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.
Botswana health officials have confirmed the new COVOD-19 variant, which was first found in India. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has through a press statement informed members of the public that a new COVID-19 variant (B.1.617), first discovered in India. The Indian variant was confirmed in Botswana on 13 May 2021.
According to Christopher Nyanga, spokesperson at the Ministry, this followed a case investigation within Greater Gaborone, involving people of Indian origin who arrived in the country on the 24th April 2021.
“As at 16 May 2021, the B. 1. 617 variant was confirmed in two (2) people. The clients are currently receiving medical care and remain stable with no life-threatening symptoms. The two (2) cases were part of 383 people (both Batswana and some Indian nationals) who were tested for COVID-19. From this number, 43 tested positive, with two (2) showing the B. 1. 617 variant as already alluded to. Contact tracing has been expanded in line with COVID-19 protocols. All contacts and confirmed cases have been evacuated to facility based quarantine and isolation respectively, for close monitoring,” Nyanga narrated.
The World Health Organization recently announced that the Indian Covid-19 variant was a global concern, with some data suggesting the variant has “increased transmissibility” compared with other strains.
Meanwhile in the wake of Botswana’s confirmation of the Indian variant, Nyanga reminded the public of the government intervention to control the introduction of new variants of public health concern into the country. He stated that all those who have travelled or transited through areas of high risk as previously communicated on 3rd May 2021 upon return shall immediately quarantine in a central area to be identified by the Ministry of Health and Wellness for a period not exceeding ten (10) days; Repeat Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test after seven (7) days of quarantine and be discharged as per the outcome of the results.
He said the requirements are complementary to the mandatory requirements of producing on arrival a negative PCR test not older than 72hrs from the time the sample was collected
“The public is advised to remain vigilant and minimize the spread of COVID-19 by following the already outlined preventative measures such as washing of hands with soap or use of a hand sanitizer, wearing of face masks, avoiding crowded places/social distancing and avoiding non-essential movement,” Nyanga said.
The India variant – officially called B.1.617.2 – is one of four mutated versions of coronavirus which have been designated as being “of concern” by transitional public health bodies, with others first being identified in Kent, South Africa and Brazil.
The lawyers representing former President Lt Gen Ian Khama, Ramalepa Attorneys have come forth dismissing a response letter penned down by Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) activist MacDonald Peloetletse after he was slapped with a P1.5 million lawsuit for defamation of their client.
Tebogo Tladi, an attorney at Ramalepa, said last week Thursday Peloetletse took to social media to publish a substantively false, wrongful and unlawful statement about Khama. MacDonald Peloetletse’s commentary which was posted on Gabz FM News page reads, “I am a former soldier. Everything former President SKI Khama said here is a LIE. In fact, soldiers suffered more under Khama than under his predecessors.
He actually stole money that the UN had paid to the soldiers who went for the operations and paid them less than a quarter of what was actually due to them. “Unhappy soldiers took the BDF to court and won, the BDF is still struggling to pay the debts! Khama can fool some people, but not all the people and not all the time.
“In fact many soldiers, serving, retired and those that resigned and were in the operations during Khama’s time get even more annoyed to such disrespectful statements by Ian Khama.” Khama’s lawyer says the impugned statement was published with the intention to injure his client (Khama) in his personality rights, good name and dignity, further indicating that the statement has damaged his good reputation.
“We have therefore been instructed by Client to demand, as we hereby do, that you publish on the same forum a retraction and a full and unconditional apology to Client within three days of receipt of this letter- and that you deliver such apology in a formal letter to the Office of the Former President, Dr Khama. In the event that you have not compiled with this demand by close of business on Monday 10th May 2021, our Client will assume that you have refused to comply with this demand.”
To top it all off, Khama demands that Peloetletse pay him P1.5 million in damages for defamation. “Furthermore, we hold instructions to demand as we hereby do, that you pay our Client damages for defamation in the sum of P1, 500,000.00 within seven days of receipt of this letter.” In the event that Peloetletse fails to pay the amount of damages demanded by Khama, Tladi says they will institute legal proceedings for the recovery of the aforesaid damages.
In his response letter addressed to Ramalepa Attorneys, Peloetletse said that he requests enlightenment and clarification that he be provided with proof that the allegations and comments which they attribute to him were indeed authored by him and that the platform which the comments were placed was not hacked.
“Please also advise if whether your clients has been endowed with a “special particular privilege status” that restricts the citizens of this country from commenting or responding to public statements made by your client in the course of political discourse especially when made on public forum and relate to matters of general public concern. (I trust that your brilliant legal mind is well informed with respect to the jurisprudence in such matters)”.
Peloetletse also said he would like to share with the attorneys a video which was posted on a public forum. “Please listen carefully to the conversations and discussion herein and advice if possibly such discussions form a reasonable basis for a justifiably rebuttal by any Motswana Citizen to the public pronouncements and defamatory statements made by your client about our government (bearing in mind of course a citizens constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression).’’
Consulted for further comment on the matter on Thursday after receiving Peloetletse’s response, Khama’s attorney Tebogo Tladi said the letter doesn’t hold any water. “The only way out for him is to prove the truth of the allegations on his comment or deny publication. He does not answer substantively to the defamation and does not respond to the demand of an apology or payment of damages.
So his letter really contains largely matters irrelevant to the substance of the letter of demand. His response in fact presents no legally cognizable defence at all- it would appear he responded without the benefit of legal advice, which would not be prudent for such an important case. So we will proceed to issue summons and wait to see what defences he will plead in court.’’
Botswana and Zambia this week celebrated the opening of a multi-million Dollar infrastructural project, the Kazungula Bridge, projected to contribute around P100 million annually for Botswana. This project comes after the signing of the 2012 Agreement between the two countries to construct a bridge that would ease movement of goods.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi said the Kazungula Bridge will open avenues for improved trade, job creation and economic diversification in both countries. Further, the Bridge will significantly accelerate Southern African Development Committee (SADC) regional integration agenda which Botswana and Zambia are vigorously pursuing.
“By growing our strategic partnerships through this project, we have improved the development and competitiveness of our economies to attract more private sector investment, thereby, supporting our efforts to create employment, especially for the burgeoning youth,” Masisi said at the opening ceremony in Kazungula on Monday.
The Kazungula Bridge comprises a road and rail bridge over the Zambezi River, directly linking Botswana and Zambia. It has One-Stop-Border Post facilities on both sides, which will enhance the operational efficiency at entry points, replicated on both sides of the boarder.
The Bridge was originally conceived as a critical link in the African North-South Corridor under the African Union’s New Partnership (NEPAD) for Africa’s Development programme. It has since evolved to encompass a multimodal transport plan under the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA).
The PIDA programme, which encompasses liberalisation of air travel, rail links, road, water and all other modes of transport has only one objective: to unite the States of Africa in order to foster trade on the continent
“Connectivity of our nations will in no small measure, promote people to people interactions and uplifts their standard of living. I am pleased to state that the completion of this project is a clear demonstration of our commitment to PIDA.”
The 260 million US Dollar Kazungula Bridge was commissioned by Zambian President, Edgar Lungu and President Masisi. President Lungu said the bridge was a monumental effort linking Zambia internally and externally to ease the movement of goods and services.
“I have held talks with my counterpart in Botswana that this project must run daily up to 22 hours as soon as possible and you the technocrats must not play ping-pong with us after making these public procurements,” Lungu said at the official opening in Kazungula.
For his part, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi said the project was tandem with the Africa Union (AU) goals and priority areas for Agenda 2063 which called for a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.
The new Kazungula Bridge replaces the Kazungula Ferry, a pontoon ferry across the 400-metre-wide Zambezi River between Botswana and Zambia. It was one of the largest ferries in South-Central Africa, having a capacity of 70 tonnes.
In 2003 the ferry was the site of a disaster when a severely overloaded Zambian truck capsized one of the pontoons and 18 people drowned. The accident was blamed on the lack of weighbridges in Zambia to check the weight of trucks.
In August 2007, the governments of Zambia and Botswana announced a deal to construct a bridge at the site to replace the ferry. The existence of a short boundary of about 150 meters between Zambia and Botswana was apparently agreed to during various meetings involving Heads of State and officials from all four States in the 2006-2010 period.
The route for this new bridge crosses the boundary without entering Zimbabwe and Namibia. Zimbabwe already has a bridge into Zambia at Victoria Falls, 70KM from Kazungula. Namibia on the other hand has a bridge into Zambia at Katima Mulilo about 150KM upriver.