President Ian Khama has defended his decision to reappoint his first cousin into cabinet a few hours after he was acquitted of high profile corruption charges in 2011 saying he had privileged information about the matter. Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Dikgakgamatso Ramadeluka Seretse was cleared of corruption in October 2011 after prosecutors failed to link him with his company, RFT when it applied for a tender in the ministry he heads.
For 320 days, Khama held on to the position but his decision to reappoint Seretse a few hours after his acquittal raised eyebrows that the President was favouring his cousin. “It was reserved for him,” Khama made a startling admission last week in an exclusive interview with Botswana Guardian. “It was reserved for him because the way his lawyers briefed me about the case… it was a pretty minor case of conflict of interest… he had not declared….” The revelation has been criticised by lawyers, saying the president was “almost usurping” the judicial process. The admission also comes at a time when there are concerns that the executive arm of government, “has too much control on the judiciary. “Everybody,” Khama said; had expected the “pretty minor case” to be over in a short period of time. Speaking for the first time about the case, Khama said he did not fill the post permanently because he knew that Seretse, who was represented by Collins Newman and Company, was likely to win.
He was convinced by Seretse’s decision to voluntarily step down from cabinet to clear his name. Based on the privileged information he received from Collins Newman and Company, he, “like anyone else”, had thought that the case would not take long. “The case just dragged on and on and on, longer than anyone expected,” he noted. “That is why when Lesego Motsumi left, I brought in Edwin Batshu to act as well.” He said by the look of it his chances of acquittal were high. Senior partner at Collins Newman and Company, Desai Rizwan said his law firm is “bound by professional obligation” and will not breach the attorney-client confidentiality. “This is just a principle at our firm but I am not the one who was handling that matter, talk to (Parks) Tafa,” Rizwan said. Tafa, who is believed to be out of the country, could not be reached for comment as his mobile rang unanswered.
As minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Motsumi also acted on behalf of Seretse until March 2011. Batshu then took over for a period of about seven months when Motsumi was offered a diplomatic post. “There was no need to fill it permanently,” with steely eyes, Khama defended his decision. It is the norm, he said, that the President gets briefing from lawyers whenever a high profile person is being prosecuted. “I need to know because it helps me when I have to make a decision,” he said. Attorney General Attaliah Molokomme, is the Government Legal Advisor could not be drawn into confirming or denying whether she participated in the Seretse defence team that advised the president that the case was a “pretty minor” one, because she was not present duringthe BG interview. She then referred our enquiry to Brig.
George Tlhalerwa and Masego Ramakgathi at the Presiddent’ Private Office to assist, who had not responded at press time on Wednesday. However, an official who did not want to be identified at the DPP said it is ill-advised for a Head of State to discuss details of matters before the courts with lawyers. “It is defeating the ends of justice,” the lawyer said. Asked if the decision to appoint his young brother, Tshekedi Khama as minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism was not tantamount to favouritism, Khama, who was visibly taken aback by criticism surrounding appointing Tshekedi, argued that his younger brother waited for three years as backbencher before he became a minister. “Because he is my brother, he did not get favoured unless if I brought him in immediately in 2009, you would have said hei wa bona, this chap is new and has just came in and has been appointed.
By the same token, because he is my brother, he should not be disadvantaged. So if he is competent or able to be a minister, I think the time is right for him to come and he can come in.” Extrapolating the argument further, Khama drew comparison with the appointment of other ministers. He argued that many politicians became ministers immediately after entering parliament such as Dr. John Seakgosing (Specially Elected, also Minister of Health) and minister of Trade and Industry, Dorcus Makgato-Malesu. Tshekedi joined public office in 2008. It is not against the grain for presidents to appoint ministers immediately after they are elected into parliament.
Former president Festus Mogae has also looked to Kitso Mokaila when he wanted to fill the post of minister of Environment Wildlife and Tourism in 2004. On other issues, he says he was taken aback by suggestions that he refused to testify in a high profile graft case in which the ‘late’ Debswana Managing Director Louis Nchindo was accused of deceiving the state to acquire land in Gaborone near Sebele. ”I was never asked or summoned. They came here and interviewed me in this office, about a certain meeting I knew about. And I gave the DPP that information. But I was never asked by the prosecution or the defence to testify on their behalf.” Khama’s explanation runs contrary to views held by sources at the government enclave that had previously said cabinet ministers were generally unwilling to testify in the marathon trial.
Former president, Mogae testified against Nchindo. Khama said he would have testified had he been requested. “When we are asked to assist in any case which would help bring about conclusion one way or the other, I think it’s every citizen’s responsibility to help bring about justice,” he said. The ghost of Kalafatis lingers on Now that the hair raising incident involving the killing of John Kalafatis by seemingly trigger happy security agents is over, what would the president say to John’s family? “I don’t know them in the first instance,” he said, drawing his chair closer to the desk. “I have nothing to say to them. I wasn’t involved in the case or whatever happened to him at all.” He was taken aback by reports that linked him to the incident. “The report was that I had jumped on a motorbike, and gone off to my sister in Phakalane, she doesn’t live in Phakalane. It was said that she has been a victim of some break in - she has never been a victim of a break in. And I haven’t ridden my motorbike at night anywhere over that period,” he said, now flushing.
The operation, he said, was done by the security forces and he had no involvement in the killing of Kalafatis. “But again we know who was behind it, and why the story was put out and of course it sells newspapers when you implicate the president in stories like that,” he said without revealing names. He is quick to defend the spy agency, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) and said its detractors were too quick to link it with the man who heads it and him. “Just because I worked with him (Issac Kgosi) does not mean he cannot lead the DIS,” he posited. He is convinced the spy agency has done a lot of good to improve the national security. “Unfortunately I can’t tell you, but there is a lot. That I can assure you.”