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Ram TKOs Mogae & Co in Choppies boardroom bout

Suspended CEO Ramachandran Ottapathu this week managed to claim back his company after he was sidelined by the board for four months. Ram also got the blessings of shareholders who have a composition of more than 50 percent as he brings new faces to the Choppies board and gets re-elected to serve as a director. With the board which was against him gone, Ram also stands a big chance of getting reinstated as CEO.

A Choppies boardroom could have been mistaken to a wrestling ring in few meetings prior to the Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM); a lot of war of words akin to arm grapping. The Choppies boardroom brawl which started few months had all the hallmarks of power play and ended this week with less bonhomie as the suspended CEO Ramachandran Ottapathu emerged the last man standing despite being against all odds. 

Prior to the EGM Ram had proposed a clean-up of the company’s board, maybe bring new faces. “It is the combined view of Mr Ottapathu and the Board that the current Board requires strengthening by inclusion of additional independent non-executive appointees to it. It is for this reason that the Board (including Mr Ottapathu), have put forward the Proposed Resolutions, to allow the Shareholders to elect a strengthened Board (whether it includes current Directors or not) which will direct the proceedings and affairs of the Company going forward,” said circular seen by this publication last week.

In this week’s EGM, Ram had his wishes done as the board was changed and new faces, especially the ones he proposed, were brought on board save for Oabona Michael Kgengwenyane . Ram had proposed that Kgengwenyane, Tom Pritchard and Carol-Jean Harward be added as new faces to the Choppies board.

The shareholders backed Ram’s two choices, making a resolution to vote for Pritchard as a director of Choppies with 77.75 percent against 22.22 percent. Haward was added to the board with 51.25 percent against 48.72 percent.  Kgengwenyane, proposed by Ram, was rejected by shareholders with 98.13 percent votes against him. Ram got 52.06 percent while and Ismail 55 percent.

Four of the previous board members chief financial officer Heinrich Stander, Wilfred Mpai, Dorcas Kgosietsile and Ronald Tamale failed to pass the 50 + 1 threshold and have subsequently stepped down from the Choppies board. Mpai made 47 percent of the votes, Kgosietsile 5.8 percent, Tamale 48 percent and Stander 48 percent. A choice proposed by certain institutional shareholders, Kenny Nwosu, could not pass the threshold too, with 48 percent of votes.

Before the EGM, on Sunday the outgoing Choppies board had met and decided that the EGM be adjourned for two weeks pending Ram’s disciplinary hearing. Ram is yet to face a disciplinary hearing for his suspension. Despite the anti-Ram board seeking to have the EGM postponed, the shareholders rejected the directors wish moving chairman Festus Mogae to approve voting of new board members.

Ram’s triumph

When Ram was suspended he was against the whole Choppies board, save for his friend and longtime business partner Farouk Ismail. Ram was being investigated, accused of mismanaging Choppies affairs and usurping the board in many decisions concerning the company.
Towards the EGM, it was all odds against Ram. His attempt to have an urgent EGM failed as the board stood against him. Even at the recent EGM the board had come with a spirited campaign to have shareholders disregard Ram. A legal report and a damning forensic report, both putting Ram’s managerial competence on the spotlight, were released.

When presiding on the EGM, Mogae gave Ram and his legal representative less than 30 minutes to respond to allegations leveled against the suspended CEO. This is despite the anti-Ram board taking almost the whole day presenting their grievances about Ram.
Mogae admitted that as the board they wanted to remove Ram as a CEO while he remains as a shareholder. He said they were getting tired of Choppies being all about one man, Ram. The former president gave a scenario of Choppies revolving around one person who would usurp the board in decision making.

“We tend to fight as to who is more important and who has more money. Choppies has been a disaster,” said Mogae as he tried to convince shareholders to adjourn the EGM. Mogae who was part of the ousted board that suspended Ram has announced that he will retire after the Annual General Meeting which is billed for November this year. The shareholders were not convinced by the Mo Ibrahim Award winner who said the suspended CEO was not doing things proper but rather decided to vote for Ram to remain as a board member. Mogae’s wish to have the EGM adjourned was also rejected by the shareholders.

Ram who stood before the shareholders, admitted to doing some things wrong, but said he was being scapegoated by the board. While he promised to wait for the disciplinary hearing so that he can clear his name, said he learned his lesson. "Well, mistakes were made and lessons have been learnt….I can tell you that this will not happen again in our lives. This company is great, we can make it greater," the suspended CEO told shareholders this week during an EGM.

Prior to the EGM, Ram only had Ismail’s back. The two together with Choppies employees hold about 46 percent of the retailer’s stake. He is currently faced with a forensic report findings, which he (Ram) called “not conclusive”, painting him as corrupt and lacking adherence to good governance. A legal report said Ram has dealt improperly when doing many business transactions like the acquisition of Pay Less and the transactions involving Fours Group.

All odds seemed to be against Ram given the damning information produced against him at the EGM but he was saved by shareholders who have a composition of about 53 percent of Choppies shares. The shareholders also want Ram to go before the disciplinary hearing to clear his name.

The aftermath of EGM – resignations

Meanwhile after failing to make it back into the Choppies board of directors at the Emergency General Meeting (EGM) on Wednesday, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Heinrich Mathiam Stander decided to resign on Thursday. His resignation was handed to interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Farouk Ismail on the same day. The understanding is that after he was voted out of the board, he then decided to further resign as an employee of Choppies.

Stander received a vote of 48 percent at the EGM hence failing to clock the 50+1 mark. Those who could not get 51 percent or more were removed from the board.  Indications are that those voted out, were considered to have been on Mogae’s team, and wanted suspended CEO, Ramachandran Ottapathu to face disciplinary hearing, but failed. Mogae has since indicated that he is retiring.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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