• ‘I can never work for the DIS, even if asked to do so’
• ‘We differ a lot with Khama’
• He will quit service next December when contract expires
Brigadier George Tlhalerwa was appointed Senior Private Secretary to President Khama in 2012 after serving in the military for 30 years, part of which he served as Commander of the Defence Logistics Command, a position he says is more similar to his role at the Office of the President (OP).
Tlhalerwa says he first met Khama at the Botswana Defence Force (BDF). “I want to believe that’s where we built trust. So, he needed someone he could trust at a personal level because you run his private and official life. He knew then and today that I am a doer and that I am not a fan of useless red tapes in the delivery of services. After my recruitment he took me through his expectations. It has not been easy or difficult, thanks to my military training. I can’t think of any occupation that prepares one for everything like the military,” he points out.
At the time of his recruitment to OP, Tlhalerwa was Brigadier, one rank away from being Lieutenant General- that is BDF commandership. Did he not feel derailed from reaching the pinnacle of his long military career? “I cannot think of anybody in any organisation who does not want to be elevated to the highest position in the organisation. But sometimes when you are called to serve your nation elsewhere, particularly at the highest office of the land you have to balance your ambition and the call,” he said when the question was put to him.
With his retirement looming, those who know Tlhalerwa’s capabilities say he can replace Isaac Kgosi, the controversial boss of the country’s top spy outfit…but not George; “I will never head or join the DIS. I just don’t see myself working for them, I don’t feel that assignment ,” he briskly points out in a lowered but certain tone.
Asked to explain why he would turn down such a job, he says “It’s just a personal choice,” But is it not because the reputation of DIS can make any man think twice about what he is getting himself into? “Well, not really. For us people working closely with the DIS, we know their contribution to the security of this country. I know some people criticise them for some things but let’s look at the greater good,” Tlhalerwa said propping up Kgosi’s outfit which he says deserves credit “they see what we don’t see and hear what we can’t hear.”
Isaac Kgosi was himself Khama’s Private Secretary before he was taken to boss the DIS. When he moved, Tlhalerwa replaced him. Kgosi is a known confidant of Khama’s, although much speculation is rife about how the relationship of the former BDF duo has evolved over time. As it stands, not much is known about Kgosi’s place after Khama leaves office.
Tlhalerwa however is adamant he will not be replacing him when his contract expires in December 2018. “I will be leaving the civil service at the expiration of my term. I will be handing over to the new president’s Senior Private Secretary and taking them through the necessary steps of this work. Thereafter I will assist with the formation of the former president’s office. My time has come to go and focus on myself, family and the future. However, I will not be lost to the nation,” he says.
Reflecting on his 6-year tenure at the country’s top office, Tlhalerwa paints Khama as a very normal boss to have served under. “As his advisor like many of those who advise him, we often differ on issues. I don’t expect him to take everything from me and he doesn’t take anything I say to be gospel truth and that’s the culture he has adopted even when dealing with others including cabinet, parastatals, experts and other aspects of the equation,” he says.
According to Tlhalerwa Khama “listens, poses questions and if in doubt can go to an extend of reading an entire voluminous document to further confirm and inform himself after a brief advice session from experts.”
He however confirms an old assertion contained in Margaret Nasha’s book Madam Speaker, Sir that there are people have devised methods to gain favours from Khama or who simply drop his name to rattle others into submission.
“It happens and its true. I guess it’s part of human nature to lie to want to gain favours but the president doesn’t act on everything he hears, trust me.” He however says there are people who are genuine, who come to the president with bonafide problems, solutions and advice.
Of ‘controversial’ decisions Khama has made during his tenure, Tlhalerwa says “It was all in the interest of the society, trust me. You can’t please all people, all the time.”
Tlhalerwa who has been so instrumental in the presidential housing appeal says he is so far happy with what they have done and continue to do for Batswana. “We have revived the spirit of compassion as captured in our vision pillars. Through this appeal we have witnessed the heart and soul of our nation,” he points out. The appeal will have housed over 800 people before end of the year.