Friday, July 10, 2020

The truth about police officers’ P10 million ‘donation’ to the COVID-19 Relief Fund

If COVID-19 philanthropy ever needs a motto and based on what donors are doing, anything else other than “giving with one hand, taking with the other” would be grossly misleading.

Following revelations that the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) basically shook down its members to raise funds for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, it has just emerged that another arm of force did the exact same thing. Like BDF, the executive management of the Botswana Police Service (BPS) asked officers to shell out “donations” of a very peculiar kind. How much an officer holding a particular rank should “donate” was based on a graduated schedule that was arbitrarily-drawn up by the powers-that-be.

Following the establishment of the COVID-19 Relief Fund, there began a rat race among organisations to contribute to it. Tragically, some either force staff to donate or divert staff pay to the Fund. In the particular case of BPS, police officers were given two options: to either contribute P300 each month for six months from their monthly salaries or to contribute a lump sum from savings that are managed through what is called the Botswana Police Service Loan Guarantee Scheme, which officers contribute to on a monthly basis and can also borrow money from. The majority opted for the latter and it was then that the graduated contribution schedule was drawn up.

Officers holding the rank of Constable were asked to donate P550, Sergeant P1000, Sub-Inspector P1500, Inspector P2000, Assistant Superintendent P2500, Superintendent P3000, Senior Superintendent P3500, Assistant Commissioner of Police P4000, Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police P4500 and Commissioner P5000. BPS has about 10 000 officers spread out across the country and this whip-round managed to raise a total of P10 million, which the Commissioner of Police, Keabetswe Makgophe, donated to the COVID-19 Relief Fund at a mock-cheque ceremony that featured President Mokgweetsi Masisi on May 13. Special Constables, who are engaged on short-term contracts, were exempted from the whip-round because they are not really members of the Service.

Considering the power relations between the officer asking for the donations and the officers being asked to donate, this was a shakedown – or at least that is the term the Mafia uses when it asks people to part with their property the same way. From what Sunday Standard learns, not all officers contributed to this whip-round and such financial decision-making could likely have adverse consequences down the road. Officially, nobody was forced to donate but this being an arm of force and with the “appeal” having come from the Commissioner, everybody did because everybody understands how the service works.

“It is certainly not a wise thing to not donate because that could jeopardise chances of being promoted,” says a BPS source, adding that down the road and based on precedent, two lists will generated and published, one for those who contributed and the other for those who hadn’t.

When a senior officer retires and the Service wants to buy a farewell present for them, the money comes not from Service coffers but the pockets of junior officers. Two lists are generated and published, one for those who contributed and another for those who hadn’t. The source says that has always happened and that s/he expects it to happen with the COVID-19 relief fund-raising. Three years ago, police officers also found themselves having to shell out their hard-earned money to buy a farewell present for then President Ian Khama whose constitutional term was coming to an end.

The BDF uses a similar fund-raising method and some officers suspect that this may have something to do with the fact that the army was set up by former police officers. The first Commander of the BDF (and future Vice President) was Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe who had been the Deputy Commissioner of Police. In the army, the Commander issues a graduated-schedule, fund-raising circular which battalion commanders, who would have been given targets, communicate to soldiers under their command. As in BPS, no one is forced to contribute but as a former soldier explains, not contributing immediately puts you on a blacklist that you will never see.

“The officer asking you to contribute is the custodian of your personnel file, approves all your applications for leave, further training and promotion,” he says. “If you don’t contribute, no punitive action will be officially taken against you but you will certainly be blacklisted because you frustrated the officer’s effort to reach a target set him by the Commander. Minor infractions that could otherwise have been forgiven are suddenly blown out of proportion because there is a plot to punish you.”

While this practice may be the norm in the arms of force, the current economic situation presents a peculiar challenge that none has ever had to deal with. Financial experts of all hues are advising people to save money because a depression that Americans say will be worse than their Great Depression during the 1930s is already underway. Earlier this month, United States billionaire, Warren Buffett, sold his entire airlines stock because to all intents and purposes, the airlines industry is no more. Police officers and soldiers who are being shaken down will not be able to cushion themselves against the oncoming economic depression.

There is another dimension to this issue that represents egregious supervisory overreach into the personal affairs of members of the armed of force who are shaken down. The savings of an officer married in community of property belong not just to him/her as an individual but also to their spouse and children – whom the arms of force have no contract with. In that regard, this practice violates property rights, which are enshrined in the constitution as inviolable. For a law enforcement authority like BPS, this is hugely ironic and highly anomalous.

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.