Even in these tough times modesty is an unfamiliar term among our government ministers.
Like billionaires, few are frugal. They epitomize stinking wealth and the true luxury of being a billionaire ÔÇô extravagant travels and an insatiable appetite for luxurious lifestyles in a country where a sizeable population, including those with a decent education subsist on seeds meant to feed birds. The level of hypocrisy in the political arena appears to have no bounds. There is one set of rules for the elitist, corrupt politicians and another set of rules for the rest of us. While the state president and his ministers remind us to live modestly, they live in offending opulence. Of course the president and his ministers are not just like the rest of us who wear cheap perfumes that smell like rotten cabbage, but this is no justification for them to award themselves over-generous or limitless benefits that essentially legitimize naked plunder of public resources.
It has been reported recently that government, the Executive to be precise, has allocated millions of pula for the construction of ministerial houses. We are told that each house would cost more than P5 million. Earlier on it was reported that the plan for the houses had sophisticated features such as lounges, bar facilities and stylish swimming pools. Yes bar facilities and swimming pools. My goodness! We are told that these houses shall remain the property of the state but what we can be sure of is that a few years into the future, the Executive is going to present a mischievous proposal to itself to the effect that maintenance of the castles is bleeding the public coffers and should be disposed off. The occupants (members of Cabinet) would be given first priority to purchase the luxurious estates at extremely reduced prices and without the imposition of reserve prices. Just live a little longer to witness this brilliant criminality by our political leaders.
When the nation queried president Khama’s personal piloting of army helicopters, he retorted that people were jealous of him, while his office reminded us that the president and his deputy are entitled to official transport at all times. It is however not clear what the position is with respect to official transport for ministers. But from past experience, it would seem that ministers have also been given a blank cheque in respect of use of state vehicles. In 2006 it was revealed that Cabinet Minister Motsumi was being chauffeured to attend classes in a foreign country in a state vehicle. When the minister was confronted to confirm or deny the allegations, she went ballistic and bragged about her unfettered access to national resources.
She boasted that it was her entitlement to use the vehicle as she pleases. Of course there was only a small amount of expressed public disapproval and the minister gladly went away with murder. In morally upright countries which demand that the leadership should lead by example, the minister would have been asked to tender a public apology or resign or get fired by the state president. In 2008 newspaper reports revealed that a ministerial car was involved in a road accident while transporting a minister’s daughter to her home village. When asked to explain the circumstances under which his daughter had to be chauffeured in a state car, then Minister Mfa elected to give the public a lecture on the rights (not privileges) of Cabinet Ministers, their spouses, children and possibly others in the use of official transport.
The implication of his response is essentially that this has been going on for as long as one cares, and that the entire Cabinet is guilty of the same misdemeanor. The Office of the President has never commented on both of these cases.
In a way that gives credence to the perception that ministers are also entitled to official transport at all times and for whatever use. Yet, this entitlement has now been widened to cover almost anyone with some funny connection to the ministers; be they spouses, children, distant relatives or lovers.
I am pretty aware that by commenting on this matter, I run the risk of being branded a damn jealous pauper but so be it for I am now used to such ridicule. Of course I am jealous and justifiably so. Sample this; parents struggle to secure efficient and convenient transport for their children to and from school.
School buses that are available in the open market charge astronomical fares and most are not reliable and safe. This therefore compels many parents to personally drop off their children at school and pick them up after school. This is both costly and stressful but parents have embraced this responsibility as part of their daily life challenges. Now the sight of a ministerial car dropping off and later picking up the ministers’ children or their lovers’ children makes most parents envious and spiteful. They wish they also had the requisite political power to have things done for them. Well I must confess that I am also considerably pissed off by this practice but when I spot a ministerial car dropping off a minister’s child at a kitchen or stag party, I throw up all the time and always think of wheel clamping them. This constitutes abuse of privileges and outright misuse of public resources or even explicit theft.
Yet this is the order of things. By my own calculations, the use of ministerial vehicles by designated ministers only account for 10% of total usage.
The remaining 90% of usage is accounted by spouses, children or mistresses. Ministers’ official drivers are always busy chauffeuring ministers’ children to pubs, bars, chibuku depots and brothels. And the state president would humbly pronounce that ‘our challenge is to be ready to do more with little’ (State of the Nation Address, 2009). Did I hear you clearly Mr. President? The other practice that should be discontinued is where communities present the President with gifts whenever he visits villages. People should know that it is part of the President’s official duties to occasionally visit rural villages and therefore he should not be presented with donations as if he has done us any favors. If he chooses not to visit certain villages because they never organize a banquet for him and his entourage, so be it.
The same applies to gifts presented to Ministers visiting parastatals and private businesses – it certainly must be discontinued because it promotes greed and selective visitations. No wonder Ministers only visit institutions where they are certain that they will receive luxurious gifts. It is common knowledge that many African countries are still to recover from economic collapse occasioned by theft of public assets by those in positions of leadership. Ministers’ limitless benefits influence them to dip their hands into the national till with impunity. By virtue of whom they are, their wrongs are always right and corrupt practices are justified in terms of privileges.
It is a fact that ministers’ privileges and unusually generous packages breeds greed and a culture of entitlement hence the miscreants among them are having a field day ÔÇô even going as far as to brag about it. Corruption by political leaders seems to be at the core of systematic administrative failure to spell out in unambiguous terms rules governing the use of public assets by ministers.
We cannot continue to have a situation where ministers account to themselves and their families in respect of use of public assets.
In the absence of effective institutions and rules or guidelines to check the excesses of greedy leaders, we are likely to witness instances where ministers use official vehicles for fun or recreational purposes. Where there are no clear rules, misuse of political power, mainly driven by self-indulgence and an appetite for private wealth maximization will become a defining feature of Botswana’s economic and political makeup.
Ministers get indulged in fraudulent travels in the pretext of monitoring projects and familiarization tours.
In a society that is content with subsisting on favors from their leaders, a society that prides itself in behaving like refugees in their own country, a society that behaves like domesticated elephants used by circus entertainers, embezzlement, wastefulness and abuse of public office by truant and delinquent ministers is acceptable, encouraged and rewarded.