- Transport PS says they will not seize and maintain airstrip as previously stated
- Airstrip cannot be maintained at the public ‘s expense-Report
- Khama’s airstrip to cost tax payer another P5 Million every 5 years, and P250 000 annually
- Airstrip likely to turn into a white elephant due to high maintenance costs for Khama
The Ministry of Transport and Communications has taken a decision that they will not expend tax payers’ money on former president Ian Khama’s costly and controversial Mosu Airstrip as the nation was previously lied to that it is a strategic area for government interests.
More shocking however is the decision that the airstrip will not be seized from Khama and registered under government the assets register to be used by government and private individuals as previously promised by Khama and the then government spokesperson, Jeff Ramsay.
The decisions and recommendations are contained in document prepared by the ministry responsible for the office of the president (Presidential Administration), which was responsible under the Khama regime of misleading the public over the airstrip at the time of its construction and development. The Mosu saga, Botswana’s own Nkandla scandal occupied the media and the legislature as numerous questions arose as to the rationale behind the expenditure.
This week the Permanent Secretary under the Transport Ministry, Kabelo Ebineng disclosed the findings of a recent assessment pertaining to the Airstrip and mounting pressure to revert it to civilian use, in what was hoped to be the fulfilment of a long-standing undertaking by the previous regime to the nation.
“There were several important questions. Who owns the airstrip, who should maintain it and why, among many others,” he said in an exclusive interview with this publication.
Ebineng advised that “Our findings or conclusions were that the airstrip is not strategic as previously claimed, we also found or concluded that it will therefore be a waste of taxpayer’s money to maintain an airstrip that will not be of interest or benefit to the public. Lastly we resolved that we will not seize the airstrip and register it as our assets because it will be pointless as we already have other nearby airstrips which the public have been using.” The controversial airstrip is built on Khama’s land, despite initial denials by government at the time the story broke.
When asked to justify the costs argument used by the previous regime, Ebineng revealed they “have 18 airfields in the country each maintained at around P250 000 annually and each is given a new lease of life after every five years to the tune of 5 Million Pula.” The permanent Secretary said they currently have four- Nata, Gweta and Orapa and Sowa in the area and are not willing to assume another burden. He was at pains to admit that this would mean that the fence constructed for Khama by them “to the tune of about P500 000” was just a donation.
Asked on whether they are still maintaining the fence, Ebineng said they withdrew all their services in March- a month before Khama vacated office.
The current position by the Ministry raises questions as to the validity of the decisions of the previous regime who justified and approved of the controversial expenditure including the office of the president, Botswana Defence Force, the Ombudsman’s office and others who joined in the ‘thumbs up’ chorus’ of the former president being entitled to lavish expenditure at the taxpayers’ expense.
The Ombudsman, following a complaint by the Botswana Congress Party released a report saying that the expenditure was justifiable, further clearing Khama of any wrongdoing in a matter in which the Botswana Congress Party had alleged maladministration and abuse of office by the President.
The Ombudsman investigated whether public resources (BDF personnel and equipment) were employed to build an airstrip on the president’s private property, with cost to the public; and finally, “the continued abuse of BDF resources by the President”. When confronted with the fresh revelations that the public and government had been misled the Ombudsman, Augustine Makgonatsotlhe said he was not ready to make comments on the new development and the governments new assertions. “I am yet to see the document on the latest development and cannot give any speculative comments or views at this juncture,” he said.
For a prolonged period the BDF and office of the president approved the expenditure, justifying the airstrip as ‘very strategic’. The army diverted millions from its maintenance budget towards the construction of an airstrip.
Khama left with the huge financial burden…
The decision to withdraw its support for the maintenance and upkeep of the airstrip by government places the obligation on Khama to keep it in a state of good repair for it to continue to be a registered airfield. Experts in the aviation industry say is highly likely that the controversial airstrip will turn into a white elephant due to exorbitant costs of maintenance. The maintenance costs for the airstrip come on top of Khama’s growing list of liabilities in his effort to remain in the public discourse, they include the costs of media coverage and travel costs which the former president has vowed to fund from his personal pocket following his terse treatment of ministerial staff by giving short notice of intended trips.
Airstrips are costly and demand high maintenance and the decision to cease government expenditure on the personal project is likely to impose a heavy financial burden on the former president who is making demands on government through his lawyers to have his retirement benefits payed out. Khama will now need trained personnel to cut grass using a industrialised lawn mower, provide daily reports on conditions of airstrip, cleaning drainages, placing of cone markers, reporting wind sock conditions and more. Fulfilling such requirements enables airstrips to meet the maintenance standard and remain operational.
Khama will be obliged to carry the weight, formerly carried by the taxpayer of approximately P200 000 annually for ongoing routine maintenance (reoccurring cost). These costs include maintenance work, daily reporting, volunteer training, wages, equipment, travel and monitoring visits. An airstrip, being an important part of the Aeronautical Infrastructure, has to meet high safety standards and the required level of safety can only be achieved by proper maintenance of all the elements comprising the airport.
The Civil Aviation Authority requires that measures be taken to keep or restore the operational function as well as to put in place measures to check and to evaluate the present function of an airstrip. An element and the basic components of maintenance are categorised into three-inspection modules: servicing, overhaul as well, as repair.
It is not yet clear whether the presidency has informed Khama of the decision to withdraw its support for the maintenance and upkeep of the airstrip. Last-week the Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi told this publication that he has read the position of the Ministry and will act on it soon.
The airstrip land ownership question resurfaces.
Once again, the question of who owns the land where the airstrip was built has resurfaced. In the past there was so much confusion over whether the land is owned by Khama or the government. The recent decision by the government to pull out from the airstrip has necessitated the need to revisit the land ownership decision and associated reasons for allocation to Khama on the pretext of national security.
The airstrip, investigations reveal is built on land allocated to Khama under a lease by Ngwato land board. The airstrip and his private residence are built on two adjacent plots which were demarcated to suit their respective purposes despite their common use, under the official explanation that it was cheaper to fly Khama to Mosu than to use the road from Orapa. The plot on which his private residence is built contains a helipad.