Saturday, September 19, 2020

An elephant in the room!

For the first time since the beginning of his presidency, Ian Khama finds himself entangled in a problem out of which it will not be easy to get out.

Extra-judicial killings, especially the death of John Kalafatis, serious as they have been, pale into oblivion when put side by side with what is currently on the President’s plate.

Forget about the alcohol levy. He has annoyed us liberals. But its now water under the bridge ÔÇô probably.
The Kanye Congress, where he saw all his lieutenants lose control of the party was a turning point, but only just.

Allegations of conflict of interest leveled at Minister of Defence, Ndelu Seretse are the true test Khama has had to face since he became President.
In a big way, these allegations will go a long way in testing his character, ingenuity and sincerity.

When history books are finally written and Khama’s legacy is assessed, allegations against Seretse will be at the centre of it all ÔÇô a turning point which many will use to measure the successes and failures of Khama’s presidency.

The allegations against Seretse are the root causes of all troubles afflicting the BDP today.

For President Khama, like for the BDP, it’s a make or break time.
How he resolves these allegations will be crucial in that in here depends whether or not the BDP stays as one or breaks into two.

Led by Botsalo Ntuane, Khama’s detractors inside the ruling party have been quick and smart enough to seize on the allegations.

They are using them not just as their rallying cry but also as defence against all charges they are facing.
Ntuane and his followers may be playing victim, but there is much bigger plot to it than that.

In every way, they are taking the fight to the president. For the first time Khama finds his very survival as State President put to the test.
They want to lay bare his double standards, most importantly, his inability to be even handed in dealing with all the party members.

“The President cannot be trusted because he has his favourites, on whom the principle of Discipline does not apply,” Ntuane’s crowd has been insisting.

Khama’s disinterest, or should we say, refusal to promptly engage with the matter has been shocking.
The result, not altogether surprising, has been the fuelling of all sorts of conspiracy theories.

There are suspicions that Seretse is not alone, that what his company is doing is actually widespread among cabinet ministers.

Taking action against him or his company may possibly lead to denting colleagues’ reputations ÔÇô a case of not allowing oneself to die alone. Or should we say a fall guy!

That accounts for Vice President Mompati Merafhe’s nasty project to kill Dumelang Saleshando’s motion on MPs declaring their assets and interests; it is basically a case of those who live in glass houses being scared of throwing stones.

But still, Ndelu Seretse, if truth be told, is a much better minister than many of his colleagues, at least on paper.

Up until the charges of conflict of interest came his way, there really was not much his critics could consistently hold against Ndelu, save of course perennial accusations that he is a former army man, an insider and right hand man who also happened to be the President’s cousin, all of which, to be fair to the man, had nothing to do with abilities as a minister of state.

But hell broke loose when we learnt from The Voice Newspaper that a company owned by Seretse had been doing business with some departments that are under Seretse’s direct supervision.
A friend of mine says if the allegations are true then Seretse is guilty of what he calls “legitimized corruption”.

“This type of conflict of interest is called ‘self-dealing’. It refers to a case in which an official who is in charge of an entity causes it ÔÇô directly or indirectly ÔÇô to enter into a transaction with the said official or with an entity that benefits that official.”

It will be interesting to see how Seretse, an attorney by training, will answer to charges that allowing his company to do business with departments he supervises, he is effectively on both sides of the deal.

But then Seretse says he has declared his interests to the President.
“No, that is immaterial,” continues my friend, a greater man with a much sharper intellect than myself.

“Disclosure or declaring his interests does not apply. A leader who does not want to sully his integrity avoids doing business with an entity he is in charge of. His juniors will be afraid of denying his company tenders for fear of reprisals.”

That expos├® by The Voice Newspaper is at the centre of all the tensions today bedeviling the BDP.

It is proving an amazing test of character not just for Minister Seretse, but also, perhaps more importantly, for President Khama.
There is no questioning that acting against Seretse will not be easy.
A senior minister who is also a key member of Khama’s inner circle, Seretse no doubt knows where the bodies are buried.

Taking action against him may provide bigger problems for the President, including not just spilling the beans but also turning the tables around.
But silence can only breed a culture of impunity. The kind we see in many African countries.

For President Khama, there is not much of an alternative.
He should bite the bullet and address the matter head on, even if it means dismantling old loyalties.
Otherwise the wound will fester on, until the end.

It’s an elephant in the room, and for the President there is no way out.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.