Recently Botswana Parliament debated and passed the President’s (Pensions and Retirement) Act seeking to make retirements benefits for former presidents more lucrative and lustful. The payment of gratuity and the provision of other retirement benefits to former presidents is a wise decision for it is intended to ensure that former presidents live dignified lives befitting their status in society. However, the decision to continue to pay a pension and other benefits to a former president who subsequently gets a job in the service of the state or anywhere else is day light fraud. The Badge of Courage sincerely believes that indeed the recently revised retirement package for Botswana’s outgoing presidents is over generous if not salacious but nevertheless compelling and befitting the stature of the office of the former president.
Nonetheless, the provision by the Government of Botswana to continue to take care of former presidents who subsequently become employees of the government or some other institutions is criminal as it is scandalous. Perhaps there is need to provide context to this practice of keeping former presidents on the government payroll. This practice of paying a pension and providing other benefits to former presidents possibly originated from the USA. The practice took effect in 1958 largely prompted by former president Harry Truman’s financial difficulties. It is documented that former president Truman was so poor that he couldn’t afford to reply mail he received or honour invitations for appearances.
The payment of a pension and other benefits was thus meant to ‘maintain the dignity’ of the office of the president by insulating former presidents against sliding into destitution as well as assist them to undertake formal and informal duties often required of a former president. Essentially and even more persuasive, former presidents a paid a pension and given other benefits so that they are not forced into survival criminal activities such as shoplifting, purse-snatching, burglaries, petty stealing, drug dealing and such other activities that are deemed unsuitable for former heads of state.
Indeed this was a thoughtful decision and Botswana did well to adopt thins noble practice for the benefit of our former presidents including those who spent their entire two terms busy but doing nothing ÔÇô literally. Circumstances have changed and present day state presidents enjoy countless perks that ensures that no one leaves office poor. Additionally, some former presidents have tended to use their influence, derived from their official powers, whilst still in office to start profitable businesses and/or position themselves for high-income ventures after they vacate office.
This means that former presidents are most likely to earn significant incomes that render state support irrelevant or at most a mischievous scheme to make surplus money for themselves and/or their political parties. Under such a possible scenario, pensions and other generous benefits accorded to former presidents would simply serve to subsidize people who are in actual fact millionaires and need no state support. Relatedly, expectations placed on former presidents have lowered with civil society organizations assuming greater responsibility on a number of fronts hence pensions and benefits accruing to former presidents have lost meaning hence the need to revisit the practice not so much to discontinue it but to reformulate it in order to make it remain relevant, justifiable and sustainable.
Fundamentally, the new provision in Botswana to pay a pension and other benefits to former presidents while at the same time permitting them to seek remunerative employment invalidates the original justification and the noble principle for pioneering the practice. The new provision affirms that it is no longer about maintaining the dignity of the office of the president by insulating former presidents against destitution but is now more about aiding them to become moneyed and lead lavish and extravagant lifestyles that may really not accord with the dignity of the office of the president.
This will in the long term compromise the very status and prestige that the initial intention sought to safeguard. Departing from this premise and guided by Botswana’s long tradition of prudent management of the economy, this will demand that for ethical reasons, we consider placing limits on certain benefits due to former presidents more especially considering Botswana declining revenues. For instance, a provision could specify that in terms of travel benefits, former presidents are not permitted to use official transport for political purposes. It really beat logic that the Act wants to give the former presidents the same privileges accorded to the incumbent. It might be the African way but certainly not the Botswana way, at least the Botswana that came to be known as a shining example in a beastly continent.
In addition to pensions and other benefits that enrich former presidents, there is yet another lucrative scheme that they have come to use to milk citizens and become instant millionaires. This is the clever trick that comes in the form of a countrywide tour to thank citizens for their support and bid them farewell a few months before they step aside. When former president Festus Mogae’s terms came to an end, he orchestrated this mischievous scheme and hit the jackpot, of course including the special gift of a donkey.
Former president Mogae is a commoner and he was not very popular with the rural folks who would not hesitate to part with their valued possessions to give away to affluent persons if only to satisfy the biblical proclamation that blessings go to those that give abundantly. Despite that he is a commoner and was not very popular with the rural folks, former president Mogae was nevertheless showered with gifts that exceeded his expectations.
On the other hand, President Dr Khama’s celebrity status among the poor folks and the middle class and his royalty means that if he were to engage in the same mischief to tour for gifts, far many people would be rendered destitute by the time he ends his tour because many people will likely part with their last valued possessions and those surviving on government relief schemes may as well give their food baskets to President Dr Khama as gifts.
It is noted that in Kenya at the end of former President Kibaki’s terms, the National Oil Corporation pledged to build a petrol station for him. The Ministry of Fisheries pledged to construct four fish ponds for him among other notable gifts. Clearly these tours have become an African way of defrauding the small man of his possessions and must be stopped through legislation in order to protect poor families against the predatory behaviours of outgoing presidents. It is immoral and evil to dispossess poor people of their assets irrespective of whether it is the poor man’s choice to surrender their assets or not.
We cannot pretend that we have enough resources to spoil our former presidents. The Badge of Courage therefore challenges our former presidents (Rra Gaone and Rra Nametso) as well as His Excellency the President Lieutenant General Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama to disassociate themselves from these girlie perks and re-assure Batswana that they have not turned into serial looters.
You remain our last beacon of hope to stem the tide of self-enrichment by the executive arm of the government. Your individual position on this matter will assist us to know who actually the architect of this thievery is. Should you decline to do so of your own free will, we will seek the media to do exclusive interviews with each one of you to get your views so that we know the real thief.