Being a Principal Officer for a pension fund may sound like a very simple role of just running the day to day activities of a Fund, but the BPOPF/CMB saga has just proven that it takes a whole lot more than meets the eye. And the person to find out the hard way is none other than the Chief Executive and Principal Officer of the Public Fund, Boitumelo Molefe.
The CEO and Principal Officer of BPOPF has in the past months gotten herself into a brawl with CMB partners after she spearheaded the abrupt termination of the contract with the private equity firm without much reasonable cause. This was also against counsel by the CMB Partners that should the Pension Fund terminate contract they risk losing more than half the funds invested as the private equity shares invested in were at their infant stages and most of them had already been converted into liabilities.
Ms Molefe however did not heed the advice and proceeded with her termination process which resulted in the Fund losing about P400 million in the process and only being able to recover P50 million. When reality hit home she cried foul to the Regulator (NBFIRA) whom in turn allowed itself to be drawn into the contractual war between the parties and took CMB to court. The Regulator however, lost big with costs.
On the ruling of the case, the presiding Justice Motumise said NBFIRA failed to back its actions with evidence but rather acted irrationally, and that its moves were drastic with far reaching implications to CMB, its Directors and Shareholders. The Judge proceeded to state that as a responsible Regulator NBFIRA should account for its actions without including the inappropriateness of allowing a regulated entity (BPOPF) to exercise the Regulator’s powers against another regulated entity (CMB). The Judge advised the parties to go for arbitration as the only amicable thing to do. NBFIRA has since appealed this decision.
These events have thus far raised a lot of questions as to why the current Board of Trustees was unable to find solution to the matter and most experts in the field attribute the events to a misplaced sense of duty and interest; but mostly due to the lack of relevant expertise by the Board to deal with dispute matters. This has placed Boitumelo Molefe under scrutiny, with many stating that her actions may have caused the Fund severe losses.
As per the profile displayed on the BPOPF website the Principal Officer is said to have been the Group Supply Chain Manager for Debswana and briefly acted as the Pension Fund Principal Officer for a period just before 2005. The profile states that she was pivotal in the implementation of a somewhat new investment strategy for the Debswana Pension Fund, she mainly acted as the administration overseer, liaising with Alexander Forbes (the then administrator) on payment of claims and similar actions.
It is expected that her experience from DPF is being utilised currently on the BPOPF. But currently there has also been several reports by Members of the BPOPF that their claims remain unpaid for periods of up to a year without much explanation; something which rarely happened when the Fund was under the administration of Alexander Forbes.
A comparison has also shown that under the administration of the former administrator (Alexander Forbes), the Fund used to pay up to P200 million or more in claims, monthly; a number which has significantly reduced to about P2 million or less since Ms Molefe took over. Close associates state that she seems to be more concerned and preoccupied with the Fund’s investments and neglecting the primary role of her position to ensure an efficient administration of the Fund.
Members Annual Benefit Statements have also been outstanding for almost a year already and there is no reasonable communication to the Members to clarify the delay. Currently not a single Member in the Fund knows how much their savings stand at which is a very bad disappointment. Experts in the field have stated that the Principal Officer should seek assistance from her Actuaries and declare an interest rate without having to wait on her current dispute with CMB as it is not definite when the dispute will be resolved. It is unfair for Members benefits to be held at ransom over the Board’s mistakes. If at all a positive outcome comes out of the dispute she can still augment the new returns into the Member’s benefits and recalculate their account balances.
Ms Molefe was appointed CEO and Principal Officer (PO) of BPOPF in 2015. Her role requires that a PO must never be influenced or encouraged to overstep his/her mandate as caretaker of the Fund. This is a privileged position and Principal Officer decisions can have influence and consequence all the way down the value chain, and over a long period of time. The ultimate objective is to make good returns for Members at a reasonable cost, not advancing personal or political objectives without care of the savers – which are the Members.
Unfortunately it has been evident that due to the disagreements between the Principal Officer and the previous Chairman of the Fund, Carter Morupisi, every action taken by Ms Molefe was intended to frustrate her counterpart resulting in a significant amount of Members’ Funds being lost.
Other Board Members have alluded to the fact that Ms Molefe has been acting as judge jury and executioner as to how and where the Fund assets should be invested despite the fact that she does not possess the expertise of investment management. She seems to have also side-lined her investment management department, claims are that she no longer takes counsel from them and has since hired a Strategy Manager, Mr Thabo Matthews, who seems to be her current right hand man. The ousting of Carter Morupisi as Chairperson has some experts in the field also alluding to the fact that he was probably the only person who could stand against Boitumelo’s vigorous management style hence the relentlessness by the PO to remove him.
We can only hope that the alleged external influence on the PO is non-existent as service providers sometimes unduly influence POs and Chairpersons to make decisions that are not ideal for the Fund as they take advantage of the lack of experience by the Board. On resolving the BPOPF/CMB saga experts in the field state that “Any skilled fund manager would know that among other things, the significance of arbitration is that a dispute between parties normally gets resolved much sooner, with possibly a lot better results than through the courts, especially a sensitive issue that involves public funds.
Arbitration also gets a lot less expensive for both parties involved. There is absolutely no reason why the BPOPF should not humble themselves for the sake of its Members and seek better returns from CMB”. Unfortunately, ties may have been severed irrevocably between the parties to allow for peaceful arbitration and result.
In the 13 years before 2014, the BPOPF was one the most stable, well run institutions which saw stellar growth of its fund assets from a mere P1 billion to over P40 billion in that period. During this period pensioners saw on average, annual returns of about 15% or more and everyone was happy and had confidence in the management of the pension fund.
For the better part of those 13 years, the Public Fund was under the management of Mr Ephraim Letebele who served as the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Trustees. In 2012 Mr Letebele as CEO and Chairperson of the Fund was invited to present at The Africa investor (Ai) CEO Investment Summit, where the BPOPF was recognised as one of the pioneers promoting responsible pension fund investment across Africa.
The Ai CEO Institutional Investment Summit is a unique CEO investor-issuer, invitation-only capital market leaders’ platform, for global institutional investors and sovereign wealth and pension fund investors; to originate and intermediate capital market transactions in Africa. The former CEO was shortly afterwards unceremoniously dismissed from the position and later sued and won against his former employer. The Fund however has since been struggling to find a well-rounded and capable CEO to manage it and the people to suffer the most as a result are its Members.
There has also been allegations of political interference at the centre of the appointment of CEOs of the Fund which has greatly compromised integrity of the institution. The position of Principal Officer for an enormous Fund like the BPOPF can be skilfully demanding and requires a well-rounded individual with ample knowledge and hands-on experience on pension fund administration, legislation, investment management and most importantly financial risk management and decision making; attributes that seems to be lacking on the analysis of the current status of the Fund including the disputes therein. Ms Molefe may have been handed a hard bone to chew on and things are not looking good for the Principal Officer.
This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.
The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.
The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.
Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.
We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.
More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.
The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the market.
Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.
We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?
Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?
Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?
They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?
What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?
They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?
We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?
To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?
Batswana must be made aware that the end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.
For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with the arduous imperative of analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.
Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.
Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute in Botswana is overdue.
If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.
Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.
Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.
Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication
Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.
Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.
Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.
Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.
The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.
So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.
The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.
We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.
They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.
As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.
Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme. WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org
The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.
As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.
I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.
I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?
Counting the cost of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.
It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.
Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.
The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.
Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.
By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.
Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org