Ngwato Land board members are caught up in a conflict of interest row with a key Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) member. The row stems from a tender invitation for ranches in the Ngwato tribal territory.
The axed BDP Executive Secretary Thabiso Masalila has accordingly dragged the Land board to court for flouting basic procedures in tendering for ranches. This follows Ngwato land board’s decision in May 2015 to float an invitation to tender for the allocation of commercial ranches in the Sandveld, Kaka, Xere and other areas in the Ngwato tribal territory. The case is before Justice Omphemetse Motumise.
The conflict of interest arises from the understanding that the officials who crafted the requirements of the tender for the commercial cattle ranches then proceeded to apply and compete for the same ranches as they knew what to expect. “It is highly conceivable that the Ngwato Land Board officials had access to the exact details of the area and as such completed their application forms while others like Masalila were prejudiced,” the court papers indicate.
According to an attorney representing Masalila in the matter, Kabo Motswagole of Motswagole and Companies: “the record is clear that: the Ngwato Land Board was compromised of conflicted and interested persons, those ‘conflicted persons’ before they recused themselves crafted the rules and the qualifications criteria of the tender in the commercial ranches, appointed a Technical team to evaluate the submissions (including those of the conflicted board), received a report of the evaluation and then decided to excuse themselves.”
The Board members recommending the requirements for the tender and applying for the same made it fairly seamless for the Technical team to recommend candidates possessing their personal attributes in that regard, Motswagole argued. The well regarded attorney also indicated that the Ad Hoc board was appointed some 5 months later only to allocate while stressing that “appellant (Masalila) submits that this is a non procedural issue as it goes to the substance of who considered eligible. The proceeds were irregular and ought to be set aside.”
In light of this, he observed that the mere fact that the process of tendering, scoring and short listing of the interviewees was done under the auspices of members of the board which were replaced with an ad-hoc board proves to pose a sensible possibility of conflict of interest given that after setting the requirements and rules of the tendering process they went on to participate in it and compete with the public.
“Bias is widespread and is a problem even for well-meaning professionals while adding that the human reasoning is easily pressed into the service of one’s own interests,” the distinguished lawyer pointed out. Consequently he requested the court to direct that the Land board Tribunal erred and misdirected itself in holding that the decision of the Ngwato Land board (respondent) to exclude the appellants (Masalila) from the shortlist of people to be interviewed for the Advertised Commercial ranches was lawful even though it was made by a Board comprised of members who were conflicted and interested parties in the ranch allocations.
Furthermore he asked the court to order that the judge in the court a quo erred in holding that the decision of the Ngwato Land board to exclude Masalila and not call him for an interview is set aside as being irrational, illegal, unlawful and ultra vires. According to Masalila’s attorney, the tendering process in relation to category 3.1.2 (farmers’ category) should be done afresh. “We submit that the decision of the Ngwato land Board was irrational and promoted a miscarriage of justice, fairness and equality,” he emphasised.
Applicants asked to provide list of neighbours at the ranches
Meanwhile Motswagole said it was shocking that the land board asked applicants to provide a list of neighbours at the ranches being applied for and therefore emphasised that it was unreasonable and irrational. “The Land Board had a duty to distribute a representation for the location of the ranches and most importantly for applicants, where each bidder is likely to be placed” adding that “this was done in part and as such the appellant could not have been able to identify the neighbors.”
He argued: “it is therefore becomes an irrational decision to disqualify the appellant for not listing neighbours to the farm applied when there were none. Disqualifying a bidder in a tender on the basis of neglecting to fill in a paragraph that the Land Board ought to have furnished particulars on and neglected to do so is an unreasonable and/or irrational decision.”
He complained that the Land board clearly acted in constructive contempt as while the matter was still resolved they proceeded to grant and allocate the ranches in issue which the Land Tribunal had not made its decision in an appeal filed only days after the alleged completion. “The Ngwato land board has undermined the authority of the Land Tribunal which is an authority of a court of law by proceeding to allocate the commercial livestock ranches in question despite ongoing legal proceedings and impeded the appellant’s right to access court. Thus ridiculing the fundamental principle of the rule of law in its supremacy,” he said.
Landboard attorney explains why the BDP cadre was disqualified
Meanwhile Gosego Lekgowe of Dinokopila Lekgowe Attorneys told court in his oral arguments that there is no evidence of prejudice or favour to those allocated stressing that there was a proper tendering process that took place. He said “the evaluation process was to be done in 3 stages. Stage 1 – the assessment team was to assess and screen all the applications for compliance with the requirements of paragraph 2.12 of the tender and any application not in compliance was to be disqualified.”
He highlighted that Masalila bid for the tender and the assessment team found that Masalila’s submission not to be responsive and he was disqualified. Masalila then filed an application to interdict the short listing process and for review of the Land board’s decision but was also dismissed in December 2015. Lekgowe said, in light of the fact that the successful applicants were not joined in the proceedings this court cannot cancel the contracts that already have been concluded without them being parties to these proceedings.
“Accordingly, we submit that the appeal is ill-conceived and falls to be dismissed with costs.” In any event, he maintained that the tender has been substantially performed in the sense that allocations have been made and those to whom the allocations were made hold personal rights to such ranches.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.