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.
The Minister of Justice, Machana Shamukuni says the search to appoint the Ombudsman and other critical heads of department is currently ongoing and the process is expected to be completed before end of the year.
The Ombudsman position fell vacant almost five months ago after Augustine Makgonatsotlhe was removed from the office and appointed as Ambassador to Kuwait.
Two Batswana nationals have been arrested in Zimbabwe for illegal trade in mercury. The duo is being held together with a Zimbabwean national who is being questioned by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).
This publication understands that the suspects who are aged between 39 and 56 years hail from Tutume and Selebi-Phikwe. At the time of the arrest, they were found in possession of a pistol, bomb motor and four live rounds. It is understood that the suspects told investigators during interrogation that the deadly substance has a lucrative market in Far East countries, where the demand is high. It is further reported that the suspects claimed that the mercury can be easily accessed in mines through middleman.
The Namibian Lives Matter Movement has weighed in on the looming border dispute between their country and Botswana.
Commenting on reports that the Namibian Parliament has dispatched a committee along the border between the two countries on fact finding mission, the group commended“the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, De-fence and Security that will engage community members living along the Namibia Botswana Border in conducting public hearings into acts of aggression and brutality by Botswana Defence (BDF) Force against innocent and unarmed Namibians.”