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Nation coerced to donate to Khama

Publishing Date : 05 February, 2018

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD)
BCP Deputy Leader

At one of a series of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Political Star Rallies Duma Gideon Boko the President of the UDC and Member of Parliament for Bonnington North launched a fears attack on President Seretse Khama Ian Khama for receiving donations from unsuspecting citizens without declaring them as the law dictates.  He further described the act by President as broad day-light theft.

What followed was robust national debate on the whole question of declaration of assets and liabilities in general and declaration of gifts in particular.  Apart from political point scoring here and there Batswana are more informed about the laws governing receipt of gifts by public servants as well as civil servants.

The background to all of these is that late last year government circulated a schedule for the Presidential tour to bid Batswana farewell as he prepares to leave office in April 2018. Subsequently Ministers, Members of Parliament from the ruling party accompanied by District Commissioners were deployed to address kgotla meetings the purpose of which was to inform people about the planned presidential tour. One of the objectives of the consultative meetings was to set up Gift Committees to mobilize communities to donate generously to the President for what he has done for the country during his ten year rule.

During his tenure Khama had great affinity to small settlements. He hardly visited medium to large villages. However upon realization that small villages are poverty stricken government deliberately targeted major centres for gift solicitation exercise.  Even Selibe Phikwe which the president never visited since the abrupt irrational closure of BCL Mine was not spared. There was even talk of boycotting the gift solicitation gathering masqueraded as a farewell event in Selibe Phikwe.  

Some Members Parliament went to the extent of organizing meetings in urban centres to mobilize residents of their respective constituencies working in towns.  Botlhogile Tshireletso Asistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development in particular had a radio spot announcement running for one of such meetings.  

According to Pono PPP Moatlhaodi, the former Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and former Member of Parliament for Tonota at a meeting addressed by the area MP Thapelo Olopeng the twenty five wards in the village town were urged to commit to two cows each.  In other areas there were reports that members of Khama’s Regiment were being coerced to donate P200.00 per person.  

It was clearly a calculated move to begin the tour in Moshopa that falls under Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Masisi is the current area Member of Parliament and president in waiting. Apparently the idea was to set the bar for the rest to follow or do better.  This obviously put undue pressure on the rest of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) leaders to be aggressive in their effort to live up to expectations of the incoming president.  With cabinet reshuffle looming come April 1st 2018, MPs felt obliged to do their best to catch the attention of Masisi. The same can be said about senior civil servants who wish to evade the axe in April.

Opinions are divided over the question of whether it is right or wrong for a person who holds public office to solicit gifts. As expected even the legal minds are not united on the matter. There are those who see nothing wrong for the President to receive gifts from adult citizens donating on their own volition. The argument is that when this happened during President Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae no one raised a finger.  They sense jealousy and mischief on the part of those who are very critical of the initiative. We are reminded that when BCP reported Khama to the Ombudsman over misuse of BDF Helicopters his supporters said the move was driven by jealousy and political expediency.

It is clear from the above description of how the gift solicitation adventure was rolled out that people are not necessarily donating out of their wish.  Citizens are clearly being coerced by the powers that be.  The fact that nobody raised the issue in the past is neither here nor there.  The current discussion must be understood in its context.  The environment under which Khama ruled is completely different from the times of the previous presidents. Today citizens are more enlightened about their rights and they demand accountability from political leadership. They also have various platforms to express their dissatisfaction through Facebook and private radio stations.

On the other hand Khama has been a divisive figure. He has polarised society into those who will die for him and those who hate him with a passion. The rest are in between.  He has presided over the most corrupt government than all the previous governments combined.  In a way he has tolerated and promoted corruption by undermining both the judiciary and oversight institutions.  He is still to fully account for his acquisition of land in Mosu in Boteti District and Ditseta Island in Shakawe.  Under his watch the country lost billions of pula over botched projects such as Morupule B and Palapye Glass Manufacturing.  That is why many Batswana strongly feel he does not deserve any rewards safe for his lucrative retirement package.

Michael Kitso Dingake the former Robben Island prisoner, Member of Parliament for Gaborone Central, and founding President of Botswana Congress Party (BCP) narrates an incident as an MP in which upon successfully assisting one of his constituents with employment terminal benefits from an exploitative employer the victim asked him to get a share of the cash as a token of appreciation.  He politely refused the gift insisting that it was his duty to help the citizen.  Dingake demonstrated humility and ethical leadership which is a rare trait among most of the current crop of BDP leaders. Today we have ruling elite that glorifies grabbing from the disempowered poor people.

Those who are vested with the law clearly believe that it is illegal for a public servant to actively solicit gifts from citizens. Hence Boko’s assertion that by receiving gifts without declaring them, the President may have broken the law and therefore deserves to be prosecuted.  Busang Manewe, one of the prominent local Lawyers and Joao Carlos Salbany, another respected attorney who served in this country for some years concur with Boko.

According to Salbany “Under the Penal Code (particularly Section 386 but also 384 and 99), the receipt of Gifts by government officials creates a presumption of corruption that such an official needs to rebut.” With respect to DCEC provisions Salbany posits that “The DCEC Act is different, however, it too prohibits the receipt of gifts in so far as they create presumption of corruption.” The less we talk about stage-managed gift solicitation kgotla events the better. 



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