Mountbatten Limited, a company incorporated in a commonly regarded tax haven jurisdiction of British Virgin Islands, is home and dry in buying Wilderness Holdings’ safari camp known as Xigera Camp in the tourism paradise of Okavango Delta, WeekendPost has established.
This publication understands that, Wilderness Holdings through its subsidiary Okavango Wilderness Safaris has offered to sell its offspring company, Great Explorations (Pty) Ltd, to Mountbattenâ€• a deal which will see the tax haven based foreign corporation owning the Xigeria Camp which is based on Botswana soil. Technically, Xigera Lodge will move from the Botswana tax regime to a regarded tax haven, simply meaning the country will lose on tax revenues of a lodge build on its paradise’s soils to an offshore company in an apparent tax avoidance endeavor.
The country where Mountbatten is registered, the British Virgin Islands, is regarded by many investigators and tax experts as a hub for tax avoidance. The Caribbean Islands is regarded as a tax haven due to the absence of most major forms of taxation in the territory. This has led to the British Virgin Islands being included on most recognized lists of tax havens. The 2016 Panama Papers revealed that over 50 percent of shell companies were set up in the British Virgin Islands.
According to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a tax haven is a jurisdiction that seeks to make itself attractive to businesses and business owners seeking more favourable tax treatments than those available in their country of origin or residence. A tax haven can also mean a country that offers foreign individuals and businesses little or no tax liability in a politically and economically static environment. Tax avoidance, despite it robbing countries of tax revenue, is not illegal, tax evasion is the one regarded as a crime.
One of the directors of Mountbatten is Michael Tollman who was director of Wilderness Safari Investment and Finance Pty Ltd thirteen years ago and has been Wilderness Holdings Limited deputy chairman since 2010, according to investigations by WeekendPost. Wilderness Safari Investment and Finance Pty Ltd is a subsidiary of a selling company, Wilderness Holdings Limited.
This means Tollman, being a board member of Wilderness may have been involved in the decision making of his own company, Mountbatten, buying Great Explorations. Wilderness is the grandparent company of Great Explorations which owns Xigera Camp. The CEO of Wilderness, Keith Vincent, is currently director of Great Explorations.
Mountbatten, the company on the verge of buying 100 % shares offered in Great Explorations, is a giant hospitality corporation which owns hotels and lodges in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Guernsey and the United States of America. Tollman is also a director of Mountbatten’s holding company The Travel Corporation. He is a member of the wealthy Tollman family which owns a huge worldwide property and hospitality empire. His cousin Brett is the CEO of The Travel Corporation.
Brett’s father Stanley was once a director of top English Premier League team Chelsea. The former Chelsea director’s reputation took a nosedive in 2008 after he pleaded guilty to one count of tax fraud and agreed to pay more than $105 million to the U.S. government in back taxes and various fraud penalties.
Speaking on behalf of Mountbatten because Tollman was abroad and requested her to respond to our questions, Bonnie Jennings told this publication that it remains an anticipation that Mountbatten Limited will acquire the shares in Great xplorations. However Jennings did not comment on Mountbatten being registered in the British Virgin Islands or whether she understands the nature of a business being taken from a certain tax regime to an offshore investment or a tax haven.
Responding via email from South Africa, Jennings said there can never be a case of tax avoidance against Botswana by Great Exploration or Xigera Lodge. She said: “Great Explorations (Pty) Ltd will continue to be based in Botswana and will operate in exactly the same manner as it has before and shall continue to pay tax in accordance with the laws of Botswana, as it has done to date,” said Jennings.
Wilderness Commercial Director and Chief Sustainability Officer Derek De La Harpe confirmed that they have sold Xigera camp to Mountbatten. He also confirmed that Mountbatten director sits on the board of Wilderness. He however did not want to comment on the issue of Mountbatten being incorporated in a regarded tax haven but forwarded our inquiry to the Caribbean islands based entity.
Competition Authority investigating the merger
The Mountbatten acquisition of Great Explorations has also caught the eye of local antitrust body, Competition Authority (CA). Recently the CA received a merger notification for the proposed acquisition of 100% of the issued share capital in Great Explorations owned by Okavango Wilderness Safaris by Mountbatten Limited.
As a result, the Authority further seeks any person or a third party not an interested party to voluntarily submit information about the proposed merger according to section 57(3), of the Competition Act. Also, any stakeholder for or against the acquisition may send views to the Authority within 10 days from the notice, according to the Authority.
Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Review of the Constitution held a meeting in Serowe this week. The meeting was to accord Bangwato, just like other tribes, a platform to give their opinions, contributions and what they think is the horse power and limitations of the current Constitution of Botswana.
Bangwato Regent, Kgosi Serogola Seretse said, he is of the understanding that the Commission has not come for anything apart from getting their opinions on how things could be made better. His contribution was that he solely knows of only two social positions in the world; Dikgosi and Pastors. He said other positions are just benedictions. He further urged that, Batswana should respect God’s ordained protocols such as Dikgosi and Pastors.
Seretse pointed out the importance of acknowledging and appreciating Dikgosi as nation builders. He cautioned and warned that, the Commission should ensure that their dealing with Dikgosi is harmonious. He called for an amendment to be made on the ‘National Order of Precedence’ noting that Dikgosi are put at number 11, but should at least be taken a little higher to number 7.
One resident, Tshepo Moloi while giving his contribution said there must be provisions of Social Justice that ensure equal distribution of resources to all citizens. He said this provision should entail an obligation that all citizen have equal opportunities to different Government Initiatives. Moloi substantiated that, all ‘Presidential Commissions’ be engraved on the Constitution
Alfred Thogolwane who is as well a resident of the biggest village in the Central District, pointed out the need for preservation of the country and resources thereof, saying “it must dawn onto all that, the calabash that fetches water for the family cannot fixed once its broken.” Another resident, Keikantsemang Sebedi advocated for Polygamous marriage, saying that men should marry as many wives as they please. She said there is no need for any socioeconomic assessment done on men who wish to marry more than one wife.
She advised that, the country should benchmark from the Zezuru culture that does it, with no complexities. On the other hand, Sebedi said that, there must be considerations done on the Old Age Pension. She said people who earned P4000 should not receive the old Age Pension upon their fullness of age. Forshia Koloi called for amendments on Section 77 and all the provisions that speaks to the subject of Bogosi and the powers infested in them. He said they should be made more detailed and avoid ambiguity in clauses.
Mr Tlhaodi said there must be Land Audits done in the country. Citing an example of the Tati Land as one that should be thoroughly audited. He further advised that, Election Day be put on the Calendar. He said, if it happens that the day be a Saturday, there should be some special dispensation for the 7th Day Adventist Church members to take part in voting without compromising on their day of worship. Tlhaodi added that there must be People’s Complaint Commission in the country.
Speakers emphasized the need for the country to review the exercise of ‘Political Party Funding’. They articulated that lack of funding political parties’ results in political parties resorting to finding funds for themselves. They reiterated that sometimes going to the extent of getting funds through illegal means. Bangwato agreed in one accord that they want the President be tried whilst in office if suspected of any criminal offences. This was revealed in their contributions. They pointed out that, the law should not to wait until the end of their tenure.
For his part, the Deputy Chairperson of the Commission Johnson Motshwarakgole expressed gratitude to the residents of Serowe. He applauded women for their kindness saying it is only them, who always take responsibility for doing things amicably in the society.
Parliament has revealed that it plans to rollout a Community Score Card (CSC) exercise as part of sweeping reforms to its role and mandate among others.
The planed shakeup, along with the rollout of CSC will see creation of new Parliamentary Portfolio Committees on Health, HIV&AIDS, Education and Skills Development, Trade and Economic Development, Agriculture, Lands and Housing and Local Governance and Social Welfare. Parliament informed government ministries and departments that the CSC is a participatory, community based monitoring and evaluation tool that enables citizens to assess the quality of public services and interact with services providers to express their concerns.
According to Parliament, the CSC will assist to inform community members about available services and their entitlements and to solicit their opinions about the accessibility and quality of certain services related to the portfolio committees mentioned. It said the main objective is for Parliament through identified oversight committees is to conduct a participatory monitoring and evaluating process that puts ownership and responsibility for delivery of services in the hands of both the Government and the service recipients.
“Through scorecards developed around identified sectors and services, communities and implementing departments remain in touch with progress made through the programme delivery cycle and are able to respond timely to bottlenecks,” the National Assembly said. Some of the measurements and expected outcomes for the rolling out of the CSC include among others, improved monitoring and economic evaluation, to determine the impact of spending, so as to be able to direct resources from where they having the least benefit to those projects and programmes where they will have a larger positive impact.
The National Assembly explained further that this could result in a willingness to close down ineffective programmes and institutions and not to implement projects that do not deliver adequate returns, improved productivity in the public services, especially given the substantial pay increases.
The National Assembly believes that the rolling out of CSC is also expected to result in efficiency savings: many public services and programmes could be delivered more effectively at lower costs, by improving management and accountability, and making use of e-services. “This would yield financial savings that could be used for development programmes or reducing the deficit,” the National Assembly said.
The exercise is also expected to result in “Careful scrutiny of subsidy schemes and termination of those that do not address market failure or assist truly needy Batswana.” The National Assembly revealed that proposed Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Wellness has been established in accordance with the Standing of National Assembly of Botswana. It explained that the mandate of the Committee is mainly to exercise Parliamentary oversight and scrutiny over Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies with portfolio responsibilities in respect of Health and HIV/AIDS.
“There is need to identify reasons for inefficiency and poor outcomes and ensure that health system reform improve productivity and value for money. Key areas of focus for scorecard, availability of drugs, staffing ratios, accessibility of health services, speciality care and services and sexual reproductively health,” the National Assembly said.
Another proposed Committee is on Local Governance and Social Welfare. The mandate of the Committee is mainly to exercise Parliamentary Oversight and Scrutiny over Government Ministries. Departments and Agencies with Portfolio responsibilities in respect of Local Governance and Social Welfare.
“Strategies under NDP 11 to improve outcomes of social uplifment include; diversiﬁcation of rural economies, development and support of small businesses, provision of social safety nets, eradication of absolute poverty, provision of quality and equitable education and harmonisation of social protection programmes,” said the National Assembly. It said social nets need to be improved so as to target these most in need (at present some social safety nets benefit many people who are not the most needy, but also miss out some of those who are needy).
“Some social development policies more broadly should also aim to reduce household vulnerability to shocks such as those arising from fluctuations in agriculture, climate change, incomes and employment and improve their ability to handle shocks, thereby building household resilience,” the National Assembly said.
Another Committee established is on Agriculture, Lands and Housing. The mandate of the Committee is mainly to exercise Parliamentary oversight and scrutiny over Government Institutions, Departments and Agencies with portfolio responsibilities in respect of Agriculture, Lands and Housing.
The National Assembly said the average growth rate of the agricultural sector since the beginning of National Development Plan 11 (NDP11) (i.e. during the 2017/2018 and 2018/19 financial years) was 2.5 percent, making it the slowest growing sector of the economy, in line with its historical performance.
“Over the same period, its share of GDP has been stagnant at around 2 percent. The sector also contributes job opportunities for about 80 000 adults. Food security has become paramount since the onset of the corona virus pandemic,” the National Assembly said. The National Assembly said the Government realises the need to increase food production for products in which Botswana has a cooperative advantage such as beef, grains and other horticulture products.
The Committee on Finance, Trade and Economic Development has also been established. One of the mandates of Committee would be to exercise Parliamentary oversight and scrutiny over government ministries, departments and agencies with portfolio responsibilities in respect of Finance, Development, Trade and Industry.
“The sector is at the core of industrialisation aspirations and strategies for economic development in Botswana. Manufacturing in particular can be the driver of economic growth through technological improvements and innovation,” the National Assembly said. Hence, it said, the development of the sector could also foster export diversification and export led-growth in Botswana while benefitting from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA).
Two senior members of Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) have threatened legal action against Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS), it has transpired. The threat is contained in an answering affidavit of Director General of DCEC, Tymon Katlholo in which he is seeking an interdiction from High Court to stop the DIS from accessing investigation files at his office.
After the DIS detained DCEC officials Joao Salbany and Tsholofelo Bareetsi on December 16, 2021, they filed an official complaint against DIS and some officials. They complained about abuse of office by DIS and five officers. Salbany and Bareetsi also complained about unlawful detention by DIS and unlawful dissemination of classified information contrary to Section 44 of Corruption and Economic Crime Act. “The DIS interviews were premised on information divulged during the course of official DCEC work product, that is the Monday media brief meeting,” they wrote.
They further requested leave to institute a civil suit against the DIS and its officers, and invariably the State for inhuman and degrading treatment they suffered and unlawful detention. They also pondered a declaratory seeking a sanction against the DIS and Botswana Police Service (BPS) and clarification of the role of BPS officers seconded to DIS.
“The envisaged suit against BPS and DIS officers and the DIS will inevitably centre on investigations done by the DCEC and the scope of the protection availed to DCEC officers for conduct done in the course and scope of DCEC official duties.” The duo said it was self-evident from the conduct of the DIS officers that there was nothing urgent about the information required by the DIS, justifying their detention at its Sebele facility from 08:30 hours on December 16, 2021 until 02:00 hours on December 17, 2021.
They reasoned that the information required by the DIS could have been obtained by a simple request to DCEC Director General. “What the DIS did was to seek to intimidate officers of the DCEC whom they knew were carrying out investigations against some of the DIS officers who were part of their investigation team. This turn of events has a chilling effect not only on the functioning of the DCEC but also on the official conduct of officers of the DCEC as to how they conduct their official duties.”
They concluded by stating that in the event the request is granted, they would further request to be advised as to the provision of legal representation as the unalwful detention and the degrading and inhuman treatment by the DIS was in relation to matters conducted by and on behalf of the DCEC.