VOTES FOR SALE?

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Balopi caught up in alleged voter trafficking scam

  • Voters ferried from Maun to register at Gabs North
  • Campaign manager keeps their IEC cards
  • Paid P300 each and ferried back to Maun
  • Vehicles donated by Balopi used for trafficking voters

SONNY SERITE

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General Mpho Balopi and the party’s parliamentary candidate for Gaborone North has become entangled in a voter trafficking scandal ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Investigations by this publication have identified at least twenty eight (28) eligible voters who were transported from Maun two weeks ago to register to vote in Gaborone North after they were promised to be rewarded ‘‘handsomely” with P1000 each.
Investigations by The Botswana Gazette reveal that the 28 voters were transported on a bus by a known local transport service provider from Maun to Gaborone and that their bus fare was paid by a lady identified only as “Sekao,” who was their caretaker during the trip and was also responsible for their recruitment in Maun. ‘‘She just told us that if we agree to go and register at Gaborone North ‘‘re tla fiwa madi a a tlhwaafetseng’’ (we will be rewarded handsomely) by Mpho Balopi’’, one of the voters revealed during our investigations.
According to an informant within the group of 28 voters, when they arrived in Gaborone, they found the six vehicles that Balopi donated to his constituency on September 15, waiting for them at the bus rank. The vehicles were used to transport the voters to a high-walled compound in Mogoditshane where they were told to freshen up and were fed breakfast. After the meal the voters reveal that they were individually coached on questions they would be asked at the Voter Registration booth and on what to tell the IEC Officers, ‘‘We were given plot numbers, streets names and ward names to present to the IEC officers in the Gaborone North constituency where we were then taken to go and register’’, one of them revealed.
When delivering the six vehicles to Gaborone North constituency a month ago, Balopi informed the public that the vehicles would be used to transport constituents to voter registration stations. In this case, voters from Maun to Gaborone North voter registration stations.
According to the informant, and independently confirmed by three other Maun voters involved in the voter registration trafficking, the group was divided and dispersed to various voting stations to registered at Itekeng, Tsogang and Ledumang schools, “we were told to behave as if we did not know each other.”
After registration, the group was promised that Balopi would personally meet with them to thank them and pay each P1000 but instead of Balopi, they were addressed by Balopi’s logistics campaign manager Akhim Setswalo. The informant advised this publication that Setswalo told the group that Balopi was grateful to them but would not be able to meet with them personally due to his position in the BDP. Setswalo has confirmed the conversation when confronted with the allegations by the publication.
Setswalo, the informant revealed ‘‘told us that this was not the end of our journey as they will once again bring us to Gaborone to cast our vote in the general election next year.”
Immediately following their registration in Gaborone the voters were each rewarded with P300 as ‘‘pocket money’’ despite having been promised P1000 if they succeeded in being registered in Balopi’s constituency. In addition their caretaker “Sekao” paid the bus fare on their behalf as they retraced their steps back to Maun, where they were told to wait until next year when they will be brought back to the capital city and help take Balopi to parliament.
Asked why they agreed to participate in such an arrangement, the majority of the voters interviewed by The Botswana Gazette pointed to one reason; money. ‘‘Life is difficult, and it is very tempting when you are promised money in return’’ one revealed, speaking on behalf of the group to their expressions of approval. They also explained that they decided to come out because they were concerned that their handlers might have “cheated them” when it came to the payment they were due, ‘‘We suspect that those in charge of bringing us to Gaborone may have indeed been given enough money to pay us P1000 each but they only gave us P300 each and pocketed the rest’’, they said.
Balopi’s logistics manager agreed to meet with this publication and inadvertently confessed to the dirty voter registration operation. According to Setswalo, he confiscated the registration cards to avoid a situation where the trafficked voters might get back to Maun and brag to other people that they have registered to vote in the capital city. He further revealed that they took the cards to avoid instances where the voters might have a change of heart and change their places of registration in the supplementary voting which allows voters to change their residential constituencies. On why the trafficked voters were never given the opportunity to meet Balopi while in Gaborone, Setswalo said it was intentional. ‘‘We didn’t want a situation where Balopi would be implicated should the operation be exposed,” he revealed in a recorded conversation. He also let slip and said ‘’had i known this batch will give me a problem i wouldn’t have brought them here’’, a statement that shows there could be other batches of trafficked voters apart from the one in question.
Speaking to this publication after its investigations, Balopi claimed ignorance of the dirty tricks applied by his campaign team. ‘‘I always tell my team to play above board in their recruitment exercises.” He said he was not aware that his campaign team was bringing people from outside the constituency to register and vote for him. ‘‘I am the Secretary General of the ruling party and cannot be doing such things’’, he denied.
IEC Principal Public Relations officer Osupile Maroba had not responded to our enquiries at the time of going for print on Monday. In a separate story in this edition, IEC Principal Elections Officer Nyanga Nyanga said IEC Act Section 11 gives the Registration Officer the authority to enquire from an applicant information as to his place of residence and if they are not satisfied they can refuse to register the applicants.
In spite of such powers being available to the IEC, our investigations have revealed that in some instances Election Officers were given plot numbers that do not even exist in the Gaborone North constituency.