Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Khama faces Ombudsman probe over Mosu airstrip

The Office of the Ombudsman is conducting preliminary enquiries to establish to launch an investigation into the construction of an airstrip by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) on President Ian Khama’s private land in Mosu village. Should the Ombudsman decide to go ahead with the investigations, it will seek to establish why tax payers’ money was used under the disguise of security and intelligence budget to construct the air strip. Responding to Sunday Standard queries, Ombudsman Principal Public Relations Officer Fenny Letshwiti confirmed that the “Ombudsman is still conducting preliminary enquiries, and will determine after making certain findings on whether it is necessary to investigate.” Letshwiti said no member of the Public, institution or association has lodged a complaint with the Office on the matter.

Questions have been raised as to whether parliament was aware that by approving the security and intelligence budget, it was by extension approving construction of the controversial Mosu airstrip on Khama’s land. Commenting on the issue, University of Botswana academic Bugalo Maripe said the Ombudsman Act allows the Office, on the Ombudsman’s own motion, to investigate the matter. “If there is a basis for investigation on what the ombudsman could have heard, been told or seen in the newspapers and that there is possible maladministration, the ombudsman is empowered by the Act to institute investigations,” he said. On reports that Presidential Minister, Mokgweetsi Masisi told Parliament that that the house approved the cost of the airfield through the security and intelligence budget, Maripe said since it was part of government expenditure, it should have been included in the February national budget.

He expressed shock why the budget was hidden under the intelligence budget saying construction of an air strip is not s security issue. “The budget for the airstrip was made under the Security and Intelligence budget. Is the airstrip an issue of security? This is an area where there is possible maladministration in handling public funds,” he said. “Why hide the budget for the airstrip under the budget for the security and intelligence? This is because the Security Act does not allow them to answer questions from the public. It is wrong to hide issues under the Security Act,” he said. Maripe said if indeed the budget for the airstrip was an entitlement to the President as Masisi stated, then the budget for the airstrip “should have been a normal one”.

“The reason they included the budget for the airstrip under the intelligence budget was because they wanted to avoid questions as they would cite security considerations,’ said Maripe adding that the National Security Act was being abused. When responding to a question from Gaborone Central Dumelang Saleshando, Masisi recently told Parliament that the budget the construction of the airstrip at Mosu was provided for in the budget that was approved in Parliament. “But, because it is provided for, we withdraw it from savings and that is why we save so much money by not taking it out to tender. So, it will be paid for, because it is an entitlement of His Excellency the President. And I can confirm to this house that the money to pay for this airfield will come from the Ministry of State President’s finances,” he said. Unlike other expenditures associated with President, presented to Parliament, Masisi said with issues of security “we do not detail that we are going to do this and this with that, as you would do, for instance, with the transport of the President.”

Therefore, Masisi said the airstrip at Mosu was being constructed by personnel and machinery of BDF as an exercise and measure of utmost frugality. If the airfield was to be constructed in the open market, using prices in the open market, he said it was roughly estimated that it might have cost anywhere between P6 million to P10 million. Therefore, frugality by the BDF and the government, led by the Botswana Democratic Party, Mr Masisi said “thought it best to engage BDF personnel whose costs would be the cost of operating the machinery, maintaining it as the personnel are in there.

“It also assist with their own training- as a core of engineers are so doing. And all it is doing is digging up gravel and compacting it. Its gravel airfield approximately 30 metres wide and about a kilometre long- 1000 metres. So, that’s what is involved in this exercise,” said Masisi.

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