President Lt Gen Ian Khama has explained why he will not rush to dismiss or suspend an official who is a subject of investigation or is faced with answering charges in a court of law.
In an interview tackling a wide range of issues with this publication on Friday, President Khama candidly opened up on his current and former ministers who had been subjects of investigation and or faced corruption charges. He said it is a subject that he has given thought to and ended up leaving it to an individual involved to make a decision. Along the way, the President said he has made certain observations.
MINISTERS AND CORRUPTION He said there have been three cases involving ministers and in all cases, it is either the charges were dropped or the cases dismissed. He said the principle of innocent until proven guilty should reign supreme because removing someone from their position on the basis of untested allegations has the potential to destroy careers and reputation. He pointed out that there was a case involving the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Kenneth Matambo in which he was ultimately cleared.
“The Minister was being accused of things that happened while he was still at the Botswana Development Corporation (BDC), he was confident that he has not done anything wrong. I agreed with him that he is innocent until proven guilty. As we all he was ultimately acquitted.”
The President gave the example of another former Cabinet minister who quit his post following allegations of corruption and the charges were later dropped. He said the minister involved lost his job and his career was derailed. There was another case of corruption involving a minister and the matter was dropped again.
Khama said these precedents more or less support the notion that someone is innocent until proven guilty. He said there is no need to be quick to destroy people’s careers before allegations against them are tested.
Khama said this is the case with the Director General of the Directorate on Intelligence and Security (DIS), Isaac Kgosi. He said there are allegations which were made against Kgosi and contact was made with the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and indicated that they were investigating. The President said they are still waiting on the investigation from the DCEC. He said there is no reason to suspend or dismiss Kgosi on the basis of an investigation.
GENERAL VIEWS ON CORRUPTION The latest corruption index by Transparency International ranks Botswana as the least corrupt country in Africa and is faring favourably on the international scene. Khama said it is unfortunate that there are those who downplay these ratings where as they cannot produce any proof to the effect that the rankings are wrong. He said corruption like any other crime is under surveillance in Botswana.
He said it matters what government is doing to fight corruption. He said Botswana has set up the DCEC, anti-corruption units in Ministries to reduce the opportunities of corruption finding room; agreed to have specialised judges to handle corruption cases; have a specialised team to handle corruption cases at the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP); and there is also an Anti-Corruption Curriculum in schools. Khama said these are indications that his government is determined to fight corruption.
President Khama also weighed on the criticism that the corruption busting bodies only target “small fish”. He said under his watch he has seen ministers being charged and cleared by the courts. He said Ministers make declaration of assets to him in writing and he keeps the register. He said this helps to avoid conflict of interest.
The President also spoke on other issues ranging from party politics to government’s relationship with civil service unions.
OPPOSITION MP WALK OUT Although the President was not privy to the details as to what could have led to the walkout, he indicated that it is important for the opposition to appreciate democracy. He pointed out that as the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), they have a two-thirds majority in Parliament, and when it comes to voting those in minority will always come out second. He buttressed that they are determined to cooperate with the opposition parties to advance ideals that will “take Botswana forward”.
PUBLIC SERVICE UNIONS Asked whether the stance he took to heed the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) invitation to address their congress actually set the tone of his relationship with labour unions, the President indicated that “government has always been willing to work with unions.” He said they had only expressed misgivings about unions that adopt a political agenda.
He gave the example that one of the Federations (Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions) had taken a decision to support a particular party (the Umbrella for Democratic Change). Khama said as government they are of the view that unions should focus on the welfare of their members and advance their course in relation to their welfare. The President also responded to agitations that he has adopted a divide and rule attitude towards unions.
“I am not applying divide and rule, I was invited by BOPEU to come and address them at their congress. But I must point out that this does not necessarily mean that I will attend events of all the other unions because I have a schedule,” he said.
The President also indicated that he will be careful not to be invited to an event that could potentially turn into a shouting game. He said there is no way that he could be dividing unions, instead they have divided themselves. Khama’s view is that the unions are just too many; in most cases they duplicate the same duties of serving a similar constituency. He cited teachers’ unions as an example – “they have about three unions, if I recall,” he said.
He proposed that they could form one strong union representing all cadres. Under the current circumstances, Khama said unions are only dividing themselves.
He said unions must disengage from active politics to lay the foundation for constructive engagement with government. He said there is a new Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, a new Permanent Secretary to the President and a new Permanent Secretary – a good platform for new beginning.
Khama said government is more than willing to negotiate with unions, “not only at the Bargaining Council, we can also invite them here to engage more and take up our agreements with the Bargaining Council”. He cautioned against politicising unions, and further pointed out that there are union leaders who are using the platform to advance their political affiliations.
RELATIONSHIP WITH FORMER PRESIDENTS According to Khama, he tends to be amazed by some of the reports he sees in the media. “Sometimes, they write as if they are my eyes, ears and they are in my brain, they do not even ask us the material they write about.”
He said it is disturbing for untruths to be written about him and former Presidents like Dr Festus Mogae. He said he has served under Mogae as his Vice President and there is no way that he would not engage the former President, either formally or informally. He indicated that he has a good relationship with Mogae, “I have met several times this year,” he said.
Khama was quick to admit that there are opinions that Mogae can share with the public, “he may have views divergent from mine, but that does not mean that we are not in a good working relationship,” he said. He spoke out strongly against what he termed manufactured stories in the press and encouraged the media to focus on “sharing news and not untruths”.
POST ELECTION FEVER The President said he has the confidence that Batswana as a nation used to participating in elections, will revert back to their normal day to day business following political party campaigns. He acknowledged that politics has the potential to polarise a nation, but based on precedent, he said Batswana have always dealt with post-election period very well. “It is business as usual after elections. You should note that as a government we also do not rollout developments according to political lines,” said the President.
BDP CONGRESS: HOW INVOLVED WILL HE BE? Khama said like all the years, his interest will be to ensure that the process and the outcome do not divide the party. He said any event that has an election has the potential to divide. He pointed out that he is ready to work with whoever will be elected to govern the party.
He said in 2009, the BDP lost about six or more constituencies as a result of disgruntlement emanating from primary elections; therefore he does not want differences resulting from congress elections to divide the party. He said he has already observed that there is some ongoing posturing ahead of the congress and if the atmosphere gets toxic the leadership will step in to address it and restore order. He said as a party they want to manage their differences in an orderly fashion and avoid bickering.
Khama also clarified on the issue of Vice President assuming the role of chairman, he said the arrangement was never cast in stone. He gave examples that he did not become chairman for five years when he was Vice President and that former Vice President Mompati Merafhe was never chairman of the party. We had inquired if the loose arrangement shall hold under current Vice President Mokgweetsi Eric Masisi. Khama said the Vice President will look at his roles and determine if he wants to run for chairman. But in essence it is an open race.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.