Sunday, October 25, 2020

The year that transformed a nation…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

2018 turned out to be a “Dickens” of a year for Botswana. It began with great expectations. President Mokgweetsi Masisi took over as the fourth President of Botswana carrying on his shoulders Batswana’s hope for a new beginning. The year ends in fear and loathing as Botswana’s most traumatic presidential transition ever shakes the country foundation of peace and stability.

A sunny President Masisi stood on the Parliament podium on April 1 and rejoiced: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have just witnessed a smooth transfer of national leadership in accordance with our Constitution. This occasion symbolises the end of one era, and the beginning of another.”

Six months later, a gloomy President Masisi was on the Parliament podium lamenting: “Batswana are all aware that the transition from the previous administration has not been as smooth as expected. However, it ought to be noted, I have in my attempt to smoothen the process engaged senior citizens namely; His Excellency Dr Festus Mogae, His Honour Dr Ponatshego Kedikilwe, Honourable Ray Molomo, Honourable Patrick Balopi and Honourable David Magang to assist and lead in smoothening the transition. I regret to announce that their efforts have not borne fruit up to this point”.

The two faces of president Masisi are Botswana’s most enduring image of the country’s fall from great expectations. Between hope and reality, a yawning gap began to appear. Batswana’s  reaction to former president Lt Gen Ian Khama and current President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s public feuding ranged from disconcerting to debilitating to horrifying.

Most Batswana were outraged at two big men seemingly sweating the small stuff: The withdrawal of Khama’s cooks, appointments of former DISS boss as Khama’s private secretary and misunderstanding over former presidents’ retirement benefits.

Behind the apparent petty fights, however lurk the real issues. Khama’s close associates say the former president is worried that should Masisi win the 2019 elections, he would be embolden to prosecute him, his family and close friends. After firing the former DISS Director General Isaac Kgosi, the corridors of power were abuzz with talk that the axed spy chief would be prosecuted. Kgosi’s prosecution is likely to implicate Khama. In the course of their investigations against Kgosi, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime stumbled on curious DISS money trail leading to a trust company set up by the former president.

The DCEC docket on Isaac Kgosi reveals that millions of Pula has been transferred from the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) bank account to the bank account of Serowe North Development Trust Fund which was set up by President Khama in 1998. Sunday Standard investigations have turned up a number of curious financial transactions running into millions of Pula between the DIS and the Serowe North Development Trust Fund since Khama became president in 2008.

The Serowe Development Trust Fund whose patron is President Khama is a private entity although servicing Serowe North community needs while the DIS is a public institution; however the two bodies used their bank accounts interchangeably. Sunday Standard has intercepted bank transactions between the two bodies running into millions of pula in which money was transferred on a number of occasions from the DIS account to the Serowe North Development Trust bank account and on a few occasions from the Serowe North Development Trust bank account to the DIS bank account.

Investigations have also established that the Serowe North Development Trust bank account, which was opened for donor contributions, was controlled by Kgosi and trustees were in the dark about the operations of the account. The DIS under Kgosi had exclusive signing rights over the account and trustees were shunted aside. The questionable transactions between the DIS bank account and the Serowe North Development Trust started after 2008 when president Khama ceased being area MP and ascended to the presidency.

The DCEC is also sitting on a docket against the Khama brothers which was put on mothball at the instance of the former president.  Former DCEC Director General, Tymon Katlholo confided to colleagues that Lt Gen Ian Khama interfered in investigations by the graft buster involving his twin brothers Tshekedi and Anthony.

A Wikileaks report states: “Although the DCEC has taken appropriate steps to prevent and prosecute corruption, questions have emerged regarding the extent of its independence. During the August 8-10 conference of regional anti-corruption agencies, for example, DCEC director, Tymon Katlholo, acknowledged that Batswana often believe that the DCEC focuses on petty corruption and ignores corrupt practices by the wealthy and influential. In an August 10 conversation, Philliat Matsheza, Executive Director of Harare-based Human Rights Trust of Southern Africa relayed to PolOff an earlier conversation with Katlholo. The DCEC chief had told Matsheza that Vice President Khama had personally questioned him about an investigation into the (notoriously shady) business dealings of Khama’s younger twin brothers. (Note: Prof. Ken Good, the outspoken academic deported by the Government in May (Ref C), had highlighted suspicious transactions involving the Khama brothers and the Botswana Defense Force during Khama’s tenure as Commander.”)

The Wikileaks report however did go far enough to reveal the former president’s involvement in the shady deals. The DCEC is sitting on a case linking former President Lt Gen Ian Khama to a Seleka Springs multi-million Pula bid pricing fraud.

The confidential document which was first presented to the then Chairman of the Defence Council Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe suggests that the then office of the Vice President, headed by Lt Gen Ian Khama may have leaked confidential tender pricing information to Seleka Springs in a bid to help them win a multi-million Pula tender to supply BDF with combat fighting vehicles in 2001.

The DCEC is also understood to be investigation billions of Pula which vanished into thin air under Khama’s watch. The Auditor General earlier this year issued a qualified audit opinion on government’s main bank accounts with the Bank of Botswana because transactions running into billions of pula cannot be accounted for.

The Auditor General further called for an investigation into the account. Government cannot account for debits of P4 933 156 857 in its remittances account which is the main government account at the Bank of Botswana, it emerged in the 2016/2017 Auditor General’s report. Botswana had a yearend balance of P525 751 327 in its main BoB account.

“The reconciliation statement of this figure with the bank statement balance included among others unidentified debits totalling P4 932 156 857 in the bank statement and receipts totalling P114 459 342 728 in the general ledger which should be investigated.”

The DCEC is also investigating the P600 million that was allocated by parliament for the e government project during Khama’s term in office.

Cabinet was earlier this year notified by officials that all the money that has been allocated for the e-Government project cannot be accounted for.

There is also a big behind the scenes fight over the close to P20 billion Gripen deal. Although government has denied that there was middle men brokering the deal, Sunday Standard investigations have revealed that Grippen had was to pay a P1.5 billion commission for the deal. Following the fallout between Khama and the Minister of Defence Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi, President Masisi told the Sunday Standard that he had to step in to stop Kgathi from taking the fight to Khama. Sunday Standard has turned up information that Kgathi was threatening to spill the beans on Khama’s personal involvement in the shady lucrative deal.

And then there is the fight over the appointment of Khama’s brother Tshekedi as the Vice President.

The former president is expected to use his influence to sponsor a candidate who will ensure that the DCEC investigations are killed and the Gripen deal resuscitated.

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