Saturday, September 26, 2020

BDC parliamentary probe team muzzles Motlhale

The legislator who instigated the setting up of a parliamentary select committee to probe the goings on at the Botswana Development Corporation (BDC), especially the multi-million Pula Palapye Fengyue Glass Manufacturing plant, has been muzzled ÔÇô at least for now.

In response to Sunday Standard enquiries on whether, given the prominent role he has so far played in moving parliament to investigate the government-owned investment arm, it was appropriate for him to be part of the parliamentary select committee assigned that particular job, South East South Member of Parliament, Odirile Motlhale, said he had been cautioned against discussing the issue with the media.

“I have been cautioned not to make comments on the issue. I am not the one who made the appointments. Our chairman, Abraham Kesupile, and the Speaker of the National Assembly, Margaret Nasha, are better placed to answer your questions. The interest of parliament is for the matter to be handled properly and the investigation properly conducted,” said Motlhale.

Asked if he did not feel that given the information he already has with regard to what happened concerning the project, it would have been best for him to have been a witness than being part of the probe team, Motlhale flatly refused to answer making it clear that he was not in a position to comment.

“I am not going to comment. I have already made it clear that I have been cautioned against making statements to the press on the issue,” he said.

On the question of whether he personally did not feel somewhat compromised in being made to play the role of a player and a referee at the same time, Motlhale answered that it is a fact that Batswana want the findings of the committee to be credible.

Pressed further, he said he was not at liberty to comment currently and might be able to do so at a later stage.

There is a feeling that the Parliament Selection Committee compromised Motlhale by including him in the committee while he is the one who sponsored the motion which was overwhelmingly adopted by parliament to probe BDC.

“He would have been a good witness instead of being part of the team. He is being made to play the role of jury in his own matter. I think that is a bit unfair to him. The credibility of the information that he presented to parliament was going to be tested during his testimony before the committee. Now as a member he may be constrained from sharing with the committee the kind of information he has gathered on the issues,” said a judge of the High Court who asked not to be named.

“In all fairness, the people being investigated or who have been linked to the whole saga want an impartial jury to preside over their matter. The public also wants the outcome of the investigation to be credible in all aspects. Some of the people involved may later turn to the courts to challenge the impartiality of the investigating team,” said the judge.

He cautioned that parliament should have sought legal advice from its parliamentary counsel and the Attorney General to determine whether it was proper to include Motlhale in the committee given the role he has already played in presenting the motion and the kind of evidence he led during the motion.

“The information is damning and damaging. It imputes corrupt practices. Some of the culprits may end up facing prosecution based on the findings of the committee and other information unearthed by other investigating authorities”, said the judge, adding that Daniel Kwelagobe and the late Peter Mmusi took the court route when they felt the Kgabo Commission had been irregularly conducted.

“The public does not want a repeat of a similar blunder. I do not think it is too late to remove Motlhale from the committee at this stage because the committee has not yet started its work. That will give it a certain measure of credibility which cannot be easily challenged even in a court of law,” said the concerned judge.

Approached for comment on Motlhale’s inclusion into the probe team, Nasha referred this newspaper’s enquiries to the team’s chairman, Kesupile, adding that although she is on leave she understands that the committee started to do the preliminaries of their work last Monday.

“They are still doing the preliminaries. Ask the chairman. We have agreed on one spokesperson. I talked to him and he informed me that he would be calling a press conference to update you on the issue,” said Nasha, adding that by virtue of parliament procedures, she is an ex officio member of the team.

The speaker, however, agreed that to some it may appear that Motlhale has been made a judge and a jury in his own case.

She pointed out that the people who were nominated to serve on the committee were agreed to by parliament after they were nominated by the Parliament Select Committee in which she also doubles as chairperson given her position of Speaker of the National Assembly.

Nasha said if it surfaced that Motlhale’s inclusion in the probe team is irregular, she would reconvene the Select Committee to resolve the impasse.

The probe team chairman Kesupile refused to comment on Motlhale’s inclusion save to say that, “I don’t have a comment on the members.”

With regard to the terms of reference for the investigators, Kesupile said he was constrained at this stage to release them because they have not yet finalised certain issues pertaining to the matter.

“Just be patient. We will give you the information at the appropriate time,” he said, adding that they had already started as they are doing the necessary spade work.

On whether their work will not be disrupted by the coming budget session of parliament, Kesupile said they will still continue despite the session because their work was too important to be delayed.

With regard to Motlhale’s gagging, Kesupile explained that, as a general rule, members are governed by Parliament Standing Orders and as such cannot continue to make comments while the investigation is underway.

“Any other information will come by way of our report which I hope will be made public,” said Kesupile.

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