The controversial acquisition of the second hand Embraer jet E170 has raised more suspicion that the purchase of the aircraft was another dubious scheme designed to milk out millions of Pula from ailing national airline.
Some of the top management at Air Botswana made those suspicion after Air Botswana flouted the procurement process which required the airline to float a tender for Embraer Jet E170 in the market. The airline argues contrary stating that the procurement of the aircraft followed Air Botswana procurement procedures which are vetted by Public Procurement Asserts and Disposal Board (PPDB) and in alignment with the PPADB Act.
The airline move to confine itself to IATA consultant who made decision as to when and where to purchase the jet without following PPADB and airline tender procedure also raised more suspicion within the airline. The controversial jet which was grounded for six months following its arrival last year in December, also failed to land while passengers were onboard at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport triggering the national airline to ground it yet again last month.
At the center of this suspicion was AB decision to flout its contractual agreement which was emphasized on acquiring an airworthy aircraft ready to operate on its arrival. The airline has vehemently denied to have flouted the procurement process to buy the second hand jet. Air Botswana had engaged IATA consultant who was at the forefront of re-fleeting excise that employees at the national airline refers to it as a failed re-fleeting in their petition to the parent ministry.
According to reliable sources IATA consultant tricked Air Botswana to purchase him a ticket to travel to Oman in the middle East under the pretext that he was to purchase a jet only for the then AB Engineering and Maintenance Director ,Wiston Moloigaswe to come back to report that the jet had no engine. Weekend Post reliable sources further revealed that the consultant who was never at any time accompanied by AB staff as a norm went ahead to negotiate for a second hand Embraer E 170 in Houston after failing to acquire one in Oman. Sources further indicated that initially the consultant had informed the top management that he could get a Jet at around $20 million.
After Moloigaswe resisted acquisition on the basis of safety and transparency, the IATA Consultant repeated the same in Houston USA claiming that the airline can now acquire two Embraer jet for approximately $23 Million. According to reliable sources the consultant later made AB to pay P15 million that was used for maintenance of the damaged High Pressure Turbine Blade (HPTB) from an aircraft that was supposed to be airworthy when bought from Regional One.
Weekend Post has intercepted a conversation where the then Director Engineering and Maintenance, Wiston Moloigaswe was opposing the idea of repairing the HPTB to facilitate the acquisition of the aircraft. An acrimony ensured in the conversation where the General Manager maintained that the airline should go ahead with maintaining the aircraft engine. According to our reliable sources Moloigaswe`s move to oppose the maintenance of the engine aircraft was based on the fact that air Botswana was going against the initial idea of purchasing an airworthy aircraft.
Documents in possession of Weekend Post shows that the airline somersaulted its own contractual agreement with the seller which emphasized the need to purchase an airworthy aircraft, as opposed to paying for the maintenance of the aircraft to facilitate the procurement of the aircraft. The move to pay for the maintenance of the aircraft to facilitate the acquisition was heavily contested by some of the top management who felt that the national airline could have settled for airworthy aircraft.
Sources further revealed that initially they were made to believe that there were three aircrafts that were airworthy only to settle for an aircraft that had damaged HPTB blade which is an important component on the aircraft engine. According to reliable sources the airline under the advice of the consultant went ahead to acquire the aircraft despite that there was no inspection of the aircraft records.
Air Botswana, spokesperson Kefilwe Kebafetotse indicated that the airline took a decision to purchase a pre-owned E170 Jet in optimum condition from Regional One when quizzed on why they opted to pay P15 million for maintenance of the aircraft as opposed to purchasing airworthy aircraft. Kebafetotse could not state how much the airline spent to acquire the jet after the owner had demanded P15 million upfront to repair HPTB. She could not comment on whether the airline was made to pay P15 million for the maintenance of the aircraft safe to state that the aircraft was airworthy.
She denied that there was no physical and records inspection to establish the airworthiness of the aircraft. Kebafetotse went further to explain that due diligence and pre-purchase inspections were carried out, prior to acquisition of the Jet. According to her the pre-purchase inspections validated records and physical condition, good engine performance, clean borescope, serviceability and airworthiness of the aircraft.
‘It is worth noting that all processes were followed as agreed with the seller,” she added. On why the airline settled for a second hand jet the airline spokesperson indicated that acquisition of the aircraft was determined by various economic and budgetary considerations. The airline spokesperson denied that they airline failed to float an invitation to test the market. She noted that the procurement of the aircraft was implemented in line with the Air Botswana procurement procedures which are vetted by PPADB and in alignment with the PPADB Act.
ANOTHER QUESTIONABLE CONTROVERSIAL TRADE-IN OF THE ATR 42/72-500 AIRCRAFTS
Another suspicious transaction that the management and the employees questioned relates to the trade-in of ATR 42/72-500 aircrafts. According to the reliable sources the airline had to pay ATR manufacture in France an amount of P18 million for trade –in. According to sources Air Botswana was expected to have benefited through the trade-in but ended up paying the manufacture who claimed that there were defects on the aircrafts. According to the sources the airline was to benefit since they wanted to purchase ATR 72-600 model aircraft. Airline spokesperson could not respond as to why the airline had to lose P18 million as opposed to benefitting from the trade-in.
She indicated that as part of the agreement ATR re-purchased three older versions of the aircraft two ATR 42-500 and one ATR 72-500 from the airline as per the pre-delivery conditions. She went further to explain that as part of the sale and re-purchase the airline was required to perform necessary maintenance works on the traded-in aircraft to ensure adherence to the re-delivery conditions. According to the source the airline could have used the money to top-up on the purchase of ATR 72-600.
However, Weekend Post investigations have turned up information that Air Botswana had sold ATR 72-500 to ATR manufacture in May last year and leased the aircraft again. Contrary to AB response to Weekend post that they sold ATR 72-500 together with ATR-42-500 the documents reveal that ATR-500 had long been sold to ATR while ATR 42-500 were sold around Octobers last year. According to documents in possession of Weekend Post the airline started leasing back the ATR 72-500 and paying the manufacture millions of pula immediately after selling it. Air Botswana spokesperson could not respond as to why the airline sold the aircraft and leased it back.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.