Less than a year in operation, the controversial Botswana Defence Force fleet of Landrovers bought for P161 million from the United Kingdom is facing mechanical challenges.
The 500 second-hand Land Rover 110 Defenders started arriving in the country during the last quarter of last year in batches via Namibia. The last batch is allegedly expected to arrive this year. The procurement of the obsolete vehicles was allegedly spearheaded by Office of the President early last year and BDF played no major role save for viewing and collection at Witham (Specialist Vehicles) Ltd - a UK second seller.
Although the OP refuted playing part in the agreement to purchase units of the Defenders LR110 4×4 SUV for the BDF, at a cost of P161.9 million, it has been at the centre of the controversial procurement. According to sources at Sir Seretse Khama Barracks (BDF Headquarters) the Landrovers have now become a liability to the BDF within a short space of time. It is alleged that most of the Landrovers which were dispatched in areas such as Plateau and Linyanti have broken down and were towed back to Kasane. The vehicles were dispatched for patrols in those areas.
BDF Director, Directorate of Protocol and Public Affairs Colonel Tebo Dikole has confirmed that the Landrovers are experiencing mechanical problems. “BDF last year procured what is labeled as EXCESS DEFENCE EQUIPMENT from the United Kingdom (UK) Military. Excess Defence Equipment is equipment disposed by an army, in this case the UK Army as a result of downsizing.
“This equipment ranges from never used to hardly used. Some of the Landrovers were never used and others had mileages between 7000km to 50 000km. It is common knowledge that sometimes equipment, whether military or not that has not been in use for a while will likely display some form of minor mechanical faults that require minimal repairs,” said Colonel Dikole in an interview.
The Landrovers are said to have started experiencing mechanical problems and some of the parts that have been procured do not match the specifications of the vehicles. Some of the vehicles are said to have only been in use for less than four (4) months before they broke down. According to sources some of the parts that have been procured are stock-piled at the barracks and have been rendered useless.
It has been estimated that the parts have cost the BDF close to P30 million. Colonel Dikole stated that any fleet - new or used - remains susceptible to mechanical failures as well as wear and tear. “In all our operational areas, which are in rugged terrain, the BDF cannot insulate its equipment against mechanical challenges coupled with wear and tear that result from such hostile environments,” said the BDF spokesperson.
According to Colonel Dikole it is against this background that service support is provided in operational areas, and if this fails vehicles are backloaded to the nearest repair facility. He refuted claims that there is a stockpile of spares amounting to close to P30 million.“The fact of the matter is that only parts worth P1, 8 million were procured and contrary to your claims are not stockpiled, as they are used to maintain the vehicles. Please note that as a cost saving measure the best international practice is for militaries to consider excess defence equipment in the constant review of their inventory.
The Landrover fleet procured last year has augmented the existing fleet and this has enhanced our operational reach,” Colonel Dikole pointed out. According to reports production of the Land Rover 110 Defender has ceased in the United Kingdom and has been phased out of military service in both the UK and Botswana.
Members of Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Retired Members Association (RMA) are scheduled to converge at Madiba Senior School in Mahalapye for their Annual General Meeting tomorrow (Saturday)
The AGM is hosted by Mahalapye Branch. The meeting comes at a time when some of the retired senior officers are putting together a case against their former employer over a Report which is held by the Defence Council. The Report which is yet to be taken to cabinet talks about the former army men pensions. The former BDF officers have for long been complaining about their welfare and pension. They have argued that they are being taken for granted after having served the country for a long time. They also argue that government through Minister of Defence Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi has promised to resolve their problems but nothing fruitful has been realised.
The BDF RMA Chairperson, Major General Bakwena Oitsile last week addressed Mahalapye regional members who aired their dissatisfaction at the way government is handling their grievances. Maj Gen Oitsile told the meeting that the matter would be discussed again this Saturday where Minister Kgathi is expected to address the members. He said his committee is working around the clock with government in an attempt to address the former officers’ welfare and pension issues.It is yet to be seen if government would move swiftly to address the matter before the officers bring their case to court. This publication has learnt that some of the senior officers have identified a lawyer who has made the first consultation with them on the case they want to bring against their former employer. The former army men have indicated that they are impoverished because of the way their pension has been handled.
Recently in Parliament Kgathi stated that he is not aware that members of the BDF retire into poverty because of inadequate pension paid to them. He was responding to a question from Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse. Keorapetse had asked the minister if he is aware that BDF soldiers retire into poverty because of inadequate pension paid to them, and that the recent amendments to the BDF Act will do little to address this problem.
Kgathi stated that in 2001, the Government moved from a Defined Benefit Scheme to Defined Contribution Scheme. “Unfortunately, the Defined Benefit Scheme was modelled on a civil servant who retires at 60 years and not on soldiers; some of whom retire at the age of 45 years considerably disadvantaging members of the BDF. I have amended the BDF Act and it was recently passed by this Parliament as the BDF Act, 2018.
“The effect of the amendment led to the raising of the retirement ages in the BDF except for the ranks of Private and Lance Corporal, which were retained at the age of 45 and 47 respectfully. The raising of the retirement age in the BDF was on consideration of the fact that the increase of retirement ages will consequentially lead to a longer period of defined contributions with a net effect of 10-15 per cent increase in the Net Replacement Ratio (NRR),” Kgathi told Parliament.
The Bailey bridge, which was extensively damaged in the wake of recent flash floods, is currently under construction.
The bridge located along the A1 at Nywane River near Otse village along busy Gaborone - Lobatse road is expected to re-open next week Monday after it was closed for weeks. According from a press release from the Roads Department, the bridge is being strategically constructed to help with the movement of vehicles.
“The steel structure will accommodate only light vehicles. An existing 1.2 km bypass adjacent to the collapsed bridge is being prepared for use by light vehicles,” the statement reads.
Moreover, The Roads Department states that no trucks, buses or any vehicles will be allowed through the Bailey bridge and bypass. “Roads engineers are working closely with the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) engineers to ensure the Bailey bridge is functioning by next week Monday”
Four people survived a helicopter crash on Monday in Tutume Village. This is a second aviation accident just week after a fatal aeroplane crash that killed three Botswana Defence Force (BDF) officers.
According to a press release from the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the accident happened around 1830hrs. “A Botswana registered helicopter A2-HJR, based in Kasane was involved in an accident. The aircraft had departed Kasane to night stop in Pandamatenga with three people on board, being the crew plus two passengers,” a state from the Ministry of Transport reads.
“Reports indicate that the incident took place as the helicopter was taking off from a playing ground in Tutume after picking up a third passenger.” The occupants were rushed to the hospital in Francistown but three have since been discharged, with only one still under medical care.
“The ministry has since instituted an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the occurrence.” The statement adds that air safety investigators from the Directorate of Accident investigation from the ministry have commenced investigations into the incident.
As Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Commander Lieutenant General Gaolathe Galebotswe bid the army farewell yesterday (Thursday) some retired BDF officers have dismissed government’s claims that they have been paid their leave days amounting to thousands of Pula.
This comes after Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Eric Molale on behalf of Minister of Defence Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi recent remarks that retired and serving members of the BDF have been paid their forfeited leave days. The retired officers are said to be owed a lot of money running into thousands of Pula depending on how many days one had from the time they joined the army to the time one left.
The forfeited days are said to have not been included when the officers were paid their retirement packages. Minister Molale told Parliament during the winter session that the percentage base charged was the equivalence applicable to all public officers’ monthly income taxes. “The exercise targeted in-service members because retirees and those who were terminated were paid all outstanding leave days. The exercise to repay forfeited leave days had no link to the sale of Botswana Telecommunications Corporation shares, but it was rather a correction of an omission and payment to those entitled”, the minister told Parliament.
This week some of the retirees told Botswana Guardian that the minister has misled the nation about this issue. The officers revealed that they came to learn about this after they saw an article in the Botswana Daily News of the 15th August 2016. “It is surprising to hear the minister misleading Parliament that we have been paid. All we know is that only those who are in service have been paid not us. In April this year we were requested by the BDF to avail all our details including bank details so that when they are done with payment for in service officers then they would process our payments,” said a former army general who has served for over 20 years.
He further stated, “As we speak we are still waiting for response from them.”Another retiree stated that there is no way the minister could say they have paid them when the system to pay for forfeited days came into effect this year. He indicated that they feel neglected because they are no longer in the service. The former Warrant Officer 1 revealed that there are some former senior officers who had fought to ensure that they are paid. “It is only that some of us do not know who to approach. There are many of us around the country who are still awaiting our funds. The money varies- like for me it dates back to when I joined the army in 1990. So you will have to calculate from that day until the 31st of December 2015, which was the cut-off date when the system for payment of forfeited days was introduced.”
BDF Director of Protocol and Public Affairs Lieutenant Colonel Fikani Machola said conditions of service and remuneration for members of the BDF including those retired are purely internal and administrative. Machola stated that review of conditions of service just like productivity only has a beginning but no end. “Therefore, the process of reviewing conditions of service for members of the BDF are still on-going and will be in the interest of the incoming commander,” he revealed in an interview.
“When a person is dying from oxygen deprivation, you can’t see they are dying because they don’t put up a struggle, they look as if they are sleeping when in fact they are dying.” When the soldier said this to us we all kept quiet, all of us scared and wondering what in the world we had got ourselves into.
But we could not back down, it was already too late, the plane was just about to take off. I felt my heart do double somersaults and looking around I could see that the men I had travelled with on that little expedition were as afraid as I was. We were on board the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) C130 military aircraft as part of the media personnel who had been chosen to experience this year’s Makgadikgadi Epic by the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO). On this third day since our arrival at the Nata bird sanctuary where the event was held, I had already been on a tethered hot air balloon in the morning. We had not flown that high in the hot air balloon and it was a very stable ride which was something I had not expected for some reason. Perhaps it was because I’d imagined that once in a flying basket one would feel some kind of discomfort but alas, that was not the case. In fact one of the operators, Vincent Cook, explained he had been operating the balloon for five years and it was very stable.
“You can even pop a bottle of champagne up here,” he said and explained that hot air balloons and champagne really go well together. This had been in the morning. In the afternoon just before lunch, those who wanted to go on board the military flight to accompany the sky divers who were going to make a 16 000 feet jump had been welcomed to do so. So that is how we found ourselves inside the aircraft, having driven from Nata bird sanctuary to Sowa airport to catch the flight there.
After we were informed by the soldier that we could possibly die on the aircraft it was explained that this was because the sky divers had requested that they do their jump at an altitude of 16 000 feet which is approximately 4876 metres. According to Wikitravel, over 50percent of people will become ill if they ascend rapidly from sea level to 3500 metres (11 000 feet) without acclimatisation and everyone will if they ascend rapidly to 5000 metres (16 000 feet) and we were going to 16 000 feet. When we started ascending I tried so hard to calm myself, all of us did in fact.
The way we were just making mindless conversation told me we were all scared. The divers were okay. This was something they were used to. The soldiers too. The view was something amazing. Very hard to put into words. The clouds looked like white cotton balls. The sky seemed bluer than I had ever seen it. Some of my colleagues were brave enough to unstrap themselves from their chairs and move around but I sat glued to my seat. I was shaking so much. I have had to deal with panic attacks since Junior Secondary School. But I did take peeks at the window. I even got a chance to see the propellers from where I was sitting.
At this time, the divers had already started making their jumps. At some point I felt myself being light headed. I tried to ignore it but it came back seconds later. I called for help and was told there was nothing that could be done. Imagine being told you could die, then feeling like you are dying and being told there is nothing that can be done? I was however told to take deep breaths and not panic and I tried not to. I was then taken to the cockpit to sit with the pilots and to my surprise, my colleagues came right behind me. So I was not the only one who was not feeling okay but they being males decided to just keep quiet!
By this time, the divers were done. We were now starting to descend. Another thing started happening; our ears started getting blocked. We could not hear each other. We were then told to hold our noses and try blowing so that air would come out through our ears, which we did. I must have shown I was struggling. Even when I did that nothing happened. We were then told to swallow some saliva to aid the process. The minute I started doing that I heard a pop sound and my eras felt much better. As we were descending we went so low that we could even see some wildebeests running because of the huge noise the aircraft made. We went to Nata bird sanctuary where we descended very low and rapidly ascended. I later heard that the crowd below loved this stunt.
When we finally landed, with my wobbly knees I made my way from the cockpit to the back then finally outside. I could have kissed the ground when my feet touched it. I knew then that as much as the experience had been thrilling it had been frightening and I doubt I will be repeating it anytime soon.
A shooting incident at Botswana Defence Force training in Ntwetwe Firing Range near Maun resulted in one death, two serious injuries, 3 minor injuries and the army official statement insists it was an accident. “As part of the Botswana Defence Force’s continuous arm specific training, one member of the BDF lost his life and two others are critical after an accident during a basic gunnery course at Ntwetwe Firing Range today 6th July 2016,” reads the statement from the Director of Protocol and Public Affairs, Colonel Tebo Dikole.
For now details are scanty, but sources that spoke to Botswana Guardian report that there was an argument between the deceased and his colleagues. “It looks like there was an argument and exchange of words which ended up leading to this unfortunate incident”. Botswana Guardian was unable to validate this version of the incident with sources immediate to the incident.
Another source, a former military officer revealed that safety at Ntwetwe Firing Ranges is of top priority. He expressed doubt that this could have been a human error because all units and their leaders who use the range know the importance of safety when handling these machines. He suspects it could have been a mechanical fault with the machine adding that continuous inspection of the machines is key especially during training to avert any unforeseen incident.The source further suspects that a mortar from the SK 105 light tanks went off prematurely. The Austrian tanks are said to be old and in the past calls were made for them to be decommissioned. “The tanks are very old,” maintained a source.
He informed the paper that of late the tanks have been misfiring and therefore have mechanical faults and indications are that the shell from the tank went off prematurely. When further contacted, Dikole rubbished the speculations that were imputing some altercation or defective machines. “What you are telling me is pure speculation; I would not like to speculate because we have expertise that is capable of thoroughly investigating and will ascertain the cause of the accident. It must be noted that in BDF we have different arms and equipment and our troops are put through military occupational arms specific training.”
Dikole further denied that army tanks were used and revealed that the incident was caused by fixed 120 mm artillery Mortar that has a detachment of six operators. It exploded killing one, leaving two seriously injured and three escaping with minor injuries.
“This was just Artillery Unit training, there were no tanks involved as tanks belong to a different unit called
Armour Unit’’, he said.
He further said they are currently investigating to find out what exactly happened. “I wish to underscore the fact that as much as we put safety first and we regret the death and, or incident, but in our scope of work we cannot completely 100 percent insulate ourselves against injury. However all the necessary precaution is taken in every stage of our work.’’