Sunday, June 16, 2024

An open letter to My Dear Mr President

‘Dear Mr President, Come take a walk with me….. I’d like to ask you some questions if we can speak honestly…..How do you walk with your head held high.’ These are some of the lyrics from a song released by a singer called Pink whose real name is Alecia Beth Moore in 2006 directed at the former President of the United States Gorge W. Bush. In this song, Pink asked Bush a lot of questions. But for me, my only question is to do with you openly involved in business activities while occupying the high office of this great Republic. This issue has been raised before by other compatriots including myself. But you are resolute that you don’t violate any law by doing so because you are not precluded by any known law from doing so. Those vested with the competency and the know-how tell us that you are indeed operating within the parameters of the law. What they tell us as well is that once you took that first oath office in April 2018 and the second one in November 2019, you ceased to be an ordinary Motswana like we poor souls. Those oaths of office meant without any form of ambiguity that your only interests once therein are to promote the interests of Botswana and Batswana and nothing else. Your involvement in business is going to demand your divided attention between the myriad of problems afflicting this country and your business interests. You are very much aware that you cannot serve two masters at the same time.

When you campaigned for office last year, you promised that you were going to run a clean government grounded on the following values: good corporate governance, accountability, transparency and the Rule of Law. But once you factor in your own business interests in these values, these values are thrown out of the window. They mean absolutely nothing. Your business interests and those of Botswana and Batswana lead you My Dear Mr President, to serious conflict of interests. Merriam-Webster defines conflict of interest as ‘a conflict between the private interests and official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust.’ My Dear Mr President, you are in a position of trust yet you are deeply conflicted. I am eagerly waiting for your advisors to tell me how not conflicted you are given the current circumstances you find yourself deeply entrenched in. You will be aware that James Madison said years ago that ‘No man is allowed to be a judge in his own case because his interests would certainly bias his judgement, and not impropably, corrupt his integrity.’ I have raised the conflict of interest in your circumstances before My Dear Mr President and I am about to tire anytime soon. It is an important message just like you tell us and correctly so, to observe Covid-19 protocols without tiring. The more you harp on the message that we should observe these protocols, the more the message is driven home.  

My Dear Mr President, your office is capacitated by men and women of good standing very knowledgeable on issues of conflict of interest and moral ethics. I expect these individuals, collectively and individually, to have advised you that while you are not lawfully precluded from involving yourself in business interests, it is not tenable that you do so given the position you now hold. Either this advice was properly and honestly provided to protect you and the office you hold and you refused it or, you were misled to believe that there nothing untoward. But given the dire implications of conflict of interest as seen elsewhere, your situation cannot be any better. Given the fact that a narrative has emerged that people close to those in power are terrified to talk truth to power for fear of losing their jobs, it is very likely that they may have misled you. My Dear Mr President, you are on record to have told your Ministers in particular that they must stay very far from involving themselves in tender processes and procedures. And correctly so. These Ministers potentially own businesses which could tender for government tenders resulting in serious conflict of interes. How different are you in the context of requisite moral ethics expected from people in high profile leadership positions like yourself from these Ministers and how do you honestly expect them to accept your own situation of conflict of interest when you fearlessly defend your very own? Silently, those who are alive to values alluded to above feel hard done but cannot openly speak out because you will show them the exit door. 

In light of you involved in business interests, how do you expect to fight corruption and other forms of malfeasance when you are seemingly not above board? The purpose of business is to maximise profits where in most instances, is achieved by hook or crook as some would say. How do you expect me to believe that you won’t use your office to further the maximisation of your business interests given that institutions that could bring you to account are answerable to yourself and that you are protected by presidential immunity? The argument raised to legitimise your business involvement that you are not involved in the day to day decisions is pitifully flawed if not out-rightly disingenuous. The fact of the matter My Dear Mr President is that you simply pull the strings from the comfort of your office and your business interests are well and truly in place and above all, achieved.

Government that you lead, is the main source of high value tenders in the economic landscape of this country. The companies that you own cannot by any stretch of imagination avoid to tender for these high value tenders. ‘How do you walk with your head held high’ when your own companies get involved in government tenders whether you are personally involved or not? The end result is the same: your companies will benefit from your government’s high or low value tenders. My Dear Mr President, I thought you will take advantage of placing your business interests in a blind trust as suggested by Rre Mogae the other day. A blind trust is defined as ‘handing the administration of private business interests to a third party who in turn manages them without providing the owner of any specifics about their investments.’ And this is if properly and honestly done. In this way, you would reasonably walk with your head held high in the knowledge that you won’t be criticised for conflict of interest or moral ethics. The reason why you haven’t put your business interests in a blind trust it can be argued, is that you want to actively follow and influence such business interests to your own advantage from a vantage point of the high political office you hold. The Business Weekly & Review newspaper dated 14-20 August 2020 ran with a front page story headlined ‘Masisi Defends Himself As President And Businessman.’ The story of this newspaper if correct I must add, confirmed two key issues: that My Dear Mr President is actively involved in business and doesn’t see anything wrong with it and secondly that ‘he has successfully acquired a portion of state-owned Banyana Farms…..’

In conclusion My Dear Mr President, it is fair to conclude that the high values of good corporate governance, accountability, transparency and the Rule of Law which you passionately and fondly talked about as the ingredients you wished to spice the Botswana dish with, were just a political strategy to win elections. If these values are not espoused and promoted from the highest office of the land, where else will they be? Does My Dear Mr President honestly and genuinely expect the society at large to shun conflict of interest and embrace moral ethics for the said high value imperatives to be the guiding prerequisites for a better Botswana? It is tragic that My Dear Mr President chooses to conveniently confine himself to only the legality of his business interests while at the same time conveniently as well, ignoring the moral ethics side of the coin. Moral ethics may be an unwritten rule but a very important one that should bring us together to a point of convergence. My Dear Mr President, I am afraid and at the same time sad that you are not taking an honest walk with me as promised last year. I rest my case. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!

Covid-19 pandemic is still very much with us. Let us all observe, promote and implement health protocols. It is our duty to do so.

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