Classified information from a 2017 cabinet meeting places President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, and the then Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi as well as Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Commander Lt General Placid Diratsagae Segokgo at the centre of the controversial Swedish Gripen fighter jets deal.
President Masisi, who is now in charge of the country has ‘repented’. With the recent developments substantiating that government has now cartwheeled on the Gripen deal, it is alleged that government is working around the clock to procure reasonably priced fighter jets of their choice. Impeccable sources within the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) told WeekendPost that President Masisi who was Vice President at the time, told a full cabinet meeting that he does not care about the costs of the Gripen fighter jets, and that they have to be procured.
Even though the debate and arguments continue about the high military spending while ordinary citizens face serious issues of poverty and unemployment, sources within the barracks say it is necessary for the military to be equipped at all times to defend both the air to air and air to ground invasion. “The State is currently faced with no military threat to warrant the purchase of high end fighter aircraft,” said the source.
A deal that went on to breakdown, nearly saw government procuring at least 16 Saab JAS 39 Gripen light single- engine multirole fighter aircrafts manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab, which was going to cost government P16 billion. However, close sources said it depends on the agreement in the contract on how the money is paid, usually the country is given a timeframe of between 3- 5 years to finalise the payment.
“While they went to Sweden, it was reported that they had three to four options, the French Dassault Mirage 2000 multirole, the KAI T-50 Golden Eagle, the German Mako fighter as well as Swiss fighter jets but they settled for the Gripens even though they were too expensive. The move was influenced by the fact that South Africa, in the region currently uses the Saab JAS 39 Gripen, a light single- engine multirole fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab”.
It is alleged that the then Minister of Defence Shaw Kgathi failed to secure a better deal with the Swedish company in his bid to negotiate a cheaper price. “At the cabinet meeting which BDF Commander Segokgo attended together with ten men from Defence Council, agreed that there is need to maintain the BDF Air Wing and Vice President Masisi supported the BDF proposal. He later agreed in principle to the procurement of the Gripens”.
In 2013 BDF purchased five PC-7MkII aircrafts from Pilatus, a company from Switzerland that has been working with the BDF since 1989, when BDF bought seven of the first generation PC-7 aircrafts. PC-7MkII aircrafts are mainly used for basic pilot training, their predecessors, the PC-7s, were also used in search and rescue roles and several pilots are said to have graduated as a result of the PC-7 training.
However, the source defended the military budget saying the military equipment by its nature is very expensive more especially the air assets. For example the BELL 412 helicopter currently costs $6. 7 million in USA while the average cost of a CASA 235 will be $34 million. The maintenance and running costs of these aircrafts which are usually used for training is very high. “The advantage of Gripens is that they come with more advanced features as compared to the F5 fighter jets currently used by the BDF”, said the source.
Former President Lt Gen Ian Khama, who was at the helm at that time refused to comment on the basis of confidentiality. Khama said even though he is a former President, he took an oath to uphold what was discussed in cabinet with confidentiality even after office. Pressed further, former President Khama said he “cannot confirm nor deny the allegations coming from the said meeting.” The Masisi led administration would later somersault on the decision to procure Gripens owing to a hostile response from the general public and criticism from the private media.
“However, government is allegedly weighing options on procurement of the next generation fighter jets, helicopters, radar systems and military armoured vehicles,” the source said. In his maiden budget speech, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka announced that the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security had been allocated the second largest share – a whopping P1.94 billion which equals to 16.14 percent – of the National Budget 2020/ 21.
The new Minister of Finance emphasized that the bulk of the budget would go to the BDF for air assets, vehicles and defence and communications equipment while the balance would be split between Botswana Police Service (BPS) and Botswana Prisons Services. Last week in his response to the budget speech -Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo opposed the budget provision for air assets for the military. Commenting on the National Budget 2020/ 21 Letsholo said the country’s peace and security is not at any risk that warrants the purchase of air assets.
He said government should reconsider and not budget for any military equipment purchases now or at least for the next five years, adding that the only budget provision for the military should be for the maintenance of existing equipment. Letsholo indicated that the most serious risk to national peace and security was youth unemployment and extreme poverty. These, he argued, were the only risks that demanded a significant chunk of the budget. “Poverty and unemployment exacerbate inequality and robs people of their dignity,” stated Letsholo, adding that it was a threat to national security.
Speaking to WeekendPost last week, Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Kagiso Mmusi stated that the nation misinterpreted the statement by Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, with regard to the contentious subject of air assets. “The budget will not be used for air crafts and Fighter Jets. I am 100 percent sure. The flying machines are not included in the air assets,” the Defence, Justice and Security Minister insisted to this publication.
He continued to explain that “air arm is a very broad sector. Some of our radars are very low. So we have to upgrade them. Because even planes cannot land safely. This means tomorrow if our pilot’s plane crashes, the public will say Mmusi is useless in his job and that we are trying to avoid that.” In Parliament, when responding to the Budget Speech as delivered by Dr. Matsheka, Mmusi also defended the budget: "I have noted misinformation and statements over the past few days with respect to the budget allocated to Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security. I wish to state categorically that the allocated funds will not be used for aircraft or Fighter Jets. The term air assets in the 2020/21 Budget Speech appears to be misunderstood, perhaps for political reasons.”
He further told Parliament that: “the amount allocated for air assets will not be used for purchasing any aircrafts but will instead go towards radar operation systems upgrades, integrated landing systems, etc. which are also air assets. As the Minister responsible for Defence, I will provide full details through my Committee of Supply speech later during the session. I want to assure Batswana that at the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, things will be done transparently and with utmost accountability."
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”