If they want to retain their independence, Bank of Botswana must stay away from politics

08 Apr 2019

Retaining the face of Ian Khama on the P10 bill notes is no longer possible to justify.

Bank of Botswana has to make a choice; to delve full throttle into politics or to keep their independence.

They cannot have both.

At the moment the Central Bank is dabbling in politics.

And for that they will pay a heavy price – they will lose their independence.

The decision to retain the face of former president Ian Khama on the P10 bank note leaves Bank of Botswana standing on one leg.

It is a decision that can no longer be justified, much less defended.

Even in the beginning, the explanation proffered was not only implausible but bizarre – in both its childish simplicity and indeed its risibility. 

It is difficult to divorce the decision of the P10 bill note from a report by the Auditor General alleging that P4 billion has not been accounted for at Bank of Botswana.

Both smack of criminality at the very highest levels of the country’s financial sector.

In both instances any attempts to come up with answers and explanations by technocrats at Bank of Botswana only served to raise more questions and further suspicions of not only complicit but collusion too.

Retaining the face of former President Ian Khama on the P10 bill note has become a lightning rod of controversy.

Under normal circumstances, this should be a none-issue.

But there is currently nothing normal about Botswana’s political climate.

The former president is currently a key and active member of a cabal engaged in attempts to unseat his own successor.

Bank of Botswana is supposed to be a non-political state organ.

The Bank should retain on its notes faces of people that are of national consequence, not insurgents that are intent on working on toppling legitimate governments.

For as long as the face of Ian Khama stays on the P10 bank note, the Central Bank should not be surprised when from time to time it finds itself caught up in backlash that has all political undertones to it.

Short of replacing that face, no amount of explanation shall suffice.

The decision by Bank of Botswana is a genuinely eccentric one.

It is not enough for Bank of Botswana to say that it is only implementing a policy, as if that policy is ironclad or exists in isolation.

Given what Khama has been doing, it would seem like by retaining the former president on the bank note, Bank of Botswana is itself giving a helping hand to the anti-Masisi gambit.

Personally I have always admired Bank of Botswana as the bastion of intellectual gravitas in this country.

But I have also been terribly disappointed by the Bank’s detachment and elitist posture, especially from real life issues.

When it comes to its insularity and detachment, the Bank is unapologetic and supremely ideological.

I suppose the closest name that comes to mind on this posture is Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve. So they are not really in great company.

But even then, this is unhelpful and immensely counterproductive in a developing country such as ours.

Apparently the idea surrounding the P10 note is calculated as some way of demonstrating the Bank’s overzealous independence, which if true is both misdirected and misplaced.

The Bank should be able to read the public mood.

Yet it has elected to stay too close to its cold economic and statistical data and far away from the very people whose lives that data is supposed to improve.

The latest decision to retain Khama in the bill note is an outcome of flawed judgment. If not for anything else, it is enough evidence of just how the Bank has moved farther and farther away from the people and enclosed itself into its self-created little cocoon world.

The Bank has not been known to take kindly to any criticism.

There is no evidence to suggest a change of leadership has led to a change in the Bank’s demeanour.

This irascibility, which was formerly also found at the judiciary was to subtly and subliminally question the qualifications of anybody raising questions.

This makes the Bank look both insensitive and at times outright patronizing, rash and condescending.

The Bank needs to climb down its high horse and start accepting the fact that the world includes much more than just its Monetary Policy.

Even if we were to give the Bank a benefit of doubt, we cannot escape the natural conclusion that quite inadvertently the Bank has put itself on harm’s way through political expediency clothed as public policy.

The decision by the Bank lends a hand to the former president who has through his behavior acted as a counterweight to the State President.

By so doing, the Bank is abetting either by mistake or by design, moves towards two centres of power in the country.

It might well be that the Bank has explained its flawed position to Government, especially to President Masisi.

But again that is not enough and certainly not satisfactory for an institution that likes to pass itself as without any blemishes.