The outlines of a two-year old secret relating to a political donation to the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are beginning to emerge.
Good sources tell Sunday Standard that ahead of the party’s inaugural congress in 2019 in Palapye, a deep-pocketed Gaborone businessman donated P400 000 – in cash – towards the organisation of the event. The businessman gave the money to a member who is now part of the Central Committee. While there was very clear understanding on the part of both the donor and the recipient-member that the money was being donated to the party, the latter neither declared the donation to the party nor deposited it in the party’s bank account.
The matter came to a head when the donor called the party’s founder and patron, former president Ian Khama, a few days later about the donation. He reportedly told Khama that he wanted to make “another” donation – which set off all kinds of alarm bells. Khama asked all the right follow-up questions to arm himself for an eventual confrontation with the recipient of the donation. At the party’s first Central Committee meeting, he asked the recipient about the donation in front of everybody else. The explanation for where the money went was unconvincing and promise to redirect it to the party has, to date, not been fulfilled. A source says that, on occasion and increasingly nowadays, the issue comes up at Central Committee meetings but the member has yet to repay the money.
The unusual (cash) donation is a sign of the times. Ordinarily, a cheque will be written out to the beneficiary-party but people who are deep-pocketed enough to make political donations also know what side their bread is buttered. The government is the largest provider of services and products and almost all business comes from it. As the party in power, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) doesn’t want to meaningfully share national wealth with the opposition and its supporters, lest new-found financial muscle is used to topple it.
The BDP also controls powerful institutions like the Directorate of the Intelligence and Security Services and commercial banks. The latter means that if an opposition party is suddenly awash with cash, the BDP can mobilise DISS to find out about the source of the funds. Given Khama’s status and personal animosity towards President Mokgweetsi Masisi, the BPF is of particular interest to the government. It is also generally believed that opposition funders are subjected to bad-faith scrutiny that borders on harassment – like forensic audit of one’s finances which would likely yield compromising information. Fearing this and other eventualities, most political donations are made in cash and discreetly.
The BPF donor does business with the government and a cheque from him to the party would have immediately stemmed the cash flow. He might have been subjected to scrutiny that borders on harassment. It was thus safer for him to make a cash donation because the money cannot be traced back to him.
The other factor that has motivated cash donations is that the BDP is at a point where it can lose official power on any day. As a matter of fact, some opposition parties the 2019 general election was rigged. If you donated to the incoming government while it was still in the opposition, you can expect such favour to be returned. However, the BDP is still in power and it is still good business strategy to stay in its good books. Savvy donors (most of them businesspeople) get around that little problem by playing both sides. It is an open secret that some wealthy businessmen donate to both the BDP and the Umbrella for Democratic Change.
The level of secrecy in the making of political donations has yielded accidental benefit for the BPF Central Committee member who kept the P400 000 cash donation to himself. If the party were to aggressively go after him, the identity of the donor (who did the party good) would be compromised. This apparent reciprocity gives the Central Committee little to no room for manouever.