With a hair-raising P50 million deficit a few months ahead of the tightly contested general elections, fresh findings by The Botswana Gazette suggest that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is in financial distress and may struggle to roll out a full-hearted campaign to match a seemingly ready and loaded opposition. LETLHOGILE MPUANG reports

Impeccable sources say the situation is not surprising because the party’s finance issues have always been the exclusive preserve of the president and the party treasurer, a culture that current party president Mokgweetsi Masisi has shown a willingness to divorce and let the Central Committee in on the financial health of the party.

The BDP recently hosted all their 57 parliamentary candidates for a two-day retreat at Mmokolodi Game Reserve near Gaborone. According to information shared by the party, the retreat “was a chance for the candidates to not only bond, engage and debate, but also to share knowledge, ideas and skills”. President Masisi and party chairman Slumber Tsogwane were some of the key speakers at the event.

At that meeting, President Masisi is heard in a leaked audio recording revealing that the BDP was fighting tooth and nail to bounce back from its P50 million deficit which had accumulated over the past few years. Masisi is heard telling the parliamentary candidates that despite being in a bad financial position, the party would do everything within its power to assist them campaign. Masisi said commercial banks that had been assisting the BDP with overdrafts and loans were no longer willing to finance the “red-machine” as a result of a deteriorated relationships between the BDP as a client and the banks, which the party owes. BDP also owes suppliers.

The BDP has a shady history with its finances as the party has allegedly been surviving through former president Ian Khama’s connections with unknown sources. Some central committee members say finance matters had always been of preserve to the party president and party treasurer.

At the retreat, Masisi was lauded for his transparency with party finances. Approached this week by this publication to share on the financial situation, Satar Dada declined. “Who shares his financial issues with the public? Those are confidential matters,” he said.

But Dada has once again come to the rescue by giving the party 60 cars to be used for campaigning in all 57 constituencies and has been commended by Masisi for the kind gesture. Dada is the historical BDP financier.

Masisi revealed that the party also received some assistance from its “good” Indian and Chinese friends. Some of the Chinese were seen openly strolling with the BDP members at the party’s extraordinary congress in Kang last April. Regalia used at the Slumber Tsogwane launch in Boteti West recently was reportedly donated from China.

According to reports, nearly P36 million was used by the ruling party in the last general elections but it recorded a P21 million deficit as a result of a drop in the popular vote from 53.26 percent in 2009 to 46.45 in the 2014 general elections.

Former president Khama, at his most recent Serowe meeting, also suggested the BDP accounts were in the red when he left the presidency of the party. This publication also understands that the BDP has over the years relied on donations and overdrafts, especially for campaigning during election years, as well as rental of some of their properties.

Sources also tell The Botswana Gazette that there has been a decline in the number of fund-raising initiatives under President Masisi. Observers say it is the norm to host a number fundraising exercises in every election year in order to help finance campaigning. At the last BDP fundraising event in June 2018, the party received pledges running into millions. Investigations by this publication have revealed that not all have delivered on their pledges, including those who have now defected to the BDP splinter party, the Khama-led Botswana Patriotic Fund. Khama had pledged P1 million and indications are that he will not deliver on this pledge.

Suspended MPs Biggie Butale and Guma Moyo are some of those who have not fully honoured their pledges. Butale said no one made a follow-up on his pledge. On the other hand, Moyo said he had paid half of what he pledged and that he would settle the balance, despite being holed up in South Africa following his being investigated over tax related issues.

Ahead of the 2014 elections, the BDP was able to raise a few millions. Some of the donations at the time were from South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe. But Motsepe seems to be on Khama’s side, making it difficult for him to fund a BDP that Khama has unleashed war on. He is rumoured to have been one of the party’s financiers of longstanding.

It is not yet known whether the embattled Masisi will be able to raise the millions necessary to mount a strong campaign in an election tipped to be the most expensive in the history of Botswana. This at a time when Khama has promised to assist anyone who will help his cause to oust his nemesis, Masisi.