Arone’s defection package

SHARE   |   Monday, 13 June 2016   |   By Phillimon Mmeso
Crossing Over; Arone Crossing Over; Arone

Though Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) vehemently denies it, opposition parties are accusing it of using the Citizens Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) to lure opposition members to its fold. Aggrieved that they are reportedly about to lose MP for Okavango Bagalatia Arone to the BDP, Botswana Congress Party (BCP) spokesman Dithapelo Keorapetse declared war on the BDP: “What the BDP is doing in using CEDA, public tenders and public offices for partisan politics, is unethical and constitutes political corruption,” hit out Keorapetse. Keorapetse – the MP for Selibe Phikwe West – says that taking advantage of opposition activists’ personal and unfortunate circumstances to buy them and make it look like they are disinclined to opposition cooperation is devious and vile propaganda. BDP chairman of communications Thapelo Pabalinga rubbished the allegations that they use CEDA to lure opposition members to their fold. “CEDA is not an extension of BDP and even opposition members have benefitted from it. We are not aware that they have funded Arone,” he said. It has been established that MP Arone has recently benefited from CEDA through funding to buy and refurbish Hawk Guest House situated in Diseta Island.

Arone, who is one of the three Botswana Congress Party (BCP) Members of Parliament, was early this week suspended by the party on allegations that he is recruiting party members to the BDP by promising them business opportunities. He is touring the constituency informing his constituents about is impending move to the BDP. As part of the defection package, Arone was helped to buy the Hawk Guest House and CEDA came on board to fund its refurbishment through a loan. The guest house is situated at one of the most affluent area in the Okavango Delta, near President Ian Khama’s villa known as the King’s Island. After being helped to buy the guest house, it was allegedly arranged that it will be occupied by Botswana Defence Force (BDF) as their base on a five-year contract – sources close to the developments have revealed. His P2m loan application was approved in December last year to help him to refurbish the guest and increase the rooms from 10 to 15. According to information gathered by this publication, the loan application was given preference.

BDF deal
Botswana Defence Force (BDF) is expected to occupy the lodge from June 25th this year for a five year lease contract. “The lodge is in a strategic place and can help in our anti-poaching operations in the Chobe area and is also close to President Khama’s island,” said a source at BDF. In an interview in March this year, the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama said that one of the reasons why Arone always attacked him in Parliament was because he had refused to bend the law and allocate him a land concession along the Okavango River. “He wanted me to bypass procedure and grant him the tourist business plot and I informed him to apply like any other Motswana,” revealed the outspoken Tshekedi Khama.

This was after Arone in his debate on Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism accused Tshekedi Khama of favouring his friends and awarding them chunk of tourist land in the Okavango. Another deal that the Okavango MP made with government that will see him ditching the opposition was the speedy construction of the Shakawe hospital. The project has already started and is under Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP). The other project, which has been postponed several times and is expected to be accelerated, is the construction of the multibillion Mohembo Bridge which will be the first suspended bridge in Botswana and one of the longest - at 1162m - in the southern African region. The main towers, which are creatively symbolised as elephant tusks, extend some 85m above the bridge deck.

Arone’s relationship with President Khama
Though in Parliament and political rallies, Arone is one of President Khama’s fierce critics, outside the realms of politics the two’s close ties dates back to 2009. Khama is said to have admired Arone’s political assertiveness. When visiting his Diseta Island, Khama would sometimes fly with Arone which always raised eyebrows among BCP members. In 2010 the party leadership questioned him on his relationship with Khama and he was warned by Party President Dumelang Saleshando to desist from making alliances with the BDP. Khama is said to have tried on several occasions to lure him to the ruling party but eventually capitalised on Arone’s love for finer things and promised him land at Diseta. He is expected to announce his defection to BDP next week after consulting his constituents.

Announcement looms
In an interview Arone revealed that he will be in Gaborone on Wednesday and will announce his defection from BCP to BDP. On his guest house being rented out to BDF, he declined to comment, saying that he does not want to be seen divulging classified information to the third party.

Arone’s councillors furious
Some of the councillors, who confirmed that Arone was courting them, were furious that he thought they could easily be bought. The councillor for Nxamasere/Samochima ward Gaopalelwe Ronald disclosed that Arone promised him that if they follow him to the BDP there is a package for them.  “Arone told me that he has been funded to develop one of his guest houses in Shakawe,” he added. The Councillor said he told Arone that he won’t betray his marginalised community and sell his soul to the BDP for personal gain. “I told the MP that i am not joining the BDP and he threatened me that if I stay in the BCP I will lose elections in 2019. I told him that even if I were to lose election I will not join BDP. I won’t,” Ronald said. Councillor for Sepopa/Ikoga Botshelo Mapa was equally courted and flatly refused to join the BDP. “I told him that BDP is my totem. Over my dead body; I won’t join that party,” he insisted. Arone is leaving at a time when he was expected to organise and host the BCP congress in Shakawe.