Politicians have made a call for Court of Appeal (CoA) President Justice Ian Kirby to resign.The call, made during interviews with this publication comes after Kirby’s name was linked to at least seven offshore companies with a discredited Panama based law firm, Mossack Foncesa. According to the leak, the law firm arranges for wealthy individuals; politicians, celebrities and people in high offices to avoid taxes and avoid sanctions in their home countries by setting up a myriad of tax havens which also shield the identity of the true beneficiaries of funds in the company accounts.
In an exclusive interview with Gabz FM, a private radio station, Kirby stated that he had not done anything wrong and that he was not aware of where his companies were going to be registered. According to the report, Kirby stated that he would not resign, but was prepared to step down if asked to. Though not accused of any wrongdoing, the leaks have thrown some doubt into the CoA President’s role as the head of an institution which spearheads justice and accountability in the country.
Botswana Congress Party (BCP) president Dumelang Saleshando told Botswana Gazette that Kirby wants to pre-empt the call of his resignation by bringing the legality of whether investing offshore was legal or illegal, while the real issue at hand was whether or not he conducted himself in a moral and ethical way.
“If he wants to spare the judiciary of any embarrassment, he should just go- he has given excuse to say that he was not aware of what he was getting himself into,” Saleshando stated, quashing Kirby’s excuse that, “ as someone who at one point drafted the Botswana Tax Laws, he ought to have known better . Kirby is not just a normal investor, thus he should have done a thorough background check of who he was investing with.” Saleshando noted that if Kirby does not step down, and with no one pushing for his resignation, then he should be investigated.
“He only says if he is asked to step down, he would do so, but he does not even specify who should ask him to do so. But for his positions’ integrity, he should not wait for anyone to ask him to step down, he should go voluntarily. We would respect him more if he does that,” he said.
Umbrella for Democratic Change Member of Parliament Noah Salakae stated that Kirby’s resignation should be automatic; “ We all , including him know that Botswana makes lots of money out of tax collection and that should have created a consciousness that by avoiding tax, he was somehow ripping off the country of what it was due.” Salake explained that, worsening the situation was the fact that the CoA president dealt with issues of justice in his line of work, giving expectation that he would be fully aware when justice was not practiced. “Botswana has honoured Kirby with a very high position and he should have been appreciative of that gesture and paid tax and not for him to have offshore investments where he would not pay tax,” he said, stating that, the CoA president should not wait for anyone to ask to leave because his resignation should be “ automatic.”
Meanwhile, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General Botsalo Ntuane said that the party reserves its comment because the matter is complex.
University of Botswana Political and Administrative Studies lecturer Dr Kaelo Molefhe said the issue of Kirby’s involvement in the Panama leaks was not one of whether investing offshore was legal or not, but rather of being able to differentiate between right from wrong in hiding his money from his resident country and placing it in a different place so as to dodge tax. Put to him that Kirby had stated that he was not aware where his companies would be registered, Molefhe said; “ this is the same Justice who if brought before his court would say, not knowing is not an excuse. It is not an excuse for him too.” To this end, Molefhe said it was only right for the CoA president to resign; “We are not saying he has done anything wrong, but to save the integrity of his high position, he should resign,” he said. Molefhe says it is thus left to Kirby to say, “ I did nothing wrong, but I found myself in the company of crooked people who it seems knew what they were doing while I was in the dark; thus I resign.”On Kirby’s statement that if asked to step down he will, Molefhe said he, Kirby, needed not to wait to be told. “Why does he want to shift his responsibility to someone else. He needs to make that decisions; it is called personal responsibility and having high morality.”
The Law Society of Botswana Chairperson Lawrence Lecha avoided commenting on the issue stating that he will wait for “full facts” before issuing a statement.
Efforts to solicit a comment from the Ministry of Defense, Justice and Security under which Kirby’s office falls- were futile as they had not answered a questionnaire sent to them and their phones rang unanswered at the time of going to print.