Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Beech Aircraft flies into ministry’s face at PAC hearing

The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has criticised the procurement of a P40 million executive Beech Aircraft 350 by the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism (MENT), headed by Tshekedi Khama, younger brother to President Ian Khama. 

The aircraft is said to have been purchased for use by senior and operations personnel at the said ministry. 

Member of Parliament for Tati East Moyo Guma told the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism (PS) Jimmy Opelo that in the eyes of the public, it is not a proper arrangement to purchase such a multi-million Pula aircraft. He cautioned what would happen if other ministries bought their own executive aircrafts.

The aircraft was purchased through an open international tender at a price of around P40 million, according to Opelo. 

“Public perception is that because the minister is the President’s brother, he is then entitled to this aircraft. That is the message and what the public is talking about too. Do not defend things that are not indefensible,” said Moyo.

Asked on the purpose of the aircraft, Opelo stated that its main purpose was to transport senior and operations personnel of the Ministry and Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) law enforcement officers attending to environment conservation and tourism matters, often on emergency basis.

“These include transporting ministry personnel to respond to emergencies such as outbreak of fire and emergencies related to human-wildlife conflicts,” said Opelo. 

Another issue that raised eyebrows before the PAC is the ministry’s head-hunting of pilot Les Trotter as the Head of Aviation within the ministry.  Trotter is at a salary scale of E1 (Director Level). He is a South Africa citizen. Opelo said his duties were to plan and coordinate all air support operations and maintenance services in the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

“This issue may explode and it will explode. As the PS you must advice the Minister. Proper processes of budgetary and procurement should always be followed,” said Guma. 

MP for Gaborone Bonnington South Ndaba Gaolathe questioned the budget for purchasing of the Beech Aircraft 350, and Opelo stated that it was procured by supplementary budget.

Opelo denied that the minister had used the aircraft on unofficial journeys since it was procured such as the Kasane, Sowa Town, Chobe and Bots50 flying trips.

“The reason why this aircraft was bought was because of the nature of emergencies within our ministry. Borrowing or chartering from elsewhere cause a lot of inconvenience on our side,” said Opelo.

He further said that before the ministry used to rely on BDF, Botswana Police and sometimes Air Botswana, adding that sometimes their response was slow or either not available.

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