The Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgati has approved the sum of close to P130 Million to be used on the procurement of three helicopters for the air support branch of the Botswana Police Service ahead of this year’s Parliamentary budget session that starts in less than two weeks time.
Kgati authorised the use of the sum on Thursday this week, following approval by the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) early last Month.
The actual amount is Euro 11 608 800. 00 and is for the supply, delivery and commissioning of the three AS350B3 helicopters, associated accessories and services by Airbus Helicopters Southern Africa, (Pty) Ltd of France. The Air Support branch Director, Arthur Johnson confirmed in an interview this week that, the Police management would be meeting with the supplier on Monday next week at the Police Headquarters in Gaborone to finalise the agreement.
“We are negotiating and signing the contract on Monday. Of course that would be subject to agreement,” Johnson explained.
Currently Johnson’s branch which is located in the capital city Gaborone is operating with just two helicopters after another one perished in a horrific crush in the Maun area in April last year and killed three senior police officers including its pilot.
The two helicopters cater for all Police operations and cover the whole country hence Johnson has ordered the workhorse helicopters of powerful high-performance. Information retrieved from Airbus helicopter website suggests that the AS350B3 is designed to carry out the most demanding missions in the most extreme weather and geographical conditions and has exceptional lifting capability, high endurance, extended range and fast cruise speed which makes it a leader in its class.
In fact the helicopter of Johson’s choice holds a world record after it climbed to 3,000 meters 9,900 feet in two minutes twenty-one seconds and landed on Mount Everest a few years back.
According to its supplier, the AS350 B3 has over the past decade become the reference helicopter for airborne police units in the Sub-Sahara Africa where law enforcement agencies in Angola, Namibia and South Africa have also selected them due to its outstanding capabilities.
However it may take about a year before Johnson’s order flies the skies of Botswana due to processing requirements.
“These things take time. As you may be aware, we are not going to pay the whole procurement amount at a go. We pay for one service at a time until after delivery, that is when we do the final payment,” Johnson explained further.
The Air Support Branch was formed in 2009 to help combat the escalating crime and road accidents to enhance efficiency and effectiveness of the Police service around the country. Its operations include response to call out, emergencies, monitoring of public gathering and big events, searching for missing persons, aerial photographs and videos, rooftop searches, borderline patrols and disaster rescue.
The government has reportedly missed out on an opportunity to secure 2 million doses of AstraZeneca, following efforts made by Batswana living in the diaspora to negotiate the deal for their besieged nation.
The humanitarian gesture spearheaded by Batswana in the diaspora — who say they are concerned by the high mortality rate locally — has not been warmly welcomed at the government enclave.
“We are losing our relatives, friends, and associates. Based on the network we have cultivated over time, we negotiated an offer for Botswana so that the leadership may be aware of the availability. These samaritans engaged directly with the supplier to buy because you ought to be connected for you to secure vaccines right now. It is not the question of having cash power; the demand is high,” one of the negotiators told this publication.
Information received by WeekendPost shows a country leadership that looks somehow lax in engaging the suppliers and has no pressure to procure vaccines – this is evidenced by several correspondences between some ambassadors and the negotiators seen by this publication.
“I am still trying to get the powers that be at home. HE’s (President Mokgweetsi Masisi) mobile is going unanswered. But usually, he will return the call. Grace Muzila (Permanent Secretary- Ministry of Health and Wellness- MoHW) is also not picking the phone. I will keep on calling. So let me get an indication from home before I talk to Jette (AstraZeneca supplier),” a correspondence from one Ambassador to the concerned connected Motswana reads.
This correspondence was the last time between the Ambassador and the facilitator who did not want to be named – arguing that he does not want to appear to be looking for political mileage on the deal.
As a matter of fact, in another conversation, the facilitator, who at one point was a cabinet minister, is quoted saying, “I have no personal benefit sir, it is information I am giving you freely. Our people are dying. I have done my patriotic duty, sir. Let’s try to source the vaccine to immunize our people.”
Desperate attempts to engage with the Ambassador hit a brick wall, with other information suggesting that the higher-ups were not interested in the deal, despite the dire need for vaccine locally.
At the beginning of the virus in 2020 here in Botswana, the same negotiators are the ones who organized donated masks for some Southern African countries.
Different Ambassadors were asked to collect masks, and the Botswana Ambassador in China organized 10,000 NK95 masks. “We do not have to make noise about it; we all have to contribute to assist our people, no political expediency,” he says.
Both the Health Ministry and OP media liaison offices were yet to respond to this publication’s inquiries on the matter despite numerous attempts to engage them.
According to the Presidential Taskforce report, Botswana has administered at least 318,107 doses of COVID vaccines. Assuming every person needs two doses, Botswana is estimated to have vaccinated about 6.9% of her population. Botswana has a population of around 2.5 million people.
The available AstraZeneca doses negotiated for Botswana have since been offered to other countries that demonstrated a desire to buy.
Botswana is currently struggling to immunize the citizenry as a lack of connection globally to convince the manufacturers to prioritize her. In his tours to various health facilities last week to appreciate the vaccine rollout program, President Masisi said the vaccine is costly and scarce. He also revealed how the COVAX facility failed Botswana.
“As third world nations, we poured money into COVAX to buy only to learn that they are tricking us, there is nothing. We now have to look for funds and buy the available vaccines,” Masisi told residents of Ramotswa.
COVAX is a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines directed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
COVAX coordinates international resources to enable low-to-middle-income countries equitable access to COVID-19 tests, therapies, and vaccines. By 15 July 2020, 165 countries – representing 60% of the human population – had joined COVAX.
As of 11 April 2021, COVAX has delivered 38.5 million doses, falling well short of 100 million promised doses by the end of March 2021. And as of 6 July 2021, 100 million doses have been delivered.
HEALTH MINISTER SAYS NO TO SPUTNIK
Following the AstraZeneca fiasco, the concerned Batswana once again reached out to the Assistant Minister of Health, Sethomo Lelatisitswe, on the prospects of the Russian medication of Sputnik V. The vaccine is currently used by 70 nations worldwide in the fight against the pandemic, and it is one of the first to trial to fight COVID -19.
Like AstraZeneca, the Minister is not keen on the medication, which he admits in one of the exchanges with the negotiators that WHO has cleared it. The main reason why the Minister threw the Sputnik idea into the dustbin is that it “is not registered as yet by Botswana Medical Regulatory Authority (BOMRA).” Further, even saying the manufactures of the drug should come and convince them as authorities why they should procure the vaccine. The Minister could not respond as to whether BOMRA will evaluate the use of Sputnik in Botswana and whether it is possible for them to carry trials here.
SoE IS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
There is a growing concern from those sourcing assistance from affluent nations, expressing concern over President Masisi’s continued State of public Emergency (SoE). They argue that the Health Ministry’s hands are tied hence unable to make decisions because Masisi is the only man who can take decisions during the State of Emergency. “We can excuse the Health Ministry because decisions are mostly taken at Office of the President (OP). Therefore, if they do not see the need for patriotic assistance, then let it be, but our people are perishing the hurtful thing. We will keep on trying our best from our networks here for our people,” adds the facilitator who is currently in the Middle East.
Last week, Lelatisitswe told parliament that the government expects around 380 000 vaccine doses in the coming months to immunize Batswana. However, the doses are a far cry from what reality dictates on the ground.
A heartfelt message of good wishes from Minister Mmusi Kgafela to his self-exiled brother and Bakgatla paramount chief, Kgafela Kgafela II, this week urged the latter to consider calls for his return to Botswana to visit his tribe and family.
“On behalf of our father’s people, your people, I wish to inform you that Bakgatla are thinking of you, and they miss you dearly. They request that you should find time to visit them. Please come to Botswana to spend some time with them, to see and greet them,” said Mmusi as part of his 50 years birthday message to Kgafela Kgafela II, who has vowed never to set foot in Botswana.
However, Mmusi Kgafela did not shed light on how his brother will deal with the arrest warrant, which triggers once he sets foot in Botswana.
The Bakgatla Kgosikgolo, who went on a self-imposed exile in 2012 to South Africa, faces a decade-old-plus warrant of arrest issued by the Village magistrate court after his non-appearance in Court over criminal charges relating to flogging of his subjects. Kgafela described the charges as ‘political persecution’ before jetting out to his second home in South Africa, Moruleng, where he is also a Chief.
Asked over his views on the complications around the warrant of arrest, Mmusi, a lawyer by training, said, “what people need to understand is that a warrant of arrest is not a prison sentence.”
He continued: “There is a need for reconciliation and discussions to put all these issues behind us. We need to move on. What I have also realized is that the state is not keen on pursuing the matter as they have not sought his extradition,” he said.
In 2017, the then Minister of Defence, Justice, and Security, Shaw Kgathi, told Parliament that the arrest warrant issued against Bakgatla Kgosi-kgolo is still valid.
“….because a Court order once issued remains valid and enforceable unless it is rescinded by the Court that issued it, in this case being Village Magistrate Court. It may also be revoked by a higher court being the High Court or the Court of Appeal,” Kgathi said.
As things stand, the Government will arrest Bakgatla Kgosi Kgafela II if he crosses over to Botswana, Parliament heard.
Kgathi responded to a question by the then Mochudi West Member of Parliament, Gilbert Mangole, who wanted to know if the arrest warrant imposed on Kgafela was still valid. Further, he wanted clarity on what it would take for the Government to trigger the removal of the warrant to enable Kgosi to visit his tribe in Botswana if he so wishes.
Could Mmusi be under pressure to facilitate Kgafela’s return?
Although Mmusi denies the claim, some royal sources opine that he (Mmusi) is under pressure to help President Dr. Mokgweetsi Masisi fulfill his 2019 electoral campaign pledge to the tribe. The President had pledged that he would “not rest until their chief, Kgosi Kgafela Kgafela II, is back home.”
Mmusi, however, says Masisi has not personally engaged him on Kgafela.
Kgafela’s former lawyer, Advocate Sydney Pilane, has in the past told this publication that he suspects that as the leader of the BDP, President Masisi hopes that if he brings Kgosi Kgafela back, BaKgatla may be grateful to the BDP, and benefits might accrue in consequence.
While Mmusi says the matter will need to be discussed and dealt with, private attorney Kgosiitsile Ngakaagae who was prosecuting Kgafela, warned that there is nothing to address or facilitate.
“There is no need for political intervention. Kgosi Kgafela is officially a fugitive from Justice. It’s for the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to issue a nolle prosequi (we shall no longer prosecute) to enable his return. Constitutionally the DPP cannot be dictated to by politicians. The matter is beyond the President unless he violates the DPP’s constitutional mandate,” charged Ngakaagae.
“An arrest is intended to bring someone to Court. Secondly, a party who has become aware that a warrant has been issued against them can apply to Court before it is implemented for it to be discharged.”
The only option for the state currently, which the state is reluctant to pursue, is to drop the charges and withdraw the warrant of arrest or decide on a deliberate non-enforcement of the warrant, according to lawyers who spoke to this publication.
In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa recently told his parliament that the deployment of his army to Mozambique had cost close to a billion rand, with the exact figure placed at R984,368, 057. On the other hand, the Botswana government is yet to say a word on their budget concerning the deployment.
In his National Assembly report tabled last week Tuesday, Ramaphosa said:
“This serves to inform the National Assembly that I have authorized the employment of 1,495 members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) for service in fulfillment of an international obligation towards SADC, to assist Mozambique combat acts of terrorism and violent extremists in the Caba Delgado province. This deployment had cost close to a billion rand, with the exact figure placed at R984,368,057.”
The soldiers, he said, are expected to remain there for the next three months.
Botswana, however, is yet to publicize its expenditure. Asked by this publication over why they have not and whether they will, the Minister of Defence, Justice, and Security, Kagiso Mmusi, said they would when the time is right.
“As you may be aware, nobody planned for this. It was not budgeted for. We had to take our BDF resources to Mozambique, and we are still doing our calculations. We also need to replace what we took from the BDF to Mozambique,” he said.
This week, President Dr. Mokgweetsi Masisi revealed that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Botswana government would share the sustainment of the Mozambique military combat deployment. SADC has given Botswana its share to use according to its needs.
The costs in such deployments are typically categorized into three parts-boots on the ground or handling the system, equipment, and operational sustenance logistics.
It is unknown how much combat pay, danger pay, or sustenance allowance the soldiers will get upon return. However, President Masisi has assured the soldiers that they will get their money.
Masisi has said deployment comes when the country is faced with economic challenges that have been exacerbated to a great extent by the COVID-19 Pandemic, which is inflicting enormous health, financial, and social damage to all nations.
Botswana has sent 296 soldiers who left on Monday to Mozambique to join the SADC standby force.
Parliament fumes over being snubbed
In the 1994 Lesotho mission, the Botswana Parliament was engaged after the soldiers were long deployed. A repeat of history this week saw members of parliament grilling the executive over snubbing parliament and keeping it in the dark about the Mozambique military deployment.
Zimbabwe pledges 304 soldiers
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has pledged 304 soldiers to the SADC Standby Force Mission in Mozambique to train an infantry battalion-size unit at a time, Defence and War Veterans Affairs Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri has said.
In a statement to journalists, Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri said the contingent would consist of 303 instructors and one specialist officer to coordinate the SADC Force Headquarters in Maputo.
Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri said that in terms of Section 214 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, Parliament would be informed accordingly.
During the Extraordinary Summit of the 16-member regional bloc held in Maputo, Mozambique, last month, member states resolved to deploy a force to help Mozambique contain insurgency in its northern provinces where terrorists have left a trail of destruction that also threatens regional peace.