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BPOPF pushes arbitration in P400 million trailblazer

Capital Management Botswana (CMB) is playing hardball with Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF) following the High Court’s rejection of an application by Non-Bank Financial Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA) through which it had wanted to appoint a Statutory manager (Peter Collins) over CMB.

The Partnership Agreement between BPOPF and CMB gives the latter a trailblazer status because they are likely to be the first company to be get over P400 million from a ‘partner’ with little sweat. BPOPF had issued an Arbitration Notice in a bid to recover over P400 million whose whereabouts have not been disclosed and it belongs to the 150 000 pensioners of the Botswana public service.

On 14 May 2018 BPOF lawyers wrote to the Botswana Institute of Arbitrators (BIA) for intervention after CMB failed to honour the Arbitration Notice within the recognized 20 days. CMB has instead made hard demands on the part of BPOPF. “The 20 day deadline has passed. Despite BPOPF having engaged with CMB and with the statutory manager who was appointed to CMB, CMB has, to date, neither accepted the arbitrators proposed in the Arbitration Notice, nor has its suggested any alternative arbitrators.

CMB has, in court papers, suggested that an arbitration should be held in the United Kingdom, but it seems to us that the terms of the Partnership Agreement are clear. CMB have not raised any formal dispute in relation to the forum of arbitration and this would, in any event, be a dispute as defined in the Partnership Agreement which would need to be dealt with, perhaps as a preliminary issue, at an arbitration in Botswana. In any event, the Partnership Agreement does not require that the BIA be instructed by both parties but merely requires that the BIA appoint the Arbitrators if the parties have not agreed within 20days,” wrote BPOPF lawyers, Werksman Attorneys.

BPOPF has asked the Botswana Institute of Arbitrators to appoint three arbitrators in accordance with the terms of the Partnership Agreement. They want the arbitrators to be Senior Counsels to preside over the arbitration in respect of the disputes declared. “The subject of the arbitration is a matter of national importance notably given that the BPOPF represents more than 150 000 pensioners of Botswana public service and that more than P400 million is at risk. It is urgent that the Disputes be resolved efficiently.

We therefore look forward to your prompt response,” further stated the BPOPF lawyers. BPOPF had suggested the names of Mr Virgil Vergeer; Mr Kwadwo Osei Ofei; Ms Pepsi Sibanda; and Mr Sifelani Thapelo as possible arbitrators. BPOPF Acting Chief Executive Officer, Moemedi Malindah had indicated that any three of the listed four could be selected to act as arbitrators.

The Partnership Agreement states that “Any dispute between any of the Parties arising in connection with this Agreement or its subject matter shall be submitted to an finally resolved by arbitration in accordance with arbitration rules of Botswana Institute of Arbitrators (BIA)…”
BPOPF entered into a Partnership Agreement with Capital Management Botswana (CMB) Limited in November 2014. CMB was a general partner of the Botswana Opportunity Partnership (the ‘Fund’) for the period commencing on its formation of the Fund and terminating on 1 December 2017 by BPOPF who are the sole Limited Partner of the Fund.

The Disputes which are to be taken for arbitration arise from the fact that CMB, which has been terminated as General Partner (GP) is yet to transfer the Fund Assets held by it in its own name to the Fund hence BPOPF wants to ensure that all of the Fund Assets are registered in the name of the Fund. Furthermore BPOPF wants CMB to handover to the newly appointed General Partner, Viltry (Proprietary) Limited.

BPOPF is also demanding all documentation relating to the Fund and to each of the Fund’s Investments that are in its possession and which ought to be within its possession in terms of the Partnership Agreement both as its erstwhile General Partner and erstwhile Manager. In addition, BPOPF demands the details of each service provider to the Fund as well as each service provider to CMB as the erstwhile General Partner and the erstwhile Fund Manager in relation to the Fund, including the name of the service provider, the contact details of the service provider, a list of deliverables pending issue from each service provider (if any)), the service level agreement concluded with that service provider and the correspondences with each service provider.

The Pension Fund also procures that any persons nominated and appointed by CMB to represent the Fund on the Board of any Portfolio company pursuant to the Partnership Agreement resign from such office with effect from the date of the Removal Notice and authorize General Partner to nominate and appoint replacement with effect from the date of Removal Notice.

“On 18 December 2017, BPOPF wrote to CMB demanding confirmation of, amongst other things, the identity and contact details of the person or entity to whom BPOPF’s interest in the Fund had purportedly been sold and the purchase price. As at date of this notice, CMB has not complied with these demands. The replacement GP requires the requested information in order to discharge its fiduciary obligations to the Fund, and it is accordingly, in terms of common law and under the Partnership Agreement, entitled to the information and documentation demanded in the Removal Notice as well as the letter dated 18 December 2017,” further writes Moemedi Malindah, Acting BPOPF CEO.

WHY BPOPF SHOULD BEG FOR ARBITRATION

The BPOPF invested the sum of P477 million in the Botswana Opportunity Partnership (BOP) to be managed by CMB in terms of the BOP agreement between the two. CMB then disposed of the investment and only paid P50 million to BPOPF. The BPOPF has tried to tell the court that a balance of P400 million was at stake. But Judge in the NBFIRA case, Justice Motumise has argued that “the question before me is not the recovery of the P400 million or to secure it, wherever it is and thus to protect it from loss. In fact, I have not been told where it is so that I can secure it from such loss. What I am called upon to do, in these proceedings is to decide whether to confirm the appointment of a statutory manager over CMB.”

The money at stake was an investment made in terms of the BOP Agreement which states that: “The General Partner shall be entitled, and is hereby irrevocably authorized by defaulting Limited Partner, to dispose of the Defaulting Limited Partner’s interest in Botswana Opportunity Partnership to one or more third parties at such price and on such terms and conditions as the General Partner, in its sole and absolute  discretion, deems fit, provided that the General Partner first offers such interest, at the same price and on the same terms, first to the non-Defaulting Limited Partner pro rata to their respective Capital Commitments and then (if any remains) to the non-defaulting Fund LPs of any Parallel Fund pro rata to their respective capital commitments to such.”  

The Agreement further reads: Except as provided in clause 26 or any loss suffered due to any grossly negligent, reckless, fraudulent or willful misconduct activities by the General Partner, neither the General Partner nor the any of its affiliates shall be liable for the return of the Capital Commitments of any Partner, and such return shall be made solely from available Fund Assets, if any, and each Limited Partner hereby waives any and all claims it may have against the General Partner or any Affiliate thereof in this regard.”  

It is evident that BPOPF authorized the disposal of its investment or interest under the agreement and the Agreement itself prescribes that resolution of all matters and or claims is through Arbitration. Some BPOPF insiders question the decision to sign such an Agreement and are wondering where the Board and the management were when such a deal slipped through!

WHY THE P400 million is GONE
Except as provided in clause 26 or any loss suffered due to any grossly negligent, reckless, fraudulent or willful misconduct activities by the General Partner, neither the General Partner nor the any of its affiliates shall be liable for the return of the Capital Commitments of any Partner, and such return shall be made solely from available Fund Assets, if any, and each Limited Partner hereby waives any and all claims it may have against the General Partner or any Affiliate thereof in this regard.” 

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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