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.
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.”