Revelations of CEDA refinancing Eric Molale while still being in arrears of existing loans reflect the special place reserved for only the upper echelons of the political elite and not an ordinary man. Principles of corporate governance may apply to some of the powerful men in our public space but few apply to the man from Borolong. Indeed, corporate governance and political expediency are stretched in their application to accommodate him. Staff writer TSHIRELETSO MOTLOGELWA traces the public profile of perhaps the most powerful man after the President Ian Khama and his Vice Mokgweetsi Masisi.

(Pic:Press Photo)

Ha o le motho o sapota Molale
A o a tsenwa?
Ha o le Motho o sapota Molale
A o a tsenwa
A o a tsenwa Naa’?
A o a tsenwa?

The song soared loud into the August chill dark night of southern Botswana, the crowd made a circle and the cacophony of car horns pierced what would have otherwise been the night quiet. The counting for the by-election in the Goodhope constituency was reaching its end, and the gap between the quiet spoken Kgosi Lotlaamoreng and the largely brash and recently resigned Minister of Presidential Affairs, Eric Molale was huge. The gap was going at around 1 200 when the crowd outside the counting hall at Goodhope Secondary School burst into song, and their ire was pointed at the Botswana Democratic Party candidate, and no man has fewer friends the other side of the political divide than the man from the southern part of Botswana.

Eric Molale has the demeanour of a man not bothered by the trivialities of ordinary people. Often frowning, with a permanent squeamish facial expression, like there is a foul funk in the air, Molale exudes the exercise of power in the new incarnation of the longest ruling party on the subcontinent.

In a way Molale is the face of the modern Botswana Democratic Party government – self-confident, self-centred, in your face, authoritarian in its technocratic disposition and seen within the rest of the party proper as lacking an intuitive political compass, which in more refined formulations is the one that keeps the politician relevant.

Politicians of similar ilk will not win you elections, they do not easily appeal to the voter. They will however run you a civil service, albeit in their way, and if that is the way you like it, you have your man, a Molale.

Presidents have a penchant for such politicians, untainted by political ideology but unquestioningly dedicated to their leaders. Such dedications can be rewarding, as presidents have had to bend governance concerns to accommodate the stocky built man from Borolong. Anyway, that night Molale was losing a by- election he should not have lost, by a margin he should have never lost with and therefore the motley crew of the opposition’s BMD post-teens and BNF wrinkled veterans were having a night they should not otherwise have been having. Their choir turned into a moshpit of self-congratulations, in a burst of cathartic celebrations.

What led to candidate Molale? Molale is powerful. If senior servants are special, and they generally are, Molale is more special than the most special. Rules and practices may apply but when it comes to Molale, they are stretched to the verge of break point to accommodate him.

In 2015 a political fiasco arose when Molale resigned from his Specially Elected MP and Ministerial position at tea time, he was reappointed Minister by the time he had his lunch, a mere 5 hours between the two events.

President Ian Khama had been granted with a valuable present – the opposition had just lost an MP for Goodhope-Mabule under controversial circumstances, when the UDC’s James Mathokgwane suddenly resigned. Insiders argued that Mathokgwane had been induced with a sweetener, a plum job at the Selibe Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit, to manage him out so an opportunity opens for Molale. If this theory is true then Mathokgwane is nothing but collateral to Khama’s inexorable succession plan at whose centre is his homeboy Molale.
Molale suddenly had an opening to come into the August house via an election, a requirement for higher office. If Molale were to stand under the BDP ticket in the by-election, he wins, he therefore qualifies for the Vice Presidency, was the thinking. Khama faced a quandary, his preferred man was already in Parliament having been nominated as Specially Nominated Member and serving as Presidential Minister.

As the by-election drifted closer so too did Khama’s dilemma, his man would have to resign his MP position to contest the by-election. Khama is a tactician, and manoeuvring around frustrating legal issues has always been his masterstroke. Solving legal impediments and problems has become a trademark of his dramatic way of doing things, a bit embarrassing but effective.
Khama allows Molale to keep both his positions up to the BDP primaries. The gap in the BDP rule book, it turns out allows one to contest primaries while still a minister and MP. Khama is also aware that the gap in the national constituency allows one to contest primaries while a Minister, as long as one is not an MP.

Molale enters the primaries with the full benefit of Ministerial support, cars and staff, which plays an important role in an expansive constituency like Goodhope-Mabule and emerged victorious after garnering 703 votes, defeating other four democrats during the party’s primary elections. The other four democrats, former youth league chairman, Mr Fankie Motsaathebe who got 625, former councillor Mr Kopo Mononi (468), Mr Phillip Sebakile (207) and Mr Richard Mogatle (59) were reliant on their own resources. A total of 2104 electorates cast their votes, out of which 42 ballots were spoilt.

The party’s decision to favour one candidate over the others angers the party faithful, but then again Molale is not an ordinary member, he is the President’s favourite. Safe in the knowledge that his man is now the candidate for the by-election Khama has another obstacle to deal with, Molale cannot contest a Parliamentary election while an MP.

Immediately after the primaries on the morning of July 24th 2015 Molale resigns both his Ministerial and Specially nominated MP positions. President Khama reappoints him Minister by lunchtime.
The controversy surrounding the appointment arose from an exploiting the Constitution to its fullest. The tactical legal manoeuvring. No MP had ever resigned and been rehired as Minister, and no Minister had ever served without being MP. It was not Khama’s fault that the public did not know the Constitution under which they are ruled.

It turned out that the founding document has sweet little provisions that allow a Minister to be appointed when he is not an MP, a position which he can serve for only 4 months under that dispensation. It was a smart move the tactical Khama, and accepted by Molale, while delivering a constitutional lesson to the public in the process.

Molale went into the primaries as a Minister, allowing him unlimited state resources to assist with his campaign demands, like government vehicles. It should have been a sweet tap in, except the opposition had sprung a counter measure, they fielded Molale’s tribal chief Kgosi Lotlaamoreng Montshioa II. In the lead up to the bye-election the entire cabinet traversed the constituency on government cost, pushing for the President’s favourite man. On 15th August 2015 Molale faced off with the Kgosi. Kgosi Lotlamoreng received 6152 votes against Molale’s 4372.

For your average politician this would have been the end of the road. Not in this instance as rules were once again stretched. Khama had left Molale’s specially nominated MP seat empty for him, just in case. Molale was once again sworn in as Specially Nominated MP before his 4 months dispensation deadline came to an end.

It is the measure of a man with a special place in the President’s heart when such planning and manoeuvring is orchestrated in order to accommodate him.  However Khama wields a weapon that cuts both ways – while his man is back in Parliament and is the most senior of Ministers, the whole episode became a political death knell, disgruntled BDP members felt cheated in the primaries and those who felt overlooked when Molale’s seat is left vacant until he returns, shy away from giving him support.

In spite of the favouritism he endures Molale has few friends within the party, who are concerned over his political liability. Molale was instrumental in the collapse of relations between the union movement and the government, seen as one of the few advisors to the President who kept Khama aloof during the public sector strike of 2011. An intervention team set up to bring resolution to the public sector strike chaired by the late President Sir Ketumile Masire was shocked when Molale made a unilateral announcement of 3 per cent increment while the team was still chairing meetings between government and the trade unions. The relationship between government and unions never recovered.
The federation aligned with the opposition towards the 2014 General Elections in which the BDP performed at its worst in decades. BDP political thinkers point to the mismanagement of the public sector among many reasons why BDP performed the way it did.

The good news for those who see Molale as an obstacle is that he is possibly on the last of his nine public lives, given that Masisi insiders do not consider him as indispensable to their government as both Khama and Mogae did.

Yet despite his slow fall from grace, and with the eminent departure of his benefactor rules continue not to apply, and are stretched to accommodate his financial aspirations, rules that would apply to ordinary citizens who have defaulted on loans and want additional financing.

Motlogelwa is one of the foremost investigative journalists in Botswana with a decade of journalistic work. He cut his teeth at the country’s major private daily Mmegi, where he covered some of the most important stories in contemporary Botswana, including the corruption case of the late MD of the state diamond company Louis Nchindo, the extra-judicial killing of John Kalafatis, and in recent times, he led the investigation into the financial interests of Director General of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security. He has written extensively on investigations and procurement, corporate governance as well as public finance. His current focus is investigations into the procurement procedures of state companies and departments.