Saturday, September 23, 2023

Botswana opposition tag-teams with British MPs against Masisi administration

The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) is planning to cash in on British Members of Parliament’s hostility towards the Masisi administration.

Botswana’s official opposition has announced that it plans to open a new battlefront with the Botswana government and De Beers Diamond Consortium in the United Kingdom.

This follows allegations that government has pressured the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) to write off De Beers tax arrears.

Giving his official response to the 2023/24 budget speech, the Leader of the Opposition, Dithapelo Keorapetse, said UDC MPs will pursue the De Beers’ tax issue with their counterparts in UK’s House of Commons through parliamentary questions.

UDC MPs hope that the UK MPs will use the 23-year old Freedom of Information Act. In terms of the Act, British MPs, as indeed members of the public, have a right to request access to information held by public authorities. De Beers is headquartered in London and information about its taxes is held by His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the UK’s equivalent of BURS.

This will be the third time in eight months that the Botswana opposition is leveraging its alliance with British legislators against the Masisi administration.

Opposition Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Patron and former President of Botswana Lt Gen Ian Khama last July lobbied British Labour Party politician Lord Hain to raise a stink in the House of Lords against the Masisi administration.

Lord Hain used the House of Lords to pose six questions to the British government against President Masisi and his government: He asked “Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have for (1) Her Majesty’s High Commissioner in Pretoria, and (2) the Prime Minister, to meet former President of Botswana Ian Khama to discuss why he was forced to flee to South Africa”; “What assistance they will offer to the former President of Botswana, Ian Khama, in response to the treatment he has received from his successor”; “What assessment they have made of the Government of Botswana’s use of AfriForum”; “Whether the Minister for Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, during her visit to Pretoria on 11 and 12 July, discussed with the government of South Africa former President of Botswana Ian Khama taking refuge in South Africa”; “What assessment they have made of the reported attacks by the government of Botswana on the South African Reserve Bank and the South African banking system, including RBS/NatWest and Ambassador Bridgette Motsepe”;whether Her Majesty’s Global Ambassador for Human Rights and Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva will engage with Botswana’s Permanent Mission in Geneva on how the government of Botswana intends to comply with UN Special Rapporteurs’ recommendations regarding the threat to former President of Botswana Ian Khama’s life.”

Lord Hain’s questions came 20 days after former President Lt Gen Ian Khama’s visit to the UK to drum up support against the Masisi administration among British politicians.

Khama used his trip to the UK to also lobby British MPs against Botswana’s elephant trophy hunting. Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner was quoted in the British media pledging her party’s support against trophy hunting.

Indications are that former president  and Botswana Patriotic Front Patron Lt Gen Ian Khama has been able to unite British Labour Party and Conservative Party legislators against President Masisi.

In an unprecedented attack by a British MP against a Botswana sitting President, a senior Tory MP Sir Roger Gale last year called President Masisi a corrupt vandal. In an online video, and his actions led to ‘murder. ’The former vice-chairman of the Conservative Party described hunting as ‘murder’ and implied that president Masisi personally benefited financially from it.

The UDC’s latest plan to mobilize the support of British MPs  recent media reports in which, De Beers, which has always boasted about being a huge part of Botswana’s economic success, found itself in a snake pit over its taxes. A report compiled by a former South African Revenue Services employee, who now works as a consultant for the Botswana Unified Revenue Services, suggests that De Beers has devised creative if unethical accounting methods to weasel out of its tax liability to the Botswana government. Resultantly, it is said to have been able to avoid paying P4 billion over a seven-year period. The second part of the allegation is that following the discovery of the alleged chicanery, De Beers blackmailed Botswana into canceling the tax debt. Minus such action, the company is said to have threatened that it wouldn’t sign a renegotiated diamond-mining agreement. Diamonds are the mainstay of Botswana’s economy and with its control of the diamond industry, De Beers wields tremendous power and influence over the government.

Conversely, the company denies having done that and has protested its innocence through a rebuttal advertorial in the print media.

“We are fully committed to paying the right amount of tax, at the right time, everywhere we operate, and engage with the Botswana tax authority in an open, transparent and collaborative manner. The suggestion that De Beers deliberately submitted misleading forecasts for its profits, thereby reducing its tax bill, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny given that the forecasts could never have foreseen the impacts of the global pandemic or an industry downturn in 2015,” the company said in a statement.

It added that it would welcome debate on “the broader question of whether De Beers pays its fair share as a corporate citizen in Botswana.”


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