Botswana in panic as Masisi asserts his authority

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Mpho Tebele

Gaborone - Botswana’s civil service and allies of former President Ian Khama have reportedly been thrown into panic mode following the sacking of the Director General of Directorate of Intelligence and Security Isaac Kgosi by President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

The development has jolted Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi to coble up a statement allaying fears that civil servants were not being hunted down by the new political dispensation seeking to weed out all suspected corrupt officials in the public service.

Kgosi, who has been linked to a string of corrupt activities and has strong links to Khama, was fired by Masisi in what has the trappings of a coup last week.

He was handed a letter of dismissal by Morupisi at the Office of the President in the presence of his heavily armed juniors, who later escorted him to the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) headquarters to handover government property among them service rifles.

Observers say while Kgosi’s sacking could have triggered panic in the public service, it signals how Masisi’s administration intends to fight growing levels of corruption in the public service. It also indicates how the president intends to assert himself as Botswana’s fifth president and thwart Khama’s perceived plans to retain a grip on power even after retiring.

Reports indicate that a few months before his retirement, Khama had locked Masisi into a five-year contract with Kgosi.

Kgosi was due to retire a few months after Khama stepped down from the presidency but decided to extend his stay, as intelligence chief for five more years.

The two men have been close since their days at the army until Khama joined politics as Vice President of Botswana. 

He then roped Kgosi in and appointed him as his private secretary and later elevated him to head the DIS when it was set up.

In a statement, Morupisi said whenever there is an executive transition from one Head of State to another, it is inevitable that there will be changes in personnel at both Cabinet and senior government official level, as well as in administrative structures to deliver on its mandate.

“On behalf of the government, I, therefore, wish to take this opportunity to reassure the public that such changes will, where necessary, occur in the context of our longstanding commitment and frameworks for good governance,” said Morupisi.

It is, therefore, the responsibility of the President to ensure that he has a team in place to deliver on his mandate, Morupisi said. 

This should not, however, Morupisi added be construed to mean that those who may have been either redeployed and or relieved in their duties have been found personally wanting.

“The public may also be reassured that there is no on-going witch-hunt in government, as has been alleged in some quarters in the media. Neither should such administrative changes be seen as a judgment on any previous administration,” he said.

Kgosi, who recently told the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee that he does not account to anybody including the President, was quoted as saying he believes Masisi was infuriated by his decision to lend Khama a DIS helicopter to fly to his home in Mosu.

This was after Masisi had reportedly instructed officials at the Office of the President to refuse to lend one of the presidential jets to Khama to use for travel to the village, in central Botswana.

Kgosi reportedly mocked Masisi’s decision to replace him with former Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Commander of Ground Forces Brigadier Peter Magosi suggesting that he is not clean either.

Magosi was the head of the BDF Military Intelligence when four soldiers from the same unit gunned down a wanted suspect John Kalafatis in Gaborone in 2009.

“Who was the head of BDF military intelligence when John Kalafatis was shot dead,” Kgosi shot back when asked to comment on the fact that he had been replaced by Magosi, who was fired by Khama under controversial circumstances in 2016.

The former army men’s relationship soured back in 2015 when Kgosi allegedly reported Brigadier Magosi to the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC).

Although the DCEC found no dirt on Magosi, Kgosi was to later launch an investigation against Magosi for the alleged disappearance of the BDF intelligence surveillance equipment.

Reports indicate that Kgosi has been accused by many of abusing his powers as the head of intelligence and using his office to misuse government money.

Described by the local media as the most powerful person in Botswana, the 59-year-old former spy chief is also linked to the mystery surrounding P250 million  (about US$25 million) that was intended for the construction of fuel storage tanks that ended up in Israel, attracting the attention of financial watchdogs and corruption-busting agency, the DCEC. 

Kgosi had initially requested the money to build fuel containers for security agencies but it allegedly ended up being transferred to Israel to pay for military, anti-poaching and surveillance equipment.

The case relating to the P250 million is expected to open a can of worms as asset manager Bakang Seretse, whose company managed the money on behalf of DIS claims that Khama and Masisi benefited from the proceeds of the money.

Both Masisi and Khama have rubbished claims that they are linked to the money.

But Seretse, through his lawyer Kgosiitsile Ngakaagae, told a magistrate’s court in the capital Gaborone that Khama used cash from the proceeds of the P250 million allegedly stolen from the National Petroleum Fund (NPF) to build a house and buy himself a caravan.

He did not disclose the amount of money that Khama allegedly got for the personal properties.

The court heard that Masisi was also one of the top politicians who benefitted from NPF, as he allegedly pocketed about P3 million (around US$300,000).

When asked if he was aware that Khama and Masisi benefited from the alleged stolen money, the investigating officer from the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, Andre German, confirmed that he had interviewed Masisi and that he only got to know about Khama’s involvement in court.

Seretse is facing charges of fraud after the prosecution alleged that P250 million from the NPF was illegally spent.

But Seretse argues that Kgosi authorised all transactions and that he was acting on instructions from the former spy boss.

Seretse and his business associate, Botho Leburu, and former director of minerals Kenneth Kerekang are facing fraud and theft charges relating to the P250 million in question.

The case has seen investigators widening their probe to South Africa, Italy and the United Kingdom amid allegations that some of the stolen funds may have been laundered in these countries.

The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), through the treasurer Satar Dada and secretary-general Mpho Balopi, has also moved swiftly to distance itself from the claims that it benefited from the funds.

“While we would ordinarily not comment on a matter still before the courts, the allegations made against the party are far-reaching, and, in the interest of the party, its supporters and the nation at large, we would like to set the record straight,” Dada and Balopi said in a joint statement.

 

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