President Mokgweetsi Masisi took the fight against his predecessor, Ian Khama, a notch higher when on Friday he dispatched the head of civil service, Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) to discredit the former president.
Although PSP, Carter Morupisi, was supposed to brief the media about issues of national interest, it turned out that the only subject was Khama's conduct and decisions during his reign.
For two hours, Morupisi sought to absolve the current administration from any blame while demonstrating how Khama made poor unilateral decisions and wasted public funds. Now, acting unlawfully to accommodate amendments forced by Khama to his retirement benefits has come back to haunt the Office of the President, said Morupisi, admitting to the blunder on Friday.
Morupisi conceded that they violated the law when dealing with the benefits and entitlements for Khama. To buttress their blunder and blind loyalty Morupisi revealed that Khama has additional 13 staff members, which contravenes the law governing the benefits of former presidents.
"We did that because when he asked for additional staff members to help him settle in his new position we agreed on the basis that after settling down they will be recalled. Now that is proving to be a challenge," he revealed.
According to Morupisi, Khama was allowed to use the two Chief Catering Officers from State House because it was still being renovated while the current President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, was using State House 2. Each former president is also entitled to four staff members at their residential place including two maids, one gardener and a nursery man. "The arrangement was that when President Masisi moves to State House they will go back to their designated posts but it seems there will be a problem. We are going to correct this thing and ensure the law is followed to the letter," said Morupisi.
Morupisi could not explain why technocrats at the Office of the President (OP) approved decisions, which he confessed were unlawful. He would not even say why nobody is facing criminal charges for breaking the law as it happens with all other public officers, regardless of their position.
Instead of enforcing the law, Morupisi said they have adopted a reconciliatory approach to find a reasonable resolution to the issues. "The truth is that Khama made some decisions about his retirement package and benefits for former President while he was still in office. President Masisi has also raised questions about some of those decisions that clearly were meant to benefit Khama, and how they were sanctioned. I did not have the answers. So we could only apologise and promise to correct that," said Morupisi, explaining that Khama made unilateral decisions and disregarded their advice.
In not so many words Morupisi narrated a very difficult relationship between OP and Khama. Comparing Khama to other former presidents, he said OP has never had any issues with the late Sir Ketumile Masire or his successor Festus Mogae.
"Whenever they sent a request and it was not honoured due to certain circumstances they always understood but with the other one (Khama) is a problem," he said.
Morupisi said had they known that Khama was going to give them problems they could have done things differently, especially refusing to bend the law to suit his needs.
Morupisi also revealed that there was major disagreement recently when Khama demanded that government foot the bill for food, transport and accommodation for his social club, Super XI. OP refused. "Super XI is a not a national team and paying the bill for its expenses will be against the law," said Morupisi.
Although Khama still claims that Super XI was disqualified mysteriously from a football tournament during the recent Khawa Dune Challenge, the team participated and emerged champions. Detailing how government is ill-treating him, Khama recently told multitudes of his supporters in Serowe that his social football team was banned from competing at Khawa Dune Challenge.
Morupisi also took a swipe at Khama for wasting public funds in his pet projects, saying in most cases money was spent on his soup kitchen and his football team Super XI. Using the example of staff overtime allowances, which are allocated to offices of former Presidents, Morupisi revealed that in the 2018/19 budget Khama's office was allocated P650, 000 from which he used up P540, 000.
In comparison former President Festus Mogae's office was allocated P160 000 in the same financial year and only used up P109, 000 as payment for overtime allowance. "You can make your interpretations; I will not say anything further," said Morupisi.
One of the thorny issues that have led to the fall out between Masisi and Khama is the use of government aircrafts. Khama has on many occasions complained that he is being denied the use of government aircrafts despite that he is entitled according to benefits for retired presidents.
Morupisi said the issue of aircrafts is the main cause of trouble between the Office of the President and Khama. "Out of the 13 requests sent by Khama for the use of government aircraft, seven were approved by President Masisi while four were denied," he revealed, explaining that OP is acting within its powers and that they follow provisions of the law, which they will continue to abide by.
The Dalai Lama
In March 2019 Khama travelled to Dharamshala, the residence of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile. The trip did not sit well with Botswana government as it threatened the relationship with the Chinese government.
Morupisi revealed that they tried everything without success, to convince Khama not to go to Dharamshala as it will soil the relationship with Beijing. "I even went to the extent of appealing to the representatives of Dalai Lama in South Africa begging them to cancel the invitation but that too didn't bear any fruits," he said.
At that time government through Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) withdrew his security details but they defied the orders and travelled with Khama. Khama has since taken government to court after they refused to reimburse him the money he used to travel to India.
On his trip to Dalai Lama, Khama accused the Masisi administration of trying to do bidding for the Chinese government. "Because of these new-struck relations [between] the current administration of Botswana and China, I think they feel they have to do China's bidding and have succumbed to pressure from China to have no contact with people the Chinese do not like," Khama was quoted saying.
Morupisi said when the Dalai Lama was supposed to come to Botswana in 2017, cabinet tried to convince Khama not to allow him as it will come at a cost for the country. "China is one of our biggest trading partners and consumes 20% of our diamonds. Remember that they were threatening to close their embassy in Gaborone but Khama didn't budge," said Morupisi, who was one of Khama's trusted allies.
President's Housing Appeal
After taking office in 2008 Khama's administration actively promoted the President's Housing Appeal as an initiative to afford dignity for the less privileged. Khama has been at loggerheads with the current administration demanding to continue overseeing the project claiming that it was his personal initiative. The issue has contributed to a major rift between the parties.
On the other side, Government has maintained that it was not Khama's personal pet project but rather belongs to the Office of the President. Morupisi said he reminded Khama that the presidential housing appeal is a twin government programme with the Destitute Housing Programme. "The Presidential Housing Appeal was started by former President Quett Ketumile Masire in 1994 then called small borrowers fund. I wanted to remind Khama that the presidential housing appeal is not his pet project," he said.
Was Tlhalerwa fired?
Last year Khama accused OP of acting in bad faith and refusing to renew the contract of his long time Senior Private Secretary Brigadier George Tlhalerwa. In response Morupisi stopped short of accusing Khama of lying; saying Tlhalerwa terminated his contract while it was still left with a year.
"On the 1st of May 2016, Tlhalerwa's contract was extended by three years meaning it will end in May 2019. On the 1st of April 2018 he was deployed to the office of the former president but still with his benefits. On the 12th of June 2018, Brigadier Tlhalerwa informed me that he wants to terminate his contract because he was over burdened by the work and the working conditions were not conducive," Morupisi said, but refused to share more details.
Khama then submitted the name of former Director General of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) Isaac Kgosi to be hired as his private secretary, which was rejected by the Office of the President.
After Kgosi was rejected, Khama submitted another name of his 'golden boy' Tsaone Nkarabang, an employee at the Office of the President, to be appointed his senior private secretary. Khama has in past interviews expressed shock when he learnt that after his nomination Nkarabang was transferred to Sowa Town as deputy District Commissioner.
Morupisi rubbished the suggestion, explaining that before Khama submitted his name for consideration Nkarabang was already transferred to Sowa Town. "I again told him that Nkarabang was on E2 salary scale and it was not possible for him to skip other scales to F2. That will be irresponsible on our part," he lashed out, adding that another big challenge is that most public officers do not want to work at Khama's office.