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Zakhem to get P90 million windfall as Ministry surrenders

ZAC Construction may soon smile all the way to the bank after the Ministry of Transport and Communications caved in after the contractor of Charleshill-Ncojane road lodged a dispute with the Dispute Adjudication Board (DAB) demanding compensation.

If successful ZAC Construction will get a possible P70 million award and another P20 million from an initial claim against the Ministry of Transport and Communications. Reports suggest that while ZAC has made compelling submissions before the Board, the Ministry is somewhat cold and submissive. An attempt by Department of Roads to submit a constructive written response was denied while ZAC Construction was allowed to supplement its earlier filing.


Nicholas Zakhem’s company has made three claims before the Dispute Adjudication Board, with the first dealing with “Costs for the initial delay”. In its response the Roads Department notes that “If and only if the DAB finds that the Contractor’s referral has merit, in order to save time the Employer has reviewed the Contractor’s computation of costs and confirms it is correct. “ Before stating as captured above the Department confirms that the Contractor (ZAC) has agreed to the extension of time granted and that this is not in dispute.

“The point of principle is should the Contractor be paid,” they write, while also stating that the Engineer, who they have since fired, determined the Contractor has no entitlement to compensation. In the second claim, ZAC Construction is querying the “Change to vertical alignment”. The contract is a design and construct contract. The Department of Roads notes that “the point of principle regarding claim 2 is whether the Engineer’s instruction to increase the vertical alignment is a variation.” Again, the Ministry states, “If and only if the DAB finds that the Contractor’s calculation of the extension of time and computation of costs and confirms it is correct.”

The third claim deals with the “Pre-collapse treatment. “The point of principle regarding Claim 3 is the Engineer’s time-barring. The Fidic contractual provision for time-barring is covered under clause 20.1. As is the standard response, the Department of Roads writes, “If and only if the DAB finds that the Contractor’s referral has merit, in order to save time the Employer has reviewed the Contractor’s computation of costs and confirms that it is correct.” The DAB is chaired by Mr Jeffrey Bookbinder of Bookbinder Business Law.

COURT BATTLES ONGOING

The dispute around the Charleshill-Ncojane road are also playing themselves out in the courts where the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Communication, Kabelo Ebineng is compelled to defend his 20 year friendship with businessman Nicholas Zakhem who convinced him to terminate a contract for a Consultant engaged in the construction of the Charles Hill- Ncojane road.

ZAC Construction, whose Managing Director is Zakhem is the contractor in the project. The two parties are throwing jabs of conflict of interest at each other and the permanent secretary has stated that he has even borrowed money from Zakhem, a red flag already observed by the consultant, Bothakga Burrow and other players in the matter. It not clear what the role of the Permanent secretary is in the current claim before the Dispute Adjudication Board and how the members of this Board are appointed because the Ministry had not responded to our questions by the time of going to print.

It is not clear as to whether the dismissed Consultant Engineer will be given a chance to respond to some of the claims made by ZAC Construction because Bothakga was responsible for some of the decisions in question. From the beginning of the project, Zakhem had flatly refused to work with the Consultant, Bothakga Burrow Botswana (BBB) accusing them of being difficult to work with and later alleging conflict of interest on their part – they had tendered for the same project, he said. BBB was awarded the Consultant contract by the PPADB with the Ministry of Transport and Communications as the procuring entity.

As of 16 February 2018 Bothakga Burrow Botswana has dragged the Ministry of Transport and Communications before court accusing it of unlawfully terminating its contract. Ebineng terminated BBB’s contract with effect from 16 February 2018 citing convenience on the part of the Employer or procuring entity. But Bothakga is arguing that the Ministry did not follow the correct procedure when terminating the contract and the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) agrees with Bothakga.

Zac Construction was awarded the Charles Hill – Ncojane tender on 26th November 2013 for an amount of P436 279 046. 45 to be completed in 36 months on a design and build basis. In January 2017, sixteen months after commencement of construction Zac or Zakhem complains to the Ministry of Transport citing conflict of interest on the part of the consultant, Bothakga Burrow. His views are such that the consultant has not been properly appointed and he threatens to stop taking instructions from the Consultant and requests that Bothakga Burrow be removed from the project.

Records show that in May 2017, one month after the appointment of Kabelo Ebineng as Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Transport, Zakhem restarts work after a four week unauthorized stoppage of work, and reconfirms that they will not work with the Consultant, Bothakga Barrow, and again he requested the removal of the Consultant.

What has irked Bothakga Burrow directors before their contract was terminated is that the Permanent Secretary at a meeting held on 19th June 2017 he confirmed that “he and Mr Nicholas Zakhem know each other socially. He mentioned that he has even had the opportunity to borrow money from him because of their relationship and they continue to have a relationship.”  After this meeting Bothakga Burrow requested that Ebineng recuse himself from meeting dealing with the matter but he refused stating that there was no conflict of interest.

During the course of July 2017, construction was suspended by the consultant, because the contractor was no longer accepting project works to be tested, as per the contract, however the Contractor proceeded to construct 12km of road, whose quality could not be vouched for. Ebineng immediately requested Bothakga to withdraw the suspension and he instructed Zac Construction to proceed with construction work unsupervised. Records further show that by September 2017 the Parliamentary Committee on Communications, Works, Transport, and Technology, had visited the project site to understand the challenges on the project.

Shortly thereafter the Contractor on his own volition stopped construction on the project, and demanded to be paid for the 12km of road that he had refused to have tested. The Consultant was asked by the permanent secretary to certify payment for the 12km, and declined to do so without verifying the quality of works in accordance with the contract. Indications are that at some stage the Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupusi intervened and advised that the project be executed in accordance with the signed contracts of all parties. In all meetings, Zac Construction requested that the Consultant be removed as a pre-condition to return to work on the project.

WeekendPost learns that by the end of 2017 the Ministry had paid Zac Construction for the 12km of untested road works; failed to test or verify the quality of the constructed work; acceded to the contractor’s request to remove the Consultant from the project; the permanent secretary has refused to recuse himself from dealing with the matter which he is said to be conflicted; the PPADB had notified him that his position is untenable.  

Ebineng’s defense of his relationship with Zakhem is a simplified one. He states that he knows most of the contractors, engineers, and consultants that deal with his Ministry. He states that most of them he went with them to school, met them at play grounds, socializes with them hence he wonders if he will recuse himself for almost everyone in town. On the other hand allegations of conflict of interest on the part of Bothakga were dismissed by the PPADB but the Ministry through Ebineng held that conflict was inherent.

The two parties are now in court with Bothakga Burrow Botswana pleading with the court to reverse the unlawful decision of the permanent secretary. Bothakga Burrow Botswana’s contract is worth P40 million. Judge Rannowane gave both parties an ear on 16th March 2018 and will deliver judgement next month.

Some in the Ministry are worried that Ebineng’s actions are setting a bad precedent that will have far reaching consequences for the entire construction industry where contractors can pick and choose who they want to supervise them. They also raise a concern for the role of PPADB in awarding and terminating contracts, where government can willfully undermine its own laws and institutions.

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BTC launches the 3rd Francistown Marathon 2024 and handover proceeds to the 2nd Francistown Marathon beneficiaries

8th December 2023

Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited (BTC) has announced that its 3rd Francistown Marathon will be held on Saturday 20th April 2024 at Obed Itani Chilume Stadium in Francistown. The BTC Francistown Marathon is officially recognised by World Athletics and a Comrades Marathon Qualifier will offer race categories ranging from 42.2km, 21.1 km, 10km, 5km fun run, 5km peace run for children and has introduced a 5km and 10km categories for wheelchairs athletics.

BTC also used this opportunity to announce beneficiaries who received donations from proceeds made from the 2nd BTC Francistown Marathon that was held on April 23rd 203.  BTC donated a play area, plastic chairs and wooden tables for pupils worth a total of thirty eight thousand, one hundred and three pula, fifty thebe each (P38, 103.50) to Monarch Primary School, Tatitown Primary School, Mahube Primary School and Gulubane Primary School. Ditladi and Boikhutso clinics each received a donation of benches, television sets and 10, 000 litre water tanks worth thirty seven thousan, eight hundred and ninety eight pula (P 37, 898.00). Additionally, BTC also donated seventy thousand pula (P70,000.00) to their marathon technical partner, Francistown Athletics Club (FAC) which will be used for daily operations as well as to purchase equipment for the club.

The BTC Francistown Marathon aligns seamlessly with BTC’s corporate social investment programme, administered through the BTC Foundation. This programme is a testament to BTC’s dedication to community development, focusing on key areas such as health promotion. The marathon, now in its third year, not only promotes a healthy lifestyle but also channels all proceeds to carefully chosen charities as part of BTC’s commitment to impactful and sustainable projects.

Speaking at the launch, the BTC Managing Director Mr Anthony Masunga stated that the marathon underscores BTC’s commitment to community upliftment and corporate social investment. He stated that “the annual event which has been in existence since 2016, having taken a break due to the covid and other logistical issues, is instrumental to the economic upliftment of the city of Francistown”. He congratulated all the beneficiaries for having been nominated to receive the donations, adding that “the donation of proceeds from the 2023 marathon aims to highlight BTC’s commitment and heart for Batswana and our continued impact in the different industries”.

He further stated that through this marathon, “we demonstrate our steadfast commitment to having a good influence on our communities, this event is a manifestation of our dedication to promoting education and a healthier, more active society”.  He concluded by stating that “BTC looks forward to another successful marathon that will leave a lasting positive influence on the greater Francistown community and the country at large” he said.

Giving welcome remarks, the Councillor for Donga, Honourable Morulaganyi Mothowabarwa stated that “he is ecstatic that BTC is collaborating with the City of Francistown on yet another installment of the Marathon”. He continued to offer his support to BTC to enable this marathon to continue over the coming years, stating that the “CSI element is a welcome development that helps empower our communities”, he said.

The 3rd BTC Francistown Marathon is officially open for registrations and athletes may use the following platforms to register and pay; through Smega by dialling *173# and choosing opton 5, then choose Option 3 for the Francistown marathon, at any BTC store or by visiting the BTC website and clicking on the BTC Francistown Marathon and choosing the relevant options.

 

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Letsholo lauds President Masisi’s digitization in fight against corruption

8th December 2023

Thapelo Letsholo, Member of Parliament for Kanye North, delivered a moving speech at the United Nations International Anti-Corruption Day commemoration, praising President Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi’s digitalization initiative in the fight against corruption. Letsholo highlighted the importance of embracing digitalization in governance as a crucial step in curbing corrupt practices.

According to Letsholo, the implementation of digital systems in government services can significantly reduce direct interactions between citizens and officials, which often serve as fertile grounds for corruption. By minimizing these opportunities for illicit activities, the efficiency and transparency of public services can be enhanced. Letsholo pointed to Estonia’s success in digital governance as an example, where public services have become more transparent, accessible, and efficient.

The MP commended President Masisi’s commitment to digitalization and E-Governance, emphasizing that it aligns with global anti-corruption standards. He called for full support and active participation from all sectors to ensure the success of this initiative.

Letsholo also stressed the importance of improving detection methods and refining whistleblower laws to effectively combat corruption. He highlighted the unseen and unspoken facets of corruption as its lifelines, emphasizing the need for robust detection mechanisms and a system that encourages and protects whistleblowers.

Addressing the societal role in fighting corruption, Letsholo focused on the crucial role of everyday citizens and civil servants who often witness corrupt practices firsthand. He acknowledged the existing reluctance to report corruption due to the perceived risks of repercussions. To change this narrative, Letsholo advocated for creating an environment where staying silent is deemed more detrimental than speaking out. He called for a cultural shift where the potential benefits of exposing corruption outweigh the risks, ensuring that whistleblowers are protected and feel secure in coming forward.

Letsholo called for collective responsibility and action in creating a system that not only detects and reports corruption but also supports those who stand against it. He expressed hope that under President Masisi’s digitalization initiatives, the future of governance in Botswana will be characterized by integrity, transparency, and accountability. Letsholo’s speech resonated with the sentiments of hope and determination that permeated the commemoration, emphasizing the need for unity in the fight against corruption.

In summary, Letsholo lauded President Masisi’s digitalization initiative in the fight against corruption, highlighting its potential to curb corrupt practices, enhance efficiency and transparency in public services, and align with global anti-corruption standards. He emphasized the importance of improving detection methods, refining whistleblower laws, and creating an environment where speaking out against corruption is encouraged and protected. Letsholo called for collective responsibility and action in creating a future characterized by integrity, transparency, and accountability in governance.

 

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FaR property assets value clock P1.47 billion

6th December 2023

FaR Property Company (FPC) Limited, a property investment company listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange, has recently announced its exceptional financial results for the year 2023. The company’s property asset value has risen to P1.47 billion, up from P1.42 billion in the previous year.

FPC has a diverse portfolio of properties, including retail, commercial, industrial, and residential properties in Botswana, South Africa, and Zambia. The company owns a total of 186 properties, generating rental revenues from various sectors. In 2023, the company recorded rental revenues of P11 million from residential properties, P62 million from industrial properties, and P89 million from commercial properties. Overall, the company’s total revenues increased by 9% to P153 million, while profit before tax increased by 22% to P136 million, and operating profit increased by 11% to P139 million.

One notable achievement for FPC is the low vacancy rate across its properties, which stands at only 6%. This is particularly impressive considering the challenging trading environment. The company attributes this success to effective lease management and the leasing of previously vacant properties in South Africa. FPC’s management expressed satisfaction with the results, highlighting the resilience of the company in the face of ongoing macroeconomic challenges.

The increase in profit before tax can be attributed to both an increase in income and effective control of operating expenses. FPC managed to achieve these results with fewer employees, demonstrating the company’s efficiency. The headline earnings per linked unit also saw an improvement, reaching 26.92 thebe, higher than the previous year.

Looking ahead, FPC remains confident in its competitiveness and growth prospects. The company possesses a substantial land bank, which it plans to develop strategically as opportunities arise. FPC aims for managed growth, focusing on consumer-driven developments and ensuring the presence of supportive tenants. By maintaining this approach, the company believes it can sustainably grow its property portfolio and remain competitive in the market.

In terms of the macroeconomic environment, FPC noted that inflation rates are decreasing towards the 3% to 6% range approved by the Bank of Botswana. This is positive news for the company, as it hopes for further decreases in interest rates. However, the fluctuating fuel prices, influenced by global events such as the war in Ukraine and oil output reductions by Russia and other Middle Eastern countries, continue to impact businesses, including some of FPC’s tenants.

FPC’s property portfolio includes notable assets such as a shopping mall in Francistown with Choppies Hyper as the anchor tenant, Borogo Mall located on the A33 main road near the Kazungula ferry crossing, and various industrial and commercial properties in Gaborone leased to Choppies, Senn Foods, and Clover Botswana. The company also owns a shopping mall in Mafikeng and Rustenburg in South Africa.

The majority of FPC’s properties, 85%, are located in Botswana, followed by 12% in South Africa and 3% in Zambia. With its strong financial performance, competitive position, and strategic land bank, FPC is well-positioned for continued growth and success in the property market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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