armed forces and the strengthening of democratic oversight of the armed forces, including parliamentary oversight of defence and security.
We are against the ensuing state capture cloaked under “addressing operational requirements” of the security sector. We are for X-Factor allowance in recognition of the unique nature of soldiering. It is important that there is reduction of Operations Other than War for the military. Soldiers must train for war during peace times and be removed from policing duties for instance. There is a need to deploy BDF in peace keeping missions abroad,” said the BCP MP.
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.
Special Economic Zone Authority’s (SEZA) P126 million Master Planning of Pandamatenga Special Economic Zones Business Case, Urban & Landscapes tender is in court after one of bidders, Moralo Design challenged its disqualification from the tender.
SEZA is transforming Pandamatenga into an Agropolis which will combine modern farming with top notch industrial, residential, commercial and recreational land use. The project is measured at 137, 007 ha which comprises of 84, 500 ha for commercial production, 12 400 ha for the subsistence production, 107 ha will be for Agro-processing while 40 000 ha will be for the Zambezi Integrated Agro-commercial Project (ZIACDP).
In their court papers, Moralo Designs, represented by Jones Moitshepi Firm, said they received a letter from SEZA on or around the 12th November 2020 notifying that their bid has been disqualified at the technical evaluation stage of the tender adjudication process.
In their response, Lonely Mogara who is Chief Executive Office of SEZA said Moralo Designs is not entitled to be heard by the court as the company never participated in the disputed tender hence SEZA knows the bidder as Moralo Design Consortium.
“Moralo Designs had failed to establish any right to be heard by the court. The fact that they had submitted a tender was not guarantee that they would be awarded the tender,” he said. “The reasons for the disqualification of Moralo Design Consortium’s bid were valid and justified because their bid was insufficient as it lacked vital information as required by the terms of reference.”
SEZA Chief said the requirements for the work plan and project programme were clearly stated in the Invitation To Tender (ITT). Moralo Design Consortium was not penalised for non-existent requirements. In disqualifying the bid by Moralo Designs Consortium, Mogara further indicated that SEZA considered that there was a requirement for a programme and work plan.
“The purported “project programme” that was submitted by Moralo Design Consortium failed to depict the activity durations, activity phasing and interrelations, milestones, delivery dates of reports and logical sequence of activities constituent with methodology and showing a clear understanding of the terms of reference,” said Mogara in responding affidavit.
He said the ITT required that there be provision of delivery dates within the programme hence Moralo Designs Consortium failed to consult with SEZA when they felt that such a requirement would be impossible to provide. He continued to say there was an avenue available when the tender was being prepared, but they failed to use it.
“Moralo Designs’ application for interim relief lacks merit and only seeks to delay SEZA from completing the evaluation and award of a tender that will serve the greater good of the nation,” said Mogara.
He went on to say Moralo Designs has no prospects of succeeding in its review application as the possibility of court granting the review are so remote in that the court does not possess the requisite technical knowhow on what constitutes an adequate work plan and what ought to be contained in it.
A bidder disqualified for failure to provide adequate information has no right to be protected by the court. Irreparable harm can only be suffered by one who has shown that there exists a right in so far as having stood the chance of being awarded the tender.
The financial benefit likely to be derived by Moralo Designs- which is highly unlikely- is outweighed by the nature of the project. In the unlikely event that the application for review is successful, they can claim for damages. The availability of such remedy weighs in favour of the interdict being refused. The refusal stands to benefit the nation more than the financial interest that Moralo Designs seeks to protect.
Moralo Designs failed to establish the urgency of their application. They waited for more than a month and half after the disqualification to approach the court on urgency. Meanwhile when delivering the State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year, President Mokgweetsi Masisi revealed that the detailed design and construction of 12 steel grain silos — with an overall storage capacity of 60 000 metric tonnes — is underway at the Pandamatenga SEZ and the P126 million project will be completed by August 2021.