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BDF was misled in building Khama Airstrip

Publishing Date : 08 October, 2018

Author : KETUMILE RAMATITI

The Commander of Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Lieutenant General Placid Segokgo has revealed that they were misled when personnel and equipment were deployed to build an airstrip on the former President Lieutenant General Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s private compound in Mosu.


The construction saw public funds being used on private property.  The airstrip belongs to the former president but was fenced and maintained by Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) at a cost to government.  This is consistent with the past practice of providing safe landing facilities to the sitting Head of State and cannot amount to inequitable action nor maladministration, Segokgo told Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this week.


Segokgo said prior to the building of the air strip, they were not aware that it formed part of Khama’s compound. “Our understanding was that, it was not a private land [where the airstrip was built] because it was not in the fenced compound,” he said before adding. “The discussions were held but as BDF we are responsible for comfort of the sitting head of state. By then it didn’t ring bell on us because we have done similar thing for the past presidents.”


Asked about the practice of having a sitting president flying BDF aircrafts, Sekgogo said it possible since president is also a member of the army as the Commander-in-chief. Until he left presidential office, Khama has been flying BDF aircrafts both during his tenure Vice President and President respectively. Upon assuming office, Masisi instructed the BDF to not allow Khama to fly BDF aircrafts but to be offered VIP status every time he is on board. When quizzed about the memo, Segokgo said: “There is no command relationship between him [Khama] and us.”

BDF ADMITS OWING EX-SOLDIERS

Segokgo has conceded before the PAC that indeed they owe hundreds if not thousands of former soldiers amounting exceeding P60 million. “We owe them a number of things including leave days and pension. We have looked at the matter and we have paid significant number and others are yet to be paid because e are having a difficulty in finding some files,” he said. It is said because of the constant deployment, soldiers were not allowed to take their leave days which were increased from 90 to 120 days.


BDF Commander indicated that defense pension fund is modeled the same way as other civil servants, which naturally creates a problem for the army men.  “But the retirement age is 55 for officers and 47 for lower ranks whilst other civil servants can go until 60 years which mean soldiers spend most time on retirement. This is the reason why soldiers demand a better package when they leave the job,” said Segokgo.


He admitted that former soldiers have the ability to destabilise the country if their concerns are not addressed.  Segokgo however could not state the exact amount owed to the soldiers. Segokgo went on to disclose that they are currently still assessing which fighter jets to procure. He said they are taking into considerations the characteristics and affordability. Already, he said, they are looking at T50 jets and Mid 29 jets among others.


The fighter jets are expected to costs the government P15 billion ($1.7 billion). BDF is still negotiating with several governments and aircraft manufacturers around the world in search of affordable aircraft options. The aircraft acquisition is part of a force modernization programme that also includes the replacement of old troop carriers, transporters, tanks, armored vehicles, light weapons and aerial Defence systems. 


BUDGET COMPROMISE BDF DEFENCE CAPABILITIES

Segokgo told PAC that the country’s procurement system and the budgeting system are hampering the army’s defence capabilities. He contended that since Botswana’s fiscal year runs only for 12 months, where they are expected to spend their budget, both recurrent and development within that period, it has proved difficunt for the army to utilise its development budget within that period.


“Because of the nature of the army, it takes a longer time, up to four years to procure defence capabilities that we need, but the budgeting system does not allow us since we are compelled to return unused funds at the beginning of every financial year,’ he said. Segokgo said, a longer budget period will allow BDF to meet its needs. PAC member, Ndaba Gaolathe concurred with Segokgo, indicating that it is absolutely necessarily to have longer budgeting period of 2-3 years.

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