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‘Masisi supported Gripen jets deal’

Publishing Date : 24 February, 2020

Author : DAVE BAAITSE

Classified information from a 2017 cabinet meeting places President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, and the then Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi as well as Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Commander Lt General Placid Diratsagae Segokgo at the centre of the controversial Swedish Gripen fighter jets deal.


President Masisi, who is now in charge of the country has ‘repented’. With the recent developments substantiating that government has now cartwheeled on the Gripen deal, it is alleged that government is working around the clock to procure reasonably priced fighter jets of their choice. Impeccable sources within the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) told WeekendPost that President Masisi who was Vice President at the time, told a full cabinet meeting that he does not care about the costs of the Gripen fighter jets, and that they have to be procured. 


Even though the debate and arguments continue about the high military spending while ordinary citizens face serious issues of poverty and unemployment, sources within the barracks say it is necessary for the military to be equipped at all times to defend both the air to air and air to ground invasion. “The State is currently faced with no military threat to warrant the purchase of high end fighter aircraft,” said the source.


A deal that went on to breakdown, nearly saw government procuring at least 16 Saab JAS 39 Gripen light single- engine multirole fighter aircrafts manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab, which was going to cost government P16 billion. However, close sources said it depends on the agreement in the contract on how the money is paid, usually the country is given a timeframe of between 3- 5 years to finalise the payment.  


 “While they went to Sweden, it was reported that they had three to four options, the French Dassault Mirage 2000 multirole, the KAI T-50 Golden Eagle, the German Mako fighter as well as Swiss fighter jets but they settled for the Gripens even though they were too expensive. The move was influenced by the fact that South Africa, in the region currently uses the Saab JAS 39 Gripen, a light single- engine multirole fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab”.


It is alleged that the then Minister of Defence Shaw Kgathi failed to secure a better deal with the Swedish company in his bid to negotiate a cheaper price. “At the cabinet meeting which BDF Commander Segokgo attended together with ten men from Defence Council, agreed that there is need to maintain the BDF Air Wing and Vice President Masisi supported the BDF proposal. He later agreed in principle to the procurement of the Gripens”.


In 2013 BDF purchased five PC-7MkII aircrafts from Pilatus, a company from Switzerland that has been working with the BDF since 1989, when BDF bought seven of the first generation PC-7 aircrafts. PC-7MkII aircrafts are mainly used for basic pilot training, their predecessors, the PC-7s, were also used in search and rescue roles and several pilots are said to have graduated as a result of the PC-7 training.


However, the source defended the military budget saying the military equipment by its nature is very expensive more especially the air assets. For example the BELL 412 helicopter currently costs $6. 7 million in USA while the average cost of a CASA 235 will be $34 million. The maintenance and running costs of these aircrafts which are usually used for training is very high.  “The advantage of Gripens is that they come with more advanced features as compared to the F5 fighter jets currently used by the BDF”, said the source.


Former President Lt Gen Ian Khama, who was at the helm at that time refused to comment on the basis of confidentiality. Khama said even though he is a former President, he took an oath to uphold what was discussed in cabinet with confidentiality even after office.
Pressed further, former President Khama said he “cannot confirm nor deny the allegations coming from the said meeting.”  The Masisi led administration would later somersault on the decision to procure Gripens owing to a hostile response from the general public and criticism from the private media.


 “However, government is allegedly weighing options on procurement of the next generation fighter jets, helicopters, radar systems and military armoured vehicles,” the source said. In his maiden budget speech, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka announced that the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security had been allocated the second largest share – a whopping P1.94 billion which equals to 16.14 percent – of the National Budget 2020/ 21.


The new Minister of Finance emphasized that the bulk of the budget would go to the BDF for air assets, vehicles and defence and communications equipment while the balance would be split between Botswana Police Service (BPS) and Botswana Prisons Services. Last week in his response to the budget speech -Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo opposed the budget provision for air assets for the military. Commenting on the National Budget 2020/ 21 Letsholo said the country’s peace and security is not at any risk that warrants the purchase of air assets.


He said government should reconsider and not budget for any military equipment purchases now or at least for the next five years, adding that the only budget provision for the military should be for the maintenance of existing equipment. Letsholo indicated that the most serious risk to national peace and security was youth unemployment and extreme poverty. These, he argued, were the only risks that demanded a significant chunk of the budget. “Poverty and unemployment exacerbate inequality and robs people of their dignity,” stated Letsholo, adding that it was a threat to national security.


Speaking to WeekendPost last week, Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Kagiso Mmusi stated that the nation misinterpreted the statement by Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, with regard to the contentious subject of air assets.
“The budget will not be used for air crafts and Fighter Jets. I am 100 percent sure. The flying machines are not included in the air assets,” the Defence, Justice and Security Minister insisted to this publication.


He continued to explain that “air arm is a very broad sector. Some of our radars are very low. So we have to upgrade them. Because even planes cannot land safely. This means tomorrow if our pilot’s plane crashes, the public will say Mmusi is useless in his job and that we are trying to avoid that.” In Parliament, when responding to the Budget Speech as delivered by Dr. Matsheka, Mmusi also defended the budget: "I have noted misinformation and statements over the past few days with respect to the budget allocated to Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security. I wish to state categorically that the allocated funds will not be used for aircraft or Fighter Jets. The term air assets in the 2020/21 Budget Speech appears to be misunderstood, perhaps for political reasons.”


He further told Parliament that: “the amount allocated for air assets will not be used for purchasing any aircrafts but will instead go towards radar operation systems upgrades, integrated landing systems, etc. which are also air assets. As the Minister responsible for Defence, I will provide full details through my Committee of Supply speech later during the session. I want to assure Batswana that at the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, things will be done transparently and with utmost accountability."

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