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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

BOTSWANA: I Was Not Bought By De Beers - Masire


Recently, a local newspaper headlined a number of accusations and innuendos with regard to past connections between my otherwise private business affairs and individuals associated with De Beers Company.

If these allegations were simply a challenge to my own reputation, I would be content to follow the friendly advice of some to withhold comment, in the sure knowledge that my legacy will ultimately be measured by history and by our maker.

But, given our culture of accountability, I have concluded I would be shirking my social responsibility if I failed to address those allegations that are of undoubtedly wider concern. Where it has been suggested that my private affairs may have compromised the public interest they cease to be mine to ignore.

I therefore wish to take this opportunity to reassure Batswana that the modest support that was extended to my farming business by De Beers associates 25 years ago, in the form of helping me recruit a manager for my farm in Ghanzi, did not in any way materially compromise government's subsequent bilateral dealings with the company. In this respect I have in my memoirs already attempted to place on record my own experience and perceptions about the said dealings. Alongside additional existing literature, I believe these reflections go some way toward documenting the rational for the policies we have pursued in seeking to maximise the benefits of developing our mineral sector, including reconciling our different interests that have existed between us and De Beers in the past, as well as the collective safeguards which were put in place by government as a whole to safeguard the national interest from the possibility of any arising potential for conflict of interest.

What I can here briefly add is some explanation of the nature of the support I did then receive. As I have stated on a number of occasions, when I became President in 1980. I quickly discovered that I ceased to have control over my own time and thus could no longer actively attend to my farming interests. It was in this context that I welcomed an offer by Louis Nchindo of De Beers, as the company then had its own extensive agricultural interests in the region, to assist me in recruiting a manager for the farm that I was then struggling to maintain in Ghanzi. A loan programme was thus also put into place to finance the said individual's employment. In this regard it should be noted that I provided collateral through the sale of my own properties. While this was a private business arrangement it was never a secret.

With the perfect vision of hindsight, I would not now enter into such an arrangement. Beyond the fact that it would not conform to today's more rigorous guidelines for good governance, which I fully embrace, its outcome was also an object lesson for me in the pitfalls of trying to manage a commercial farm by remote control. In the end I had to cut my losses by leasing my properties until I finally retired from public office. Here I am reminded of the adage - "While good judgment comes from experience, experience is often the product of bad judgement."

Another allegation which has arisen is that De Beers used its money to somehow "buy me out the Presidency" through the purchase by one of its subsidiaries of debenture shares in my family company GM5. Given that this transaction occurred after I had already left office, which in turn came many years after I had taken a decision to step down sometime before the 1999 election, this allegation simply does not add up.

Also without substance is the allegation that the above two instances could have had any impact on the efforts by my own administration, much less that of my successor, to move forward where we could in promoting the local cutting and polishing of diamonds.

It is a matter of public record that we moved forward in these efforts notwithstanding the fact that De Beers then had its reservations about the initiative. It was in this context that my administration thus ensured the establishment of the cutting factories in Molepolole and Serowe, which notwithstanding their limited initial success provided a basis for future progress.

What I find even more desperate is the attempt by the newspaper to try to further impugn the reputation of our overall efforts based on cherry picked statements attributed to sections from David Magang's memoirs.

Here it may be noted that it was I, as the then President of the Republic, who appointed and retained Magang as Minister of Mineral Resources and Water Affairs during the final years of my administration. This, of course, came after I had previously appointed him to other Cabinet portfolios. In each case I did so in the fully justified belief that he was capable of discharging the important duties with which he was entrusted.

Here it may be further noted that there is nothing exceptional about the fact that he did not always see eye to eye with me or other Cabinet colleagues. As a Parliamentary democracy my administration, like those that came before and after it, was compelled to work as a team whose decisions were ordinarily taken by consensus.

In such a system the decisions taken by any President acting on the advice of Cabinet are, moreover, based on recommendations submitted by senior officials and other stakeholders, as routed through the Minister appointed to look after any particular area, including that of diamond mining and sales. Had there ever been a vast division between Magang and myself in this respect, it is a simple matter of logic that I would have had no reason to retain him in the said portfolio, where I left him on my retirement.

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