- BTO hired aircraft for Khama behind Masisi’s back
- Masisi had rejected Khama’s request for aircraft
- Race for Rhinos Director billed BTO
- Gazette intercepts trail of payments
Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) defied President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s orders and secretly chartered a private aircraft for former President Ian Khama at taxpayers’ expense, after Masisi denied Khama the use of State aircraft for the Race for Rhinos event in Sowa.
Investigations by The Botswana Gazette have revealed that at the time of the Race for Rhinos event, held in June this year at Sowa (Sua Pan), former president Khama had requested a government aircraft to fly back from Sowa and travel to Serowe, but his request was turned down by President Masisi. At the time, Permanent Secretary to the Office of the President Carter Morupisi wrote to Khama’s office informing him that, “I am advised to relay the message to you by His Excellency the President Mokgweetsi Masisi that your request to use an aircraft has been denied’’.
Morupisi further advised Khama’s office to arrange road transport for the former President. The Botswana Gazette has uncovered purchase orders that reveal, following Masisi’s refusal to grant Khama permission to use official aircraft BTO defied the president’s order and secretly hired one of the private aircrafts at the race to fly Khama to Mosu.
A purchase order intercepted by this publication shows that a Pretoria-based company belonging to the Race for Rhinos Director Chris Briers was paid 32,400.00 Rands for the less than 20minutes flight to transport Khama from Sowa to Mosu. Briers’ payment also included flying journalists from CNN for aerial shots of the race.
The purchase order authorised by BTO Finance Manager Dickson Wiya on July 24 reveals that Briers was paid an additional 10,400 Rands for his private vehicle which was used by air race marshals from South Africa. Briers is a South African veteran air-show pilot, aviation consultant and has been attributed as being the success behind the Race for Rhinos, with this year’s edition marking its fourth instalment. The Race for Rhinos was his brainchild aimed at fighting the poaching of Africa’s most majestic animal the Rhinoceros.
BTO has been dogged by negative reports over the last 2 years, after being interrogated by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on several occasions. Testimony before the PAC revealed that Minister Tshekedi Khama, micro-manages the entity resulting in procurement procedures and or rules and regulations being violated with impunity.
Recently BTO issued a public statement ‘correcting’ the Botswana Gazette story that 35 million Pula was used for the I love Botswana Ensemble excursion in New York. BTO put the amount at 11million Pula but deliberately avoided to answer the question of conflict of interest between the organization’s dealing with the wife of the minister who oversees the organisation. While BTO pointed out that the minister’s wife was doing work for BTO affiliates pro bono, omitted to inform the public that she is however given all the allowances (per diem and imprest) that are given to BTO employees during official trips.
Answering questions from The Botswana Gazette, BTO Head of Marketing Jillian Blackbeard confirmed that indeed they had hired an aircraft for Khama but said it was not unusual as they have the same in the past for high-profile dignitaries who grace their events.
‘‘From time to time, the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) invites various personalities to host events and perform activities that endorse or raise the respective events’ profile. During the 2018 Race for Rhinos, the Botswana Tourism Ambassador, Ian Khama, had been invited to perform the flag off duty,’’ Blackbeard explained in her response.
Blackbeard advised this publication that when such invitations are extended, it is ordinarily the responsibility of BTO, as the event coordinator to provide logistical arrangements and hospitality courtesies to their guests.
On why the CNN crew was given special treatment, Blackbeard said it is BTO standard practice to invite media to their events x as Khawa and Botswana Travel and Tourism Expo as well as internationally, such as during ITB Berlin. ‘‘BTO has extended to the media their commitment to provide transportation and cover their hospitality requirements. BTO at times has chartered an aircraft to undertake the above logistics and in the case of the Race For Rhinos 2018 selected a supplier whose aircraft was already stationed at Sua Pan in order to reduce expenses by eliminating the cost of ferry to Sua Pan’’, she said.
Blackbeard revealed that Chris Briers was engaged by BTO to coordinate the aviation component of the Race For Rhinos and one of his duties was to oversee various air marshals’ and ground staff engaged to ensure the delivery of a highly complex aviation event.
‘‘These members of the support crew required a vehicle to deliver their respective duties, and in respect of which they could not utilise BTO vehicles. It was cost efficient therefore to utilise the race coordinator’s vehicle, rather than rent an all-terrain vehicle for the duration of the event’’, she explained.