Tshekedi Khama, the younger brother to President Ian Khama, found himself between a rock and a hard place on Wednesday when cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament (MPs) ganged up against him over escalating human-wildlife conflict that go on unabated. Tshekedi's major crime: failure in his duties as Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism to control movement of elephants which destroy not only lives but livelihoods of their constituents. Shortly after presenting budget proposals for his ministry, Tshekedi faced a barraged of attacks as MPs took turns to castigate his ministry for its failures. First to strike was the outspoken MP for Okavango Bagalatia Arone who was very combative in his debate, informing Tshekedi that he has advised his constituents to kill animals that terrorise them and not wait for Department of Wildlife and National Parks game warders to rescue them. “Personally, I have killed elephants and Hippos that harassed my people and I don’t regret doing that because it is clear that your ministry only cares about animals not us,” hit out Arone. Wondering why the minister has unilaterally imposed a ban on hunting of elephants, Arone accused Tshekedi of not consulting local people before taking decisions but rather giving "special treatment and preferential choice" to whites in Botswana’s tourism sector. Arone said it is a waste of time talking to DWNP officers as they are equally racists towards locals while being accommodative of the whites. “We cannot be told by some white people staying in Europe on how we should take care of our wildlife animals while they don’t even have lizards,” he said, referring to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITEs). The MP for Molepolole North Mohammed Khan lamented that Botswana’s tourism is controlled by the white people with locals are reduced to spectators in their own country. “We don’t have control over our own natural resources and those white people are abusing our people who work at those camps. They are racists and your ministry is doing nothing about it,” cried out Khan. The Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi said that when they approach DNWP anti-poaching officers about being harassed by elephants, they inform them that they do not know how to use weapons given to them. “They have informed me that they have not been trained in using weapons of wars,” he said. Since Tshekedi took over as Minister of Environment, Natural resources Conservation and Tourism, the Anti-Poaching Unit has been equipped with weapons of war to match poachers who are mostly well equipped with military training background and weapons. The dilemma that the department is facing is that they might be breaking the law as they are not allowed to be in possession of such weapons or operate them as they are just civilians. The Department of Wildlife and National Department Parks officers are civil servants and do not fall in the category of security agents like the police, BDF and DISS.
Helicopters, aircrafts idle
The MPs unanimously complained that since DWNP procured helicopters and aircrafts, which were meant to chase elephants away, they have never seen them in operation. Last year Parliament approved P41 million emergency funding for Tshekedi's ministry to procure three (3) used helicopters to monitor elephants’ movement. During the debate last year MPs dismissed the suggestion that helicopters would assist with driving elephants away from areas they were not wanted in. They argued that this would be a temporary measure that would not bring any desirable results. Pius Mokgware, the MP for Gabane-Mankgodi, dismissed the procurement of helicopters as a waste of time. “Next year you will be coming to the same Parliament asking for yet another funding to buy helicopters because these used ones would be of no use to your ministry. At least try culling the elephants because your current strategy would be a drawback. Your ministry has been buying off-road motor vehicles, you took others from Central Transport Organisation (CTO) but they are not being used," observed Mokgware at the time. When responding to the issue of helicopters, Tshekedi said the reason they took time to be procured was due to red tape at the Ministry of Finance, leading to escalation of prices. “The ministry was reluctant to pay for the procurement of those helicopters. It is very sad that today MPs are complaining about their non-availability,” said Tshekedi, infuriating Minister of Finance and Economic Development Kenneth Matambo who stopped short of telling Tshekedi he was lying. “The honourable Minister is misleading the house. He knows very well that it was not issues of red tape but rather a very confidential issue,” said Matambo before changing his statement, saying it was due to procurement procedures. On the participation of Batswana in tourism, Tshekedi said he concurs with the MPs that tourism in Botswana is controlled by the white foreigners. “That’s why I wanted to introduce Tourism Development Levy so that it can help to empower Batswana but you rejected it,” he responded. In August last year Parliament unanimously rejected the Tourism Amendment Bill which was expected to accommodate the collection of the proposed Tourism Development Levy by Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO). Tshekedi brought the bill under the certificate of urgency but MPs told him that he didn’t consult them before he presented the bill. Tshekedi said through the new levy, approximately P162, 555, 095.75 can be raised by BTO to self-fund the proposed projects.
MP for Maun East Kostantinos Markus told Tshekedi to his face that he does not consult and listen when advised. “On several occasions we have tried to advise you but you decided to turn a deaf ear to us. This is not right. We are trying to advise because we care about this country,” counselled Markus, calling on Tshekedi to lift the ban on fishing at Lake Ngami as people in the area depend on fishing for their livelihood. In response, Tshekedi revealed that they are going to lift the on fishing but there will be some regulations and fishing quotas. He said contrary to some misconception there is high demand for fresh fish rather than dry one. “Most of the fishing at Lake Ngami was done for dry fish which was exported to Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia. Batswana were not benefiting in the trade,” he said. Botswana is said to be losing a large percentage of its tourism revenue to other countries as a result of leakages. Leader of Opposition, Duma Boko, called on the Ministry of Tourism to lure Destination Management Companies to be domiciled in Botswana to reduce leakages as most bookings are done outside the country.