Masisi’s P10m Swiss Trip Bill

  •  World Economic Forum is a billionaire and politician’s paradise
  • Switzerland-Davos trip estimated at over P10 million
  • Strategic Partner & entrance fee approx. P5.6 million
  • OP and Bank of Botswana dodge questions from The Gazette

President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his entourage must have used over P10 million of taxpayers’ money to rub shoulders with the likes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US President Donald Trump and the world’s top billionaires who run the richest companies in the world during their four-day stay in Davos, Switzerland if the World Economic Forum (WEF) standards are anything to go by, KEABETSWE NEWEL and LAWRENCE SERETSE report.

What The Botswana Gazette has established is that just to have an opportunity to be invited to the World Economic Forum Conference, one must have a membership. It doesn’t come cheap, according to information sourced.

The conference ticket itself is free for most of the attendants, especially politicians. Only business people who represent companies are charged up to US28 000, which is the equivalence of P302 680. This is for the conference ticket and membership fees only.

However, even those who don’t pay for the entrance tickets to the conference (like politicians) still have to pay WEF membership fees, which start at $62 000 per year, the equivalence of P670 220, which can range up to $620 000, which is equivalent to more than P7.2 million, depending on the type of membership, according to the WEF website and annual report, as well as articles published by New York Times, The Business Insider and Quartz.

There are several levels of membership, the basic of which costs up to P670 220 annually for only one invitation. On top of that, one needs a ticket to the conference. It costs an additional US19 000 (P205 390), bringing the total costs of the cheapest membership and entrance fees plus tax to US71 000 (P767 510) per individual. That does not include accommodation, chauffer services and other necessities and entertainment.

Those who want to be invited behind the velvet rope to participate in private sessions pay for an Industry Associate membership to rub shoulders with industry peers. The cost of the Industry Associate level membership is US137 000 (the equivalence of P1 480 970). Add the price of the ticket and tax and the amount rises to a total of US156 000 (around P1 686 360).
Furthermore, for some executives who do not travel alone, the WEF does not just let them purchase an additional ticket. They first need to upgrade their annual membership to Industry Partner level, which will cost them about US263 000 (around P2 843 030) which accelerates to US310 000 (around P3 253 810) when additional two tickets are added.

Politicians and heads of state who like to travel with an entourage need to pay for a Strategic Partner level membership, which has a price tag of US527 000 (P5 696 870) as annual membership. President Masisi mentions in one of the video interviews of the African Growth Platform that Botswana is a “Partner.” According to information sourced from the WEF website and published information from New York Times, Quartz and The Business Insider, the P5 696 870 is just the annual membership entitling one to as many as five invitations. Each invitation is still $19,000 (P205 390) each. If five people come, the total costs are $622,000, the equivalence of P6 723 820, according to international media reports.

In addition, accommodation in Davos is also pricey. The New York Times reports that hotels raise their prices by up to five times their normal rates during the WEF Conference. It emerged that rooms at two of the most popular hotels among attendees, The Belvedere and The InterContinental, are renting for $231 (P2 497) and $392 (P4 237) for nights in January, their websites show.

Some attendees elect to rent chalets for themselves and their staff, which can cost up to $140,000 (over P1.5 million) for the week.

According to a government statement, President Masisi was accompanied by the First Lady Neo, the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Peggy Serame, the Acting Permanent Secretary to the President Elias Magosi, the Permanent Representative of Botswana to Switzerland Ambassador Dr Athaliah Molokomme, the CEO of the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) Kelotsositse Olebile, BITC Executive Director (responsible fo Brand Management Bame Moremong, and BITC United Kingdom Office Director Moemedi Mokgosi.  Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) also had several of its representatives, as well as other unspecified senior government officials, were also in Davos.

President Masisi tweeted on his official Twitter account that he was invited by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF. The meeting took place from 21 to 24 January 2020 under the theme, “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World.” As per membership requirements, President Masisi’s only choice, looking at his large entourage, would have been invited at Strategic Partner level membership that asks for P5.6 million annually. Further, each member of his entourage would have forked out P205 390 for an extra ticket to the conference plus the pricey luxury accommodations, chauffer services and other amenities. If that was the membership he used, the four-day stay in Davos would have set back the Government of Botswana by well over P10 million at the minimum. These estimates do not include the President’s official travel costs and security, plus the entertainment, overtime as well as per diem.

The Botswana Gazette sent inquiries to Andrew Sesinyi, the Permanent Secretary (responsible for) Government Communications, in quest of establishing the process through which President Masisi and his entourage of over 10 officials were invited to Davos. The inquiry further sought to confirm the level of membership at which President Masisi was invited and costs associated with it. In addition, The Botswana Gazette wanted to know if there were strategic partnerships and what deals were struck to accelerate economic development in Botswana, bring foreign direct investment and create employment for the impoverished Batswana. Sesinyi said the membership of the WEF is usually facilitated under the auspices of the Bank of Botswana (BoB) which he says always participates at the conference. According to him, if the Office of the President (OP) attended, then it would have been under BoB’s membership.

The Botswana Gazette cobbled an inquiry for Dr. Seamogano Mosanako, Head of Communications and Information Services at the central bank. This publication wanted to establish whether or not the President and his entourage attended WEF under the BoB membership, as well as costs and benefits associated with such attendance. Further, the inquiry sought to establish the level of the BoB membership and how long the bank had been a member of the WEF.

Dr. Mosanako had promised to respond before close of business on Monday, but upon being followed up said she could not respond until she had sought “an answer” from the Office of the President (OP). In essence she wanted to first ascertain with the OP what to say to The Botswana Gazette before responding despite having promised that she would and the OP being said to piggyback on BoB.

US president Donald Trump’s two-day jaunt to the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos reportedly set the American US taxpayer back by at least $3.4 million in car rentals and hotel rooms, according to a Quartz analysis of federal filings. Masisi and the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte were featured during a high-level panel discussion on Africa at Davos. President Masisi emphasized the power of African youth, the continent’s growing economies and cities, and the potential that a unified market under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement is poised to deliver. “We have full confidence that when we increase intra-African trade, it will be a means by which we grow and reach the world,” he said. “In the same way, we also want the world to reach us.” Masisi singled out connectivity and eradication of corruption as critical keys to Africa’s economic growth.

The World Economic Forum is a non-profit and apolitical international institute under Swiss law.
In its website, the WEF says it is “committed to improve the state of the world”. The WEF is financed to a large extent by the largest and most profitable businesses and their multi-billionaire owners who join the forum as members and partners in order to participate in its activities.

Out of the world’s196 countries, only 53 heads of state attended, amongst them Masisi. This year, Botswana’s President was breathing the same air as the few heads of state from First World countries who were there like US President Trump, the head of the most powerful country in the world. While there were attendees from over 39 countries excluding Africa, there were 32 delegations included heads of state of First World countries, amongst them the leaders of Norway, Finland, Germany and Switzerland as well as the heads of state from South America, Arab nations, and Asia.

Of Africa’s 54 countries, only 14 attendees were in Davos, namely from Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, the DRC, Rwanda, Gabon, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Morocco and Senegal. However, only five countries in Africa had their presidents there. Those were President Masisi of Botswana, Ghana’s Nana Akufo-Addo, Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique, Félix Tshisekedi of the DRC and Macky Sall of Senegal.

According to the WEF, only 2820 wealthy businessmen and politicians were in attendance.