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.
Mowana Copper Mine in Dukwi will finally pay its former employees a total amount of P23, 789, 984.00 end of this month. For over three years Mowana Copper Mine has been under judicial management. Updating members, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Executive Secretary Kitso Phiri this week said the High Court issued an order for the implementation of the compromise scheme of December 9, 2021 and this was to be done within 30 days after court order.
“Therefore payment of benefits under the scheme including those owed to Messina Copper Botswana employees should be effected sometime in January latest end of January 2022,” Kitso said. Kitso also explained that cash settlement will be 30 percent of the total Messina Copper Botswana estate and negotiated estate is $3,233,000 (about P35, 563,000).
Messina Copper was placed under liquidation and was thereafter acquired by Leboam Holdings to operate Mowana Mine. Leboam Holdings struck a deal with the Messina Copper’s liquidator who became a shareholder of Leboam Holdings. Leboam Holdings could not service its debts and its creditors placed it under provisional judicial management on December 18, 2018 and in judicial management on February 28, 2019.
A new company Max Power expressed interest to acquire the mining operations. It offered to take over the Mowana Mine from Leboam Holdings, however, the company had to pay the debts of Leboam including monies owed to Messina Copper, being employees benefits and other debts owed to other creditors.
The monies, were agreed to be paid through a scheme of compromise proposed by Max Power, being a negotiated payment schedule, which was subject to the financial ability of the new owners. “On December 9, 2021, Messina Copper liquidator, called a meeting of creditors, which the BMWU on behalf of its members (former Messina Copper employees) attended, to seek mandate from creditors to proceed with a proposed settlement for Messina Copper on the scheme of compromise. It is important to note that employee benefits are regarded as preferential credit, meaning once a scheme is approved they are paid first.”
A savingram the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development sent to Town Clerks and Council Secretaries explaining why councilors across the country should not have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term has been revealed.
The contents of the savingram came out in the wake of a war of words between counselors and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The councilors through the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) accuse the Ministry of refusing to allow them to have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term.
This has since been denied by the Ministry. In the savingram to town councils and council secretaries across the country, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja states that, “Kindly be advised that the terminal benefits budget is made during the final year of term of office for Honorable Councilors.” Keaja reminded town clerks and council secretaries that, “The nominal budget Councils make each and every financial year is to cater for events where a Councilor’s term of office ends before the statutory time due to death, resignation or any other reason.”
The savingram also goes into detail about why the government had in the past allowed councilors to have access to their terminal benefits before the end of their term. “Regarding the special dispensation made in the 2014-2019, it should be noted that the advance was granted because at that time there was an approved budget for terminal benefits during the financial year,” explained Keaja. He added that, “Town Clerks/Council Secretaries made discretions depending on the liquidity position of Councils which attracted a lot of audit queries.”
Keaja also revealed that councils across the country were struggling financially and therefore if they were to grant councilors access to their terminal benefits, this could leave their in a dire financial situation. Given the fact that Local Authorities currently have cash flow problems and budgetary constraints, it is not advisable to grant terminal benefits advance as it would only serve to compound the liquidity problems of councils.
It is understood that the Ministry was inundated with calls from some Councils as they sought clarification regarding access to their terminal benefits. The Ministry fears that should councils pay out the terminal benefits this would affect their coffers as the government spends a lot on councilors salaries.
Reports show that apart from elected councilors, the government spends at least P6, 577, 746, 00 on nominated councilors across the country as their monthly salaries. Former Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso once told Parliament that in total there are 113 nominated councilors and their salaries per a year add up to P78, 933,16.00. She added that their projected gratuity is P9, 866,646.00.
A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.
The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.” According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.
“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.
Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions. It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.
“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.
Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.
Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.” It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.
According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.” Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.
It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from. “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.
Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems. It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation. Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.
It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.
“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions. Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.
“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions. Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”