Tuesday, September 29, 2020

No Government bailout for Masire. Please!

This must be a very difficult time for former President Sir Ketumile Masire. Just as he was still reeling from the embarrassment that came with revelations of his dealings with DeBeers where it is reported the mining giant bailed him out of debts running into millions of Pula, the National Development Bank (NDB) has delivered a coup de grace to his legacy. The bank is auctioning off his over two thousand herd of cattle and a tractor to settle a debt against the former president.

It feels uncomfortable talking about the sad life of a respectful statesman like Masire. This is a man who undoubtedly devoted his energies and dedicated his prime life to serving this country. He is amongst those people who have worked hard in building this country to become the beacon of hope and envy for Africa and the world. Masire was cabinet minister for some 14 years and went on to be the country’s president for 18 years or so. Now that’s long service in all respects and aspects.

Infact I was one of those saddened by Masire’s departure from the presidency. I was hell scared of change of guard in the leadership of this country. I just couldn’t imagine Botswana without Masire as first citizen. I respected him. I admired him. I simply loved Rra Gaone. I just couldn’t stop admiring an African president who could volunteer (so I thought) to step down without any bloodshed and before a coup d’├®tat could be staged against him.

It was due to such overwhelming respect for Masire that I was so disappointed and embarrassed at reports of his dealings with DeBeers, which suggested he didn’t voluntarily step down but was bought out of the presidency. Looking at those reports and taking into account Masire’s current financial deformity, it becomes difficult not to believe allegations that Masire was not ready to vacate the State House in fear of what is bedeviling him right now. Masire is now faced with financial crisis that have spiraled out of control leading into litigations the result of which is the looming public auction on his assets.

That said, Masire’s financial problems should really be none of my business just as mine are alien to him. The matter between him and the NDB should purely be his private business which should not give me any sleepless nights or even elicit any excitement on my part. Why then am I writing about Masire’s private business here? Well, there is currently some debate doing the rounds and calling on government to intervene in Masire’s financial Tsunami. This is where I come in. You see, when you talk about government you’re now involving not only Masire but me, you and the entire citizenry.

Government decisions and actions affect the entire nation and we’re all part of this nation. I do not apologize for respecting, admiring and loving Masire. However, I refuse to allow myself to be blinded by this love to the extent where I continue to pamper Masire even where he irresponsibly messes up his private life. I will never condone any suggestion that seeks to elevate Masire to some spoilt-brat status. People who, probably just like me, admire and love Masire and are appreciative of the role he played in our country are calling for the government to rescue him from the burden of his empty pockets.

So far the reasons advanced for this benevolent gesture have not convinced me to shed a single tear for Masire. Proponents of the Masire bailout argue that he deserves it because of his long outstanding service to this country. My role model, Botsalo Ntuane (yes he is) has been reported as saying Masire finds himself in financial turmoil because he didn’t loot government coffers during his tenure. I’m glad this came from Ntuane and this is one person I am not scared to tell straight to his face that I do not share his sentiments without the risk of souring our relationship. This time I do not agree with my friend and MP. Lucky for me, and unlike some people, Ntuane doesn’t abhor divergent opinions. We do not owe Masire for being a “good boy” that never stole from our coffers.

If at all Masire never looted Taxpayers’ money, he was only doing what was right and expected of him, though unpopular with African leaders. For that, we remain thankful to Masire.
There are so many reasons as to why the government purse should not be unzipped for Masire’s indulgence. I have said that Masire spent most of his life at the service of this great nation but I don’t think he should be bailed out only on that account and my reason is, throughout all those years, Masire was never a volunteer. He was receiving his salary and all its perks every month without fail just like all other public servants, some of whom have served this nation for many more years than he did, diligently. I have never heard of reports suggesting Masire was a hostage president and to me that can mean only one thing. Masire was never forced into the presidency. He occupied the State House out of his own volition and was satisfied with the remuneration he got for his services.

He enjoyed the State House more than he did the farm house. Therefore it is a ludicrous assertion to say Masire’s farming business suffered because of his stay in power. If Masire loved and valued his farming more than he did his presidency what then stopped him from relinquishing the top seat on realizing his Agricultural life was bound to suffer? Come to think of it, even as he was paid for being president, Masire’s welfare remained the burden of the government. For all those years Masire has never received a windowed envelope from any of the utility companies as his water, electricity and phones were taken care of by government. Oh by the way, even right now, though he is no longer president, his utilities, his garden boys, his drivers, his personal secretaries ,his housemaids and many other personnel at his official house are all paid for by me and you, the Taxpayers. Isn’t this bailout enough from us? DeBeers, we are told, gave him about 4 million Pula and to some degree you and I have a share in that money because our government is a shareholder in that mining company. Wasn’t that bailout enough from us?

At least Masire should be glad that even if his cattle and tractors were to be sold, he will still have a house to sleep in. He will still have cars to be chauffer driven in. He will still have body guards and helpers to protect and cook for him. He will still receive his monthly pension to survive on until he dies.

Should this bailout arrangement be entertained then it should not be selective because Masire was not alone in working for this country just as he is not alone in debts right now. Many other people who worked with him and dedicated their time towards building this nation are riddled in debts. What do we say about them?

I have never heard of any report saying Masire once went for a single month without a salary which he had channeled to some project that helped this country. Why now should his mismanagement of his personal finances and poor business acumen be our problem? It goes to show he is no different from one political leader who got stranded outside the country while back home his law firm closed down due to poor management.

At his age why would Masire still harbor ambitions of big scale farming? It is rumoured he owns dozens of farms. Common sense dictates Masire should sell all these farms, remain with only one and settle his debts. What is he doing with so many farms?

Finally, I fear we will be setting a bad precedence that we may end up having difficulties in extricating ourselves from. Today we would be bailing out Masire and what are we going to do should other former presidents ask for the same treat? Our leaders still refuse to declare their assets and interests and as such we do not even know how many companies are in the directorship of Ian Khama. Masire was a farmer on loan to politics and this, he claims, ended up ruining his farm business. Now, Khama is a pilot on loan to politics and maybe he too is running some aero business on the side. My fear is what if Khama finds himself “in the matter between” after he steps down? Are we going to stop the sheriffs from auctioning his choppers as we would have done with Masire’s cattle? Masire’s family and friends should help him out. Afterall Masire is going to bequeath them his estate when he passes on.

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The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.