The perfidious relationship among the sponsors of the now defunct Pula Steel in Selibe Phikwe was for once put on full display by one of the key figures in the choreographed project, Deepak Verma at the Hilton Hotel in Gaborone this week. Willowy in his unpacking of the drama that led to the folding of a promising project, Verma shared how they as promoters bundled and buried Pula Steel to the detriment of Selibe Phikwe and Botswana.
In the process it was over P150 million of tax payers’ money down the drain and what remains is battle of egos – soon to be beamed at the courts. At this point, Pula Steel equipment is up for auction; and the Vermas are planning on launching a spirited court bid to force the liquidator to allow them to buy the white elephant that is supposed to be Pula Steel. Deepak Verma is accusing Nigel Dickson Warren of refusing to accept their offer to buy Pula Steel.
Emphatic in downplaying his education credentials and fervent in his mocking of CEDA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Thabo Thamane as a questionable graduate of London School of Economics, Deepak Verma portrays himself as a shrewd businessman who managed to siphon P14 million from a BCL/Pula Steel deal and bought himself profitable apartments in South Africa and a project similar to Pula Steel in Zimbabwe. He says he is making R2.5 million a month on his apartments because everything he touches turns gold.
Pula Steel went into judicial management on Feb 24th 2017, according to Deepak Verma, they made an offer to Nigel Warren Dixon to buy the shares on 23rd June 2017, this offer was revised when Nigel did not accept their initial offer and tried to broker within shareholders by way of advising them that he was waiting for all shareholders value to match the allocated shares. Verma posits that according to their shareholders’ agreement whoever had offered the liquidator the maximum must be offered the project, “but he opted to broker the deal so that every ones value is the same.”
In plain language the Vermas wanted to buy Pula Steel for P361 000. This is a company that was assembled in 2010, 80% owned by the Verma family and 20% belonging to Wealth Creation, an arm owned by the former BEDIA CEO, Brian Mosenene and Mpho Balopi, who was an ordinary citizen by then. Mosenene had known the Vermas by virtue of his BEDIA escapades in India and he introduced them to Mpho Balopi. “Mosenene had told us that he is interested in becoming a businessman and he motivated our interest in partnering with him,” explained Deepak Verma.
Pula Steel was to become an 80 tonne per day capacity plant that consumes 2400 tonnes raw material every month. According to Deepak Verma, at this point things got serious and they had to up the ante hence deciding that they needed P44 million for the project to take off. This is where CEDA, Botswana Development Corporation (BDC), Vermas and Wealth Generation came into one pot for mixing. P13 million was to come from promoters as debt and CEDA was to inject P7 million as equity and have a 35% interest in the business. Lesego Selotate was CEDA’s deputy CEO at the time the deal was being stitched and was the focal person.
Interestingly, BDC was non-committal at the stage and decided to put an executive to do some due diligence and the said executive never filed comments on the project and BDC did not put the P10 million they had pledged. Wealth Generation was expected to pop out P4.5 million into the reconfigured project.
Amid the capital call there was a nagging obstacle, the promters were failing to get land for the project despite the machinery having arrived. Five interlocking plots were identified and they were to be consolidated and allocated to Pula Steel, but in Deepak Verma’s words, “our file got stuck at some office at the Square Mart building and this delayed the project and a lot was changing in the market.”
But after protracted negotiations, Government finally offered Pula Steel land next to the five consolidated plots, “the project had already lost 12 months at this stage”, and “mind you during this period the company had a CEO in Brian Mosenene of Wealth Creation who was already getting a salary; there was also a Florence Mokalake who was working as an HR person and she was being paid but with no production,” said Deepak Verma. At this point CEDA was beginning to take control of things, the Vermas feeling sidelined despite their claimed knowledge of the business and its operations.
Deepak Verma was instructive in pointing out that “any delay in timelines are the first steps to derailment of any promising project.” He claims that the Vermas are the only directors who did not take salaries from Pula Steel for a period of six months. He said he was running a textile business on the side. This was the bleeding period for Pula Steel, money was moving out with nothing coming in.
HOW BCL GOT INVOLVED WITH PULA STEEL
“We reached out to BCL because the induction furnace of Pula Steel needs water for cooling. We wanted the water they were pumping out and throwing into the dam. We only wanted the water and not the steel scrap. It must noted that at the time BCP was prospecting for iron ore in Shoshong, Mahalapye, and Barolong farms.” According to Deepak Verma, after pitching their proposal for water with BCL, the mine’s hierarchy conceived an idea that maybe they should have a stake in Pula Steel to increase the value of their company.
The Vermas who now had a 52% stake in Pula Steel at this point interested CEDA, a 35% shareholding partner, with BCL’s proposal. BCL demanded 55% share in the company of Pula Steel. The mining giant at the time notified the promoters of Pula Steel that it was controlling 6% of GDP in the country hence they are bring influence more so that their executives serve in various boards such those of Botswana Power Corporation (BPC). The partners were to sell some of their shares to bring in BCL and CEDA made it clear that they will not go below 26%.
After negotiations, Mitchin and Kelly helped the partners close the deal with BCL, giving away 50.5% of the company to the mining giant in Selibe Phikwe in 2014. Mitchin and Kelly are still involved in Pula Steel’s liquidation process today. The Verma Family received P14 million from the deal; Wealth Generation got about P3.5 million and the other P3.5 million was paid to CEDA, “We were told not to talk to the media about the deal,” divulged the irritated Deepak Verma.
After BCL came in, the capacity of the project was increased and there was need to build a power substation of 5.5 MW and the cost of transfer of power to the substation was initially estimated at P5.5 million and the money was to be paid at a rate of P60 000 per month for five years but after some period the deal changed, BPC now demanded P21 million for the substation with an upfront payment.
Deepak Verma said this was another setback for the project, an escalation in costs that was unforeseen. BCL demanded the increase in capacity and they were in control, he said. In 2014 BCL brought in a new CEO for Pula Steel. This was the time when CEDA refused to participate in these decisions hence did not partake in capital call and their share was diluted to 6%.
At this point in the address Deepak Verma took a detour and started lashing at Thabo Thamane, the CEO of CEDA. “CEDA has invested P13 million and is now a creditor, he is at the mercy of the liquidator. He did not mortgage for the loan – he could have mortgaged the property or land. I have decided that I am putting together an induction furnace and this time I am not taking a partner. I am not relocating, I have been here 20 years and I am staying,” he said.
At the time of near collapse of Pula Steel, the Vermas had 26%, Wealth Generation 4%, CEDA 6% and the rest was held by BCL. The company could not control its costs. There were labour disputes, several allegations of racism and unfair treatment of employees among other things. The company was certainly going under. In addition there were poor decisions made on behalf of the company, such as spending more on consultants instead of the company doing the jobs direct. The final nail on the coffin was the collapse of BCL which meant Pula Steel became obvious collateral albeit its own frailties.
POLITICIANS HAD A SAY
All along Selebi Phikwe, Keorapetse had reported Pula Steel to the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) with a number of cases to be investigated. The MP has always questioned the wisdom for coming up with Pula Steel when the biggest steel manufacturing companies in the world were crying foul about the market. â€¨â€¨
The then assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Phillip Dikgang Makgalemele had informed parliament that 18 cases were classified for investigation, nine were closed due to lack of evidence while eight were still under investigation. Details of the said corruption reports were not shared. Pula Steel was borne of a diversification strategy by BCL code named Polaris II which sought to diversify the operations of BCL from just mining and smelting.â€¨â€¨Pula Steel which was a subsidiary of BCL Limited which has now been placed under final liquidation following its closure last year October is currently under judicial management.
The steel manufacturing company was placed under judicial management by the High Court to suspend all orders by creditors to attach the company’s property for auction.â€¨â€¨At the time Pula Steel’s Judicial Manager, Vijay Kalyanaraman of Grand Thornton who was appointed by the High Court said at that time that Pula Steel is not yet insolvent despite liabilities but it would need cash injection by shareholders for production to continue. The Judicial Manager has applied for Pula Steel to be replaced under liquidation as shareholders have failed to inject the necessary cash to allow for recommencement of production.
Pula Steel was the first integrated steel plant in Botswana using scrap metal to produce steel billets, an intermediary steel product. Built at a cost of P130 million in 2015. The company, majority owned by BCL Mine and with shareholding from CEDA and founders, the Verma family, was placed in liquidation last October, owing creditors an estimated P100 million.
The Vermas are vociferous on their Pula Steel takeover bid. Deepak Verma says he can create 1000 jobs if offered the company. He is of the view that Batswana should desist from always blaming foreign investors when projects do not go according to plan. He says it is very important to critically look at the facts and all parties involved. “Certainly you cannot blame the Vermas for Pula Steel collapse, we know the business but were overshadowed.”
In a classic and shocking case of disgrace and dishonour to this country, the law enforcement agencies are currently struggling to cover up a damaging and humiliating scandal of having conspired to forge the signature of a Palapye Chief Magistrate, Rebecca Motsamai in an unlawful acquisition of the much-publicised 2019 warrant of arrest against Isaac Kgosi, the former director of the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS).
The cloak-and-dagger arrest was led by the DIS director, Brigadier Peter Magosi supported by the Botswana Police, Botswana Defence Force (BDF), with the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) which accused Kgosi of tax evasion, in the backseat.
Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) constituent members are struggling to reach an agreement over the allocation of wards for the imminent ward by-elections across the country.
Despite a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) and Alliance for Progressives (AP) are said to be active, but the nitty-gritties are far from being settled.
The eight bye-elections will be a precursor of a somewhat delayed finalisation of the brittle MoU. The three parties want to draw a plan on how and who will contest in each of the available wards.
This publication has gathered that the negotiations will not be a run off the mill because there is already an impasse between the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) which is a UDC constituent and AP (currently negotiating to join umbrella).
The by-elections joint committee met last week at Cresta President Hotel in a bid to finalise allocation but nothing tangible came out of the gathering, sources say.
The cause of the stalemate according to those close to events, is the Metsimotlhabe Ward which the two parties have set their eyes on.
In 2019, he ward was won by Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) Andrew Sebobi who unfortunately died in a tragic accident in February last year.
Sebobi had convincingly won by 1 109 votes in the last elections; and was trailed by Sephuthi Thelo of the UDC trailed him with 631 votes; while Alliance for Progressives’ Innocent Moamogwe got 371 votes.
Thelo is a BCP candidate and as per UDC norm, incumbency prevails meaning that the BCP will contest since they were runners up. On the other hand, AP has also raised its hand for the same.
“AP asked for it on the basis that they have a good candidate but BCP did not agree to that request also arguing they have a better contestant,” one UDC member confided to this publication.
Notwithstanding Metsimotlhabe Ward squabble, it is said the by-election talks are almost a done deal, with Botswana National Front (BNF) tipped to take Boseja South ward in Mochudi East constituency. Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) will be awarded Tamasane Ward in Lerala/Maunatlala constituency, sources say.
“But the agreement has to be closed by National Executive Committee (NEC),” emphasized the informant.
The NEC is said to have been cautioned not to back the wrong horse but rather rate with reason and facts.
UDC President, Duma Boko has told this publication that, “allocation is complete with two wards already awarded but with only one yet to be finalized,” he could not dwell into much details as to which party got what and the reasons for the delay in finalisation.
Chairperson of the by-elections committee, Dr. Phenyo Butale responded to this publication regarding the matter: “As AP we contested and as you may be aware we signed the MoU with UDC and BPF to collaborate on bye-elections. The opposition candidate for all bye-elections will be agreed by these parties and that process is still ongoing,” he said when asked if AP is interested on the ward and how far with the talks on bye-elections.
Butale, a former Gaborone Central Member of Parliament, who is also AP Secretary General continued to say, “As the chairperson of the bye-elections committee we are still seized with that matter. We should also do some consultations with the local structures. Once the process is complete we will issue a notice for now we cannot talk about the other two while the other is still pending the other one”.
Butale further clarified: “There is no such thing as AP and BCP not in agreement. It is an issue of signatories discussing and determining the opposition candidates across the three wards.”
Apart from the three wards, there are five more council wards that UDC is yet to allocate to cooperating partners.
FROM PALAPYE MEET: BPP CAUTION NEC MEMBERS
With the UDC cheerful from last weekend’s meeting in Palapye, the meeting however was very tense on the side of both BCP and BNF, with only BPP flexing its muscle and even lashing out.
BCP going into the meeting, had promised to ask difficult questions to the UDC NEC.
BCP VP and also acting Secretary General, Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, presented their qualms which were addressed by UDC Chairperson Motlatsi Molapisi, informants say.
It is said Molapisi is fed up and concerned by some UDC members especially those in the NEC who ‘wash party’s dirty linen in public’.
Insiders say the veteran politician cautioned the NEC members that they “will not expel any party but individuals who tarnish the image of the UDC.”
It is not the first time BPP play a paternalistic role as it once expressed its discontent with BCP in 2020, saying it should never wash UDC linen in public.
At first it is said, BPP, the oldest political formation in Botswana, claims disappointment on BCP stance that UDC should be democratised especially by sharing their stand with the media. Again, BPP was not happy with BCP leader Dumelang Saleshando’s decision to air his personal views on social media regarding the merger of UDC party.
Botswana Police Service (BPS) Commissioner, Keabetswe Makgophe, has of late been dousing raging fires from various quarters of society following the infiltration of the police fingerprint system by the Directorate on Intelligence and Security (DIS), WeekendPost has learnt.
Fresh information gleaned from a number of impeccable sources, points to a pitiable working relationship between the two state organs. Cause of concern is the DIS continuous big brother role to an extent that it is now interfering with other institutions’ established mandates.
BPS which works closely with the DIS has been left exasperated by the works of the institution formed in 2008. It is said, the DIS through its Information Technology (IT) experts in collusion with some at BPS forensics department managed to infiltrate the Fingerprint system.
The infiltration, according to those in the know, was for the DIS to “teach a lesson” to some who are on their radar. It is said the DIS is playing and fighting dirty to win the fights they have lost before.
By managing to hack the police finger print system, a number of renowned businessmen and other politically exposed persons found their fingers in the system. What surprised the victims is the fact that they have never been charged of any wrongdoing by the police and they were left reeling in shock to learn that their fingers are on the data-base of criminals.
In fact, some of those who their fingerprints were falsely included in the records of those on the wrong side of law learnt later when other errands demanded their fingerprints.
“We learnt later when we had to submit and buy some documents and we were very shocked,” one politician who is also a businessman confided to this publication this week.
“We then learn that there are some fabricated criminality recorded for us, as to when did we commit those remained secret to the police, but then we had to engage our lawyers on the matter and that is when we were cleared,” said the politician-cum- tenderpreneur.
The lawyers have confirmed engaging the police and that the matters were settled in a gentlemen’s agreement and concluded.
All these happened behind the scenes with the police top brass oblivious only to be confronted by the irked lot, police sources also add. The victimized group who most of them have been fighting lengthy battles with the DIS read malice and did not blink when it was revealed that these were done by the DIS.
“And it was clear that they (DIS) are the ones in this dirty war which we don’t understand. Remember when we sue, it will be the Police at the courts not the DIS and that is why we agreed to a ceasefire more so they also requested that be kept under carpet,” said the victim.
Nonetheless, the Police through its spokesperson Assistant Commissioner, Dipheko Motube, briefly said: “we do not have any system that has been hacked.” On the other hand DIS mouthpiece Edward Robert was not in office this week to comment on the matter.
Reports however say DIS boss, Peter Magosi, who most of the victims accuse of the job, is said to have met his police counterpart Makgophe to put the matter to bed.
COVID-19 RAVAGES POLICE
As frontline workers, Police have not escaped the wrath of Covid-19. Already the numbers of those infected has reached the highest of high and they suggest that they be priorities on vaccine rollout.
“Our job is complicated, firstly we arrest including those who are non-compliant to Covid protocols and we go to accidents and many more. These put us at risk and it seems our superiors are not bothered,” said one police officer this week.
The cops further complain about that working spaces are small, as such expose them to contact the virus.
“Some tests positive and go for quarantine while the rest of the unit will be left without even test carried out. If at all the bosses are serious all the police officers should every now and then be subjected to testing or else we will be no more because of the virus,” added another officer based in Gaborone.
The government has since placed teachers on the priority list for the vaccines, it remains to be seen whether the police, who also man road blocks, will be considered.
“But our bosses should convince the country leadership about this, if not then we are doomed,” concluded a more senior officer.