A group of Botswana Defence Force (BDF) soldiers have warned the army high command, President Ian Khama and the Minister of Justice Defence and Security Ramadeluka Seretse of possible national chaos because of what they describe as tragic failure leadership.
In a letter passed to the Sunday Standard, the soldiers say lack of accountability by President Khama, Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Seretse, the army high command led by BDF Commander Gaolathe Galebotswe, “can lead to chaos, instability, particularly when the general public is not provided with answers.”
The soldiers state that they decided to make contact with the Sunday Standard because they are not unionised and therefore are not in a good position to air their views publicly for fear of being victimised.┬á
Outlining their litany of grievances which range from being removed from the de-linking exercise, general poor conditions of service, unpaid allowances, the soldiers state “that the only solution is to report to our representatives (opposition MPs since they have that edge to talk for their people.”
“The problem with us junior officers (other ranks from private-warrant officers class I) we don’t have unions which represent us, we are too afraid to talk or ask about our money since we will be seen as undesirable elements and be dismissed from work and who knows maybe killed by the so called Directorate of Intelligence and Services (DIS),” states the letter.
According to the letter, “President Khama is always awarding top achievers (form five school levers) for performing well, is he encouraging education or is he pretending. A leader must demonstrate independent opinion.”
About Minister Seretse, the soldiers complain that he has not adequately addressed the issue surrounding the suspension of delinking in Parliament. “If somebody tells lies in Parliament, do you think he is a good leader, even now nothing is being said about our payment.”
Commander was not spared the attck.The soldiers charged that “during his tour in June this year, the Commander, Lt Gene Galebotswe told us that reporting issues to Winter Mmolotsi will not solve anything because he is the main man.”
They said Galebotswe told them that he has names of those that took up their grievances with Mmolotsi and disciplinary action will be taken against them.
“This is not only our concern, even some senior officers are appalled by the Commander’s behaviour and have since chosen to keep quiet for fear of being victimised. He should solve the problems with ease and a sense of urgency. These are some of the things that can destroy the country,” states the letter.┬á
The soldiers said they have since taken up their grievances with the Ombudsman but have lost confidence in the oversight institution after being informed that it is a toothless dog that is controlled by the President.
“We were also informed that Brigadier Gaborone had got wind of our intention and warned the Ombudsman Office that it should get names of those who had gone to lodge complaints; as soon as we heard this we fled from that office,” states the letter.
The soldiers also called for a forensic audit saying it was high time BDF was audited because there is rampant corruption and misappropriation of funds by senior officers. “Equipment is bought and you will never know where goes and nothing is ever said about this.”
“Our hero Gomolemo Motswaledi has passed on, he was an opposition political stalwart who was an embodiment of hope for many people in this country. He was going to add numbers in Parliament for opposition MPs like Wynter Mmolotsi and speak for our rights without fear,” says the letter.
The soldiers claim that after realising that disgruntled officers were quitting BDF in large numbers, a Presidential directive was issued instructing companies like Debswana among others not to hire ex-soldiers.
“The DIS operatives are currently spying on those who are quitting and looking for jobs elsewhere. But even if we don’t get jobs, we will re-group┬á and form a group and only God knows what will happen next,” warned the soldiers.
The soldiers state that the discontinuation of delinking has led to divorce, resignation or unplanned retirement and “destroyed many lives in the BDF” as some soldiers earn next to zero every month.
Responding to Sunday Standard queries, Director of Protocol and Public Affairs Colonel Teko Dikole said “We are not aware of any discontent of soldiers; however the BDF is currently conducting a holistic review of conditions of service.”
Dikole also denied that a Presidential directive was issued barring ex-soldiers from being hired by parastatals or private companies.
He confirmed that delinking was not discontinued for all officers as those who are eligible continue to enjoy the allowance.
On concern that some soldiers earn next to zero every month, Dikole said “an exercise was conducted and some measures were put in place to assist the affected members.”
He denied that the BDF had warned members against using the Ombudsman adding that members of the BDF are free to present their grievances through proper channels.
On complaints that some officers are entitled to professional allowances, Dikole said “there are laid down procedures for payment of allow allowances and those who are entitled as per the guidelines enjoy eligible benefits accordingly.”
Asked to state the number of soldiers who quit the army as a result of among others poor working conditions, Dikole said “for purposes of the security of Botswana, the BDF policy does not permit the release of such information. What we can assure you is that the BDF experienced normal rates of attrition since 2011.”
For his part, Office of Ombudsman spokesperson, Fenny Letshwiti said time and again they receive complaints from BDF brought in by both civilian and military personnel and some of the cases go as far back as 2002 and have been duly investigated and recommendations have been made where applicable.
“We don’t have a complaint where military personnel have collectively complained to our office at this point in time. The Office of the Ombudsman is not a toothless bulldog,” said Letshwiti.
He added that “We have successfully investigated a number of complaints by individuals of the BDF both civilian and military personnel. We are not controlled by the state President.”