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Ram falls in Choppies battle with Mogae

Choppies Enterprises Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ramachandran Ottapathu has suffered a major setback after his gambit to have former President Festus Mogae removed as the retail giant’s board chairman was met with a suspension on his part.

Choppies Board, under the tutelage of Mogae resolved Wednesday to suspend Ottapathu as the CEO of the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) listed company.  According to Ottapathu, the suspension came in the disguise of a recommendation from a certain law firm in South Africa, owing to the recent troubles facing the retail giant. The Choppies supremo however believes what triggered suspension was a proposal he had submitted to the company board to have Mogae removed as Board chairman, and also have new faces with relevant retail experience in the board.

“At his age, he need to know the impact on his productivity level. He was sick also. He has been missing a lot of board meeting until last year September,” Ottapathu said of Mogae this week.  The suggestion reportedly irked Mogae and the rest of the board, save for Farouk Ismail, who then moved swiftly to have Ottapathu suspended.  Choppies board, which is constituted of seven member, including Ottapathu himself had majority to effect the decision, as only Ismail opposed the resolution.

“I came up with suggestions to the board at the request of the shareholders to have restructuring of the board; issues around chairman’s independence. This was not started by me, but when I suggested changes, some people in the board got annoyed,” narrated Ottapathu.
“They gave me an option, you resign now or we are going to suspend you.  I was not prepared to do that. This is the company I started, and they did not even have a replacement. Before I received my suspension letter it was on the social media.”

Ottapathu spoke highly of Ismail, who has since been appointed Acting CEO, noting that the latter is the only one who understands the Choppies business because they are always in touch.  “Farouk [Ismail] is the only person who knows intimately and knowledgeably about the business in the board. None of them have ran one day of their own business and made money for themselves,” he said.  He was however not kind to other Choppies board members, saying none of them have ran a profitable business before.

“He [Ismail] spends time with me. He makes appointments with me, so that he gets every information about the company. That is why is he does not have any doubt about any transaction or any activity we do,” said Ottapathu.  “Other board members, including the chairman, when they get free time, if at all he gets it, he walks in [my office] and meet me for about 30 minutes or one hour. That’s not what you expect from a chairman. It does not happen anywhere in the world.”

The Choppies chief said if it all the decision to suspend him has anything to do with personal vendetta, the decision to suspend him was not in the interest of the company. “They have been reckless. They do not have the interest of the company at heart that one is for sure, because someone reasonably thinking cannot do this.” Ottapathu said one of the key reasons he wanted the board restructured was the verity that the company was growing, therefore creating necessity for change.

“This is one of the fastest growing company in the region. We needed retail or relevant experience in governance, and in the audit committee and in other areas,” said Ottapathu. “I did discuss with the chairman two years ago about relinquishing the power. He said give time, I will think about it, and I will make the right decision. But he did not do that.” Choppies was founded by Ismail in the 1980s and was joined by Ottapathu in 1992. Ever since then, the duo built the company into a dominant player in the country and the South African Development Committee (SADC) region.

Ottapathu said he has since engaged his lawyers to write to company lawyers requesting them to demonstrate valid reasons relating to his suspension.  He also indicated that in the coming days he will meet with the company’s important shareholders to brief them on the new developments.  Ottapathu, Ismail and Choppies employees collectively owns 46 percent of the company stock. Institutional investors owns about 26 percent, while the rest is owned by the public.

Ottapathu is of the opinion that the Choppies board, which had he said played no role in building the business, are behaving they were they do because they have nothing to lose. “For them they have nothing to lose. They lose this position of board, the can sit in another board. I do not have any other thing to do in my life. I do not want another entrepreneur to have the same experience that is why I am going to fight it until the last end. I want to set it as a example to make sure it does not happen in another board room.”  

At its heart is a battle for control of Choppies Enterprises Ltd – an investment holding company listed, but currently suspended, on both Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). 
The group which operates 260 stores in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Namibia, and employs more than 17 000 people.

Mr Ottapathu joined Choppies in 1992 when it was a single insolvent store in Gaborone. Now, over 50% of Batswana shop regularly in its stores and Choppies is a much-loved household name – or it was until the Choppies Board put Mr Ottapathu on “precautionary suspension” this week and replaced him with the Deputy Chair, Mr. Farouk Ismail.

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African countries call on WHO to increase funding

2nd February 2023

Minister of Health Dr Edwin Dikoloti says Africa member states call on World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure equitable resource allocation for 2024-2025. Dr Dikoloti was speaking this week at the WHO Executive Board Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

He said countries agreed that there is need to address the budget and funding imbalances by increasing the programme budget share of countries and regions to 75% for the next year.

“The proposed budget for 2024-2025 marks an important milestone as it is the first in Programme Budget in which country offices will be allocated more than half of the total budget for the biennium. We highly welcome this approach which will enable the organization to deliver on its mandate while fulfilling the expectations for transparency, efficiency and accountability.”

The Botswana Health Minister commended member states on the extension of the General Programme of Work (GPD 13) and the Secretariat work to monitor the progress towards the triple billion targets, and the health-related SDGs.

“We welcome the Director’s general proposed five priorities which have crystalized into the “five Ps” that are aligned with the GPW 13 extension. Impact can only be achieved through close coordination with, and support to national health authorities. As such, the strengthening of country offices is instrumental, with particular focus on strengthening national health systems and on promoting more equitable access to health services.”

According to Dr Dikoloti, the majority of countries with UHC index that is below the global median are in the WHO Africa region. “For that, we call on the WHO to enhance capacity at the regional and national levels in order to accelerate progress. Currently, the regional office needs both technical and financial support in order to effectively address and support country needs.”

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Botswana still weighing in on Maseko’s assassination

27th January 2023

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lemogang Kwape says Botswana has not taken any position regarding the killing of a renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down at his house in Mbabane, Eswatini.

In a brief interview with WeekendPost, Dr Kwape said Botswana has not yet taken any position regarding his death. He said the purported incident should be thoroughly probed before Botswana can form an opinion based on the findings of the inquiries.

“Botswana generally condemns any killing of human life by all means,” says Dr. Kwape. He wouldn’t want to be dragged on whether Botswana will support the suspension of Eswatini from SADC.

“We will be guided by SADC organ Troika if they can be an emergency meeting. I am not sure when the meeting will be called by Namibian president,“ he said.

However, the Namibian president Hage Geingob notes with deep concern reports coming out of Eswatini about the killing of Mr. Maseko. In a statement, he called upon the “Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated, and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice.”

Maseko was chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum which was established as a coalition of non-State actors to advocate for a process of national political dialogue aimed at resolving the security and political challenges confronting the Kingdom.

“SADC expresses its deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Maseko, his friends, colleagues, and to the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini for the loss of Mr. Maseko. In this context, SADC further calls upon the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini to remain calm, exercise due care and consideration whilst the appropriate structures conduct the investigations and bring the matter to completion,” the statement says.

Geingob reiterated the need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country.

Meanwhile political activists are calling on SADC to suspend Eswatini from the block including the African Union as well.

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Kopong Murder: Accused interferes with witnesses again!

27th January 2023

State prosecutor, Seeletso Ookeditse revealed before the Broadhurst Magistrate Jobbie Moilatshimo that the third accused involved in the murder of Barulaganye Aston, has interfered with the State witnesses again.

The second and third accused (Lefty Kosie and Outlwile Aston) were previously accused of interference when they were caught in possession of cellphones in prison. They were further accused of planning to kill the deceased’s brother, who is currently the guardian to the children of the deceased.

Ookeditse indicated that Outlwile had earlier went to challenge the magistrate’s decision of denying him bail at the High Court before Judge Michael Motlhabi.

“The third accused approached the High Court and made a bail application, which was dismissed on the same day,” Ookeditse said.

However, even after the High Court verdict on their bail application, the duo (Kosie and Aston) has once again applied for bail this week.

Ookeditse plead with the court to stop the accused from abusing the court process.

“Yesterday, Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) received papers of his bail application filed before the Broadhurst Magistrates Court. However, the papers do not speak to changed circumstances, therefore this back and forth about bail must be put to a stop,” said the State prosecutor.

While giving evidence before court, the Investigations Officer, Detective Inspector Quite Zhalamonto, said his investigations have proved that there is interference continuing regarding the accused trio.

He told the court that on the 12th of January 2023, he received a report from Thato Aston, who is the son of the accused and the deceased. The son had alleged to the Investigation Officer that he received a call from one Phillip Molwantwa.

According to Zhalamonto, Thato revealed that Molwatwa indicated that he was from prison on a visit to the Outlwile Aston and went on to ask where he was staying and where his siblings (Aston’s children) are staying.

“Thato revealed that Phillip went on to ask if he or his siblings saw their father murdering their mother, and he was referring to the crime scene. Thato told me that he, however, refused to answer the questions as he was afraid especially because he was asked about where him and his siblings stay,” said Zhalamonto.

Zhalamonto alluded to the court that he then went to Orange to confirm the communication between Thato and Molwantwa where he found the case.

“I have arrested Philip yesterday and when I interviewed him, he did not deny that he knows Aston and that he has indeed called Thato and asked questions as to where him and his siblings resides even though he failed to give reasons for asking such questions,” Zhalamonto told the court.

He further revealed that Molwantwa indicated that he had received a call from an unknown man who refused to reveal himself.

“Phillip told me that the unknown man said he was sent by the accused (Aston), and that Aston had instructed him to tell me to check if there was still some money in his bank accounts, and he also wanted to know where the kids were residing, the unknown man even asked him to meet at Main Mall” the Investigation Officer told the court.

He further informed the court that he is working tirelessly to identify the “unknown caller” and the route of the cell number.

Furthermore, the fourth accused, Kebaleboge Ntsebe, has revealed to the court through a letter that she was abused and tortured by the Botswana Police Services. She wrote in her letter that she suffered miscarriage as a result of being beaten by the police.

Ntsebe is on bail, while a bail ruling for Aston and Kosie will be delivered on the 6th of next month

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