“Yes, we concede, the original fibre glass pipelines present challenges. They continue to, despite poor President Khama continuing to being harassed with criticisms that are undue while we can look at the origins of those pipes.”
To those who were following a controversial story of the North-South Water Carrier Project (NSWCP) at the turn of the century, that statement from Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi will be pregnant with meaning. Former president, Festus Mogae who has criticised the current government for its handling of the current water crisis, has been associated with the origins of NSWCP pipes. With the parliamentary immunity that is extended to MPs when the house is sitting, Masisi could have named names but he chose to play it safe while making very strong hints of who put poor Khama in the position he is now.
Pipes for the NSWCP were supplied by an American-origin company called Owens Corning Pipes Botswana. At the time in question, Mogae had shares in a local company called Motswedi which benefitted from a soft loan from Owens Corning which was in no position to be giving out loans ÔÇô and that kind of loan because it was cash-strapped. The Botswana Development Corporation, a parastatal organisation which was a shareholder in Owens Corning, injected money into the latter to keep it afloat. It would later turn out that the quality of Owens Corning pipes were sub-standard and that standards had been willfully dumbed down to allow the pipes to pass what are normally rigorous tests. The result has been that a lot of water leaks underground and almost two decades after that saga, Water Utilities Corporation finds itself having to continually replace those pipes. That explains Masisi’s statement that the original fibre glass pipes continue to present challenges.
Three months ago but without making specific reference to Owens Corning pipes, Mogae conceded that the leadership shortchanged the nation on the water issue.
“Well I think that is not a matter of debate and anyone who attempts to defend themselves on that is basically cartooning himself. We failed the nation, period!” the former president toldMmegi in a wide-ranging interview.
Khama has come under a lot of criticism for his handling of the current water situation which his government doesn’t recognise as a “crisis.” In parliament, the Botswana Democratic Party has blocked the passage a motion to investigate the current water and power crisis and ended up with an opposition MP being manhandled out of the chamber over a procedural issue. During an unguarded moment in which he placed presidential sanctity below sarcasm during national conversation over an important life-and-death issue, Khama remarked that the BDP leadership doesn’t have rain-making powers.
“We are not God and we don’t make rain,” the president said in his official response to a protest march organised by the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change.
Mogae considers the government’s response to be woefully inadequate. He told Mmegi that slow or lack of planning over a basic need like water is a serious abdication of responsibility.
“Times have changed and so has everything, including the climate and we must move with the times,” he said.
If recent history is any guide, Mogae wouldn’t mind terribly about speaking his mind even at the risk of having his own record put under the microscope. Faced with a choice between letting the prosecution of former Debswana Diamond Company Managing Director, Louis Nchindo, run its course and risking public revelations about an extramarital affair, by his own admission the former president opted for the latter.
This is not the first time the Vice president takes a potshot at Mogae. Masisi recently questioned Mogae’s position on gays and lesbians saying, Botswana’s third president has gone on record to say that he did not legalise same sex relationship while he was head of state because he did not want to lose elections. He challenged journalists to ask Mogae why he wants it to be done when he is out of office. The Vice President who is also chairman of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party has in the past dismissed criticism of the current political administration by former Presidents Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae as misinformed and statements by old men “who say anything they want”. About Masire, the vice president said, “you will have to understand that he is old now and as such old people normally just say what they want,” adding that sometimes the former president is just being misinformed.