Friday, May 24, 2024

Unregulated expenditure on the presidency is unsustainable!

In November 2014, Honourable MP for Francistown South Wynter Mmolotsi asked a question in Parliament seeking to know how much money was spent from government coffers by President Khama whilst campaigning for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). The Honourable MP also wanted to know the amount spent on fuel for the aircrafts and vehicles and whether it was proper to use the Botswana Defence Force aircraft for political business.

The response to the fair question was curt and rude as it was angry, with the Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Honourable Philip Makgalemele refusing to breakdown what the Minister considered as minor expenditure of close to half a million Pula. In the context of the high levels of poverty and unemployment in Botswana, this figure is astronomical, unreasonable and such unrestricted expenditures have the potential to soak the national treasury. The Assistant Minister further explained that the state president is entitled to use official transport for both private and official business at all times, further stating that government is duty bound to protect, transport and ensure that the President’s engagements are taken care of using public resources including those of the BDF.

There is little quarrel with the obligation of the government to protect, transport and ensure that the President Khama’s engagements are taken care of using public resources. This is procedural and an international practice governing the conditions of service of heads of state and governments. However, we need to guard against abuse of these over generous privileges and entitlements. While still Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Ramadeluka Seretse informed the nation that it is incumbent upon the president to invite whoever he wishes to travel with on board and there is no limit of the number of persons he can invite on board. Whatever its purpose, such a provision invites abuse and needs to be regulated.

While the answer given by Assistant Minister Honourable Makgalemele is vague and most likely to be a cover up, what it nevertheless suggests is that these presidential entitlements accorded to whoever is state president are costing the taxpayer much more money than it can be revealed. And this is the reason why the presidency always gives vague and lumped figures to conceal the extent of the ‘official’ looting.┬á

It is incredibly difficult to know exactly the costs of President Khama’s upkeep given that the President and those around him officially operate on a 24/7 basis. To this end, the Green Book which is regarded as a blueprint for the authority and scope of expenses relating to the president has been crafted in such a way that all expenditures incurred in the name of the Presidency are always legitimate.

Perhaps due to an erstwhile prospering economy and the country’s erstwhile internationally acclaimed profile as an African Miracle on account of her prudent management of the economy, unrestricted entitlements and privileges offered to the State President and extended to his buddies were never a cause of consternation. This perhaps partly explains why Botswana has managed to retain such a poorly constructed, ambiguous and disoriented document called the Green Book which invites and promotes abuse even by the most frugal and pennywise individuals. Circumstances have changed and so ancient financial procedures and regulations must be revisited to accord with present circumstances where the political scene is littered with swindlers, greedy and bogus philanthropists.

President Khama must have broken the record as the most locally well-travelled State President, often accompanied by a disproportionately large entourage of government officials and other bizarre characters which means that his travels are costing the taxpayer more than any other State President including those who had a penchant for globetrotting. President Khama is virtually out of Gaborone, his workstation, every week preferring to tour villages where he claims to be interacting with Batswana in order to understand their day to day needs and challenges.

These endless travels are bleeding the economy especially considering that the challenges faced by the rural folks are more or less identical and well-known. In effect, His Excellency travels are, to a greater extent, a waste of public resources. This cannot go on unchallenged lest we compromise our erstwhile globally renowned economic managerial competences that helped realize the present levels of prosperity. While we cannot and should not put an end to President Khama’s junketing, we need to put in place mechanisms for accountability by the Presidency as well as limit his travels so that he can have quality time to attend to the numerous domestic challenges in a much more thoughtful fashion.

It is unreasonable and somewhat stereotypic to assume that all State Presidents will at all times be more responsible and matured enough to be trusted to use public resources faithfully. State Presidents are normal human beings with selfish tendencies inherent in human beings hence the need for the presidency to be put on a leash so that they account to Parliament and the nation for the huge sums of money they spend. We need to establish clear written guidelines to differentiate between official and political engagements. While it is always going to be difficult to do so, we nevertheless have to develop such guidelines to offset unlimited abuse of public resources by State Presidents. There is need to limit the number of persons who can accompany the State President at government expense at any given time, whether they are public officials or some sneaky companions.

This is necessary to ensure that whenever the State President decides to have extra personnel of his liking such people or the organizations they represent would be required to reimburse the government with the equivalent of the amount they would have had to spend had they travelled on commercial airlines or public transportation. It has to be appreciated that public resources are to be used exclusively for purposes for which they were appropriated and it is difficult to believe that Parliament can authorise use of public resources by the State President to entertain some big-bellied-good-for-nothing-loud mouthed wannabe Hollywood stars.

As a consequence, Parliament must, as a matter of urgency, establish a portfolio committee for the presidency whose purpose would be to exercise oversight on the presidency and ensure that the nation gets a good return on their huge allocation to the presidency. As it is now, it does not matter whether the huge costs incurred in His Excellency travels bring tangible benefits to the nation or not. What seems to matter is that the State President is entitled to use official transport for both private and official business and that he can invite whoever he so wish and that he should not be obstructed from enjoying them in full throttle. Botswana must set herself apart from other African states that appear to foster corruption if she has to retain her fading tag as an African Miracle. This is one area that we need to tackle immediately in order to demand greater accountability from our leaders and by extension inspire other African nations to legislate against legal fraud. 

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