Friday, March 1, 2024

Pilane’s return to OP opportunity to reactivate career plans Khama frustrated

It remains unclear whether and when Advocate Sidney Pilane will return to the Office of the President and if he does, what role he will occupy. What is certain is that his return to the corridors of executive power would provide him an excellent opportunity to dust off a career plan that he distilled into an unusual job application letter that he wrote Vice President Ian Khama in 2008.Around that time, Pilane was Special Advisor to the outgoing President Festus Mogae and was angling for a job in the administration of the incoming President Khama. What was unusual about Pilane’s position was that it was a special appointment that didn’t exist in the establishment register.

With Mogae leaving, Pilane, who appeared keen on staying on at OP, would find himself jobless.In the letter, which Sunday Standard has seen, Pilane listed the various roles that he could serve in the government. In a recent interview with Weekend Post, Khama quoted a teeny-weeny bit of that letter, saying only that Pilane lobbied him for the position of Attorney General and High Court judge. Pilane also suggested other positions, including those that didn’t exist then and still don’t now. One was Deputy to the Permanent Secretary to the President and the other was OP Chief of Staff. In explaining the latter, Pilane stated in the letter that other African countries (he mentioned Ghana) had created that position – which is mostly associated with the United States’ White House.

Nigeria also has a Chief of Staff in the presidency. It is interesting to speculate how long it would have taken for the new Chief of Staff to clash with the Permanent Secretary to the President. At the time, the position was held by Eric Molale, the current Minister of Local Government and Rural Development and Good Hope-Mabule MP.Khama didn’t retain Pilane, who left OP on the same day with Mogae – March 31, 2009. Soon thereafter, there were very interesting developments. Pilane, alongside other ruling Botswana Democratic Party activists like Gomolemo Motswaledi and Kabo Morwaeng, began to voice out their dissent about Khama’s style of leadership – which Khama saw as a sign of “indiscipline” because as a former army commander, he understands discipline to mean not questioning authority. At the height of this stand-off, Sunday Standard published a letter penned by Pilane with the title “Would Lt. General Ian Khama Please Stand Down and make Way for Mr. Ian Khama.”

In the letter, Pilane didn’t hold back, saying things that the less courageous only whispered about in the safety of what was then shrinking private space.Not too long after that, Mmegi published an anonymous letter (meaning everybody else but the editor knew who the author was) in which Pilane was pilloried. In one part, the letter refers to the positions that he wanted to occupy in Khama’s government.The Mmegi letter read in part: “Those that were at OP when he was still there, and particularly towards the end of his contract, will recall the flurry of politically charged memos or minutes as the civil service calls them, that he sent the president’s office about how he believed the presidency ought to reward him for what he himself thought was outstanding service to the nation. He asked that he be appointed Deputy to the Permanent Secretary to the President, and when that did not look likely, he asked that he be appointed Attorney General, when he was told that the post had been filled he asked that he be appointed judge at the Industrial Court and again when that did not work out either, much to his disgust; he made moves towards a seat in Parliament as a specially elected Member of Parliament. It was in his interest that Dr. Tlou should win so that the seat she occupied as Specially Elected Member of Parliament would be cleared so that he could be appointed to it.

The people in Palapye had no idea who Sidney Pilane was or that he even had placed his future indirectly in their hands.”The author was doing his/her best to cover his/her tracks – which would have been apparent to those who had read Pilane’s letter. On the basis of the letter alone, there was no series of letters or requests for the various positions that he asked to be considered for. The letter, which outlined what could be done with incumbents, some of whom (like Daniel Kwelagobe) Pilane adjudged to be way past their sell-by date in terms of competence. He was very clear that such people be off-loaded. The Dr. Tlou referred to in the letter is Professor Sheila Tlou who was a Specially-Elected MP at the time, having been appointed in 2004 by Mogae. In the latter, Pilane suggested that Tlou should contest for the Palapye seat, which would open up her Specially-Elected MP seat, which Khama would then appoint Pilane to.

Officially, such appointment is done by parliament but it is common knowledge that it does so at the direction of the sitting president. As a Specially-Elected MP, Pilane would then have been appointed to cabinet. The context of Palapye is that Tlou is originally from the Serowe/Palapye area and stood to do very well in a Palapye election.After the letter was published, Pilane was quoted in the print press as acknowledging his authorship of the letter. He was also quoted as saying that only two people had a copy of the letter – him and then President Khama – leaving it to readers to make their own conclusions of how the letter reached the press. The riddle Pilane was constructing was as follows: if he wrote a highly confidential letter that he shared with nobody else but President Khama and contents of that letter are subsequently quoted in a newspaper without him (Pilane) having shared the letter with that newspaper, who leaked the letter?

We can’t solve that riddle but hopefully you can.With Khama having been replaced by President Mokgweetsi Masisi, speculation is rife that Pilane might return to OP, not as Special Advisor to the President but as Legal Advisor to the President. Naturally, the question this raises is whether Pilane still harbours any ambitions about occupying all those other positions that he wanted to occupy in Khama’s administration. If he does, his return to OP and proprietorship of Masisi’s ear mean that he could yet re-activate career plans that Khama poured cold water on.


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