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Zakhem, P436 million and a conflicted Permanent Secretary

More drama at the Botswana courts is playing out, this time 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.

Zakhem has 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 says. 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. The then permanent secretary, Elias Magosi dismissed Zakhem’s allegations and warned him to abide by the contract which he would have defaulted on the contract.

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. After receiving a notice to terminate their contract from the permanent secretary BBB wrote to PPADB seeking clarity and confirmation on whether the Board had approved that their contract be terminated as is the prescription of the law.

PPADB DISOWNS EBINENG’S GAMBITS

In a letter dated 23rd February 2018 PPADB writes “…that the award of this contract was a result of a tendering process which was in line with the PPAD Act and the tender was awarded by PPADB. In light of your appreciation of the provisions of the PPAD Act and further applicable statutory instruments, the termination of the contract must be preceded by the approval of the PPADB.”

Bothakga Burrow Botswana (BBB) had argued that in line with the PPAD Act, the termination should only be implemented after the ministry has obtained authority or approval from the PPADB. BBB further argues that, in previous correspondences addressed to them by the Ministry of Transport and Communication, the latter had indicated that they were seeking approval from the Board to terminate the contract and therefore they (BBB) expected that letter of termination issued to them by the Ministry should have been preceded by approval of such termination by the Board.

From previous correspondences the Permanent Secretary, Kabelo Ebineng had appreciated that the contract entered into with BBB cannot be terminated without requisite approval from PPADB. The PPADB decided at its meeting held on 22nd February 2018 after considering a submission from BBB, that the “termination was an un-procedural act as it contravened a provision of the PPAD act.” It boldly states that the decision to terminate the contract was not sanctioned by the Board.

The PPADB went further and informed Ebineng through a letter dated 23rd February 2018 that “The Board at its sitting of the 22nd February 2018 considered the Consultant’s submission and noted with concern that the Ministry has proceeded to terminate the contract following the lapse of the period of the Notice of intention to Terminate without the requisite Board’s approval to resile from the Contract.

The Board determined that indeed the Ministry ought to have sought approval for authorization to resile from the contract as mandated by Section 47 of the PPAD Act, and that the omission by the Ministry to so do results in the inevitable conclusion that termination was un-procedural and therefore unlawful as it contravened a provision of the Act. The Board therefore has confirmed to the Consultant that it has not approved termination.”

“The Board is also greatly concerned that the Ministry has deliberately breached the law as it proceeded to resile from the Contract without seeking the requisite approval from the Board…The Ministry is cautioned from deliberately contravening the Act and is advised to rectify the error by reinstating the contract and follow due process if it wishes to invoke its rights to terminate the contract. The Ministry should note that the Board is mandated by Section 27 of the PPAD Act to ensure that all procuring entities comply fully with all the provisions of the Act.” The PPADB copied its correspondence to the Auditor General and the Permanent Secretary to the President “for their information and appropriate action.”

EBINENG REMAINS DEFIANT

However in a response letter dated 28th February 2018, Ebineng remained defiant and informed the PPADB “…on the above understanding, and considering the exigencies of the matter as well as our responsibilities as a procuring entity to manage the contractual issues and consequences thereto, we confirm the termination of contract with Bothakga Burrow Botswana (Pty) ltd, with effect on 16 February 2018.” Ebineng stated confidently that “we believe that the notice to terminate cannot be requested where the Contract is terminated at the convenience of the Employer.”

He stated that in order to avert the possibility of incurring avoidable costs, which may crystalize as a result of not moving swiftly in finding a solution to the underlying problem; as well as taking into consideration the public interest, “which I had discussed extensively, with both the Contractor and the Engineer, a decision had to be made. After considering many factors it made sense to terminate one of the parties with whom we had contracted. In the circumstances we terminated Bothakga Burrow Botswana,” said Ebineng.

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State forged Kgosi’s arrest warrant

22nd July 2021
FORMER DIS BOSS: ISAAC KGOSI

In a classic and shocking case of disgrace and dishonour to this country, the law enforcement agencies are currently struggling to cover up a damaging and humiliating scandal of having conspired to forge the signature of a Palapye Chief Magistrate, Rebecca Motsamai in an unlawful acquisition of the much-publicised 2019 warrant of arrest against Isaac Kgosi, the former director of the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS).

The cloak-and-dagger arrest was led by the DIS director, Brigadier Peter Magosi supported by the Botswana Police, Botswana Defence Force (BDF), with the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) which accused Kgosi of tax evasion, in the backseat.

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UDC parties discuss by-elections

22nd July 2021
UDC

Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) constituent members are struggling to reach an agreement over the allocation of wards for the imminent ward by-elections across the country.

Despite a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) and Alliance for Progressives (AP) are said to be active, but the nitty-gritties are far from being settled.

The eight bye-elections will be a precursor of a somewhat delayed finalisation of the brittle MoU. The three parties want to draw a plan on how and who will contest in each of the available wards.

This publication has gathered that the negotiations will not be a run off the mill because there is already an impasse between the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) which is a UDC constituent and AP (currently negotiating to join umbrella).

The by-elections joint committee met last week at Cresta President Hotel in a bid to finalise allocation but nothing tangible came out of the gathering, sources say.

The cause of the stalemate according to those close to events, is the Metsimotlhabe Ward which the two parties have set their eyes on.

In 2019, he ward was won by Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) Andrew Sebobi who unfortunately died in a tragic accident in February last year.

Sebobi had convincingly won by 1 109 votes in the last elections; and was trailed by Sephuthi Thelo of the UDC trailed him with 631 votes; while Alliance for Progressives’ Innocent Moamogwe got 371 votes.

Thelo is a BCP candidate and as per UDC norm, incumbency prevails meaning that the BCP will contest since they were runners up. On the other hand, AP has also raised its hand for the same.

“AP asked for it on the basis that they have a good candidate but BCP did not agree to that request also arguing they have a better contestant,” one UDC member confided to this publication.

Notwithstanding Metsimotlhabe Ward squabble, it is said the by-election talks are almost a done deal, with Botswana National Front (BNF) tipped to take Boseja South ward in Mochudi East constituency. Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) will be awarded Tamasane Ward in Lerala/Maunatlala constituency, sources say.

“But the agreement has to be closed by National Executive Committee (NEC),” emphasized the informant.

The NEC is said to have been cautioned not to back the wrong horse but rather rate with reason and facts.

UDC President, Duma Boko has told this publication that, “allocation is complete with two wards already awarded but with only one yet to be finalized,” he could not dwell into much details as to which party got what and the reasons for the delay in finalisation.

Chairperson of the by-elections committee, Dr. Phenyo Butale responded to this publication regarding the matter: “As AP we contested and as you may be aware we signed the MoU with UDC and BPF to collaborate on bye-elections. The opposition candidate for all bye-elections will be agreed by these parties and that process is still ongoing,” he said when asked if AP is interested on the ward and how far with the talks on bye-elections.

Butale, a former Gaborone Central Member of Parliament, who is also AP Secretary General continued to say, “As the chairperson of the bye-elections committee we are still seized with that matter. We should also do some consultations with the local structures. Once the process is complete we will issue a notice for now we cannot talk about the other two while the other is still pending the other one”.

Butale further clarified: “There is no such thing as AP and BCP not in agreement. It is an issue of signatories discussing and determining the opposition candidates across the three wards.”

Apart from the three wards, there are five more council wards that UDC is yet to allocate to cooperating partners.

FROM PALAPYE MEET: BPP CAUTION NEC MEMBERS  

With the UDC cheerful from last weekend’s meeting in Palapye, the meeting however was very tense on the side of both BCP and BNF, with only BPP flexing its muscle and even lashing out.

BCP going into the meeting, had promised to ask difficult questions to the UDC NEC.

BCP VP and also acting Secretary General, Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, presented their qualms which were addressed by UDC Chairperson Motlatsi Molapisi, informants say.

It is said Molapisi is fed up and concerned by some UDC members especially those in the NEC who ‘wash party’s dirty linen in public’.

Insiders say the veteran politician cautioned the NEC members that they “will not expel any party but individuals who tarnish the image of the UDC.”

It is not the first time BPP play a paternalistic role as it once expressed its discontent with BCP in 2020, saying it should never wash UDC linen in public.

At first it is said, BPP, the oldest political formation in Botswana, claims disappointment on BCP stance that UDC should be democratised especially by sharing their stand with the media. Again, BPP was not happy with BCP leader Dumelang Saleshando’s decision to air his personal views on social media regarding the merger of UDC party.

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DIS infiltrates Police fingerprint system

22nd July 2021
Makgope

Botswana Police Service (BPS) Commissioner, Keabetswe Makgophe, has of late been dousing raging fires from various quarters of society following the infiltration of the police fingerprint system by the Directorate on Intelligence and Security (DIS), WeekendPost has learnt.

Fresh information gleaned from a number of impeccable sources, points to a pitiable working relationship between the two state organs. Cause of concern is the DIS continuous big brother role to an extent that it is now interfering with other institutions’ established mandates.

BPS which works closely with the DIS has been left exasperated by the works of the institution formed in 2008. It is said, the DIS through its Information Technology (IT) experts in collusion with some at BPS forensics department managed to infiltrate the Fingerprint system.

The infiltration, according to those in the know, was for the DIS to “teach a lesson” to some who are on their radar. It is said the DIS is playing and fighting dirty to win the fights they have lost before.

By managing to hack the police finger print system, a number of renowned businessmen and other politically exposed persons found their fingers in the system. What surprised the victims is the fact that they have never been charged of any wrongdoing by the police and they were left reeling in shock to learn that their fingers are on the data-base of criminals.

In fact, some of those who their fingerprints were falsely included in the records of those on the wrong side of law learnt later when other errands demanded their fingerprints.

“We learnt later when we had to submit and buy some documents and we were very shocked,” one politician who is also a businessman confided to this publication this week.

“We then learn that there are some fabricated criminality recorded for us, as to when did we commit those remained secret to the police, but then we had to engage our lawyers on the matter and that is when we were cleared,” said the politician-cum- tenderpreneur.

The lawyers have confirmed engaging the police and that the matters were settled in a gentlemen’s agreement and concluded.

All these happened behind the scenes with the police top brass oblivious only to be confronted by the irked lot, police sources also add. The victimized group who most of them have been fighting lengthy battles with the DIS read malice and did not blink when it was revealed that these were done by the DIS.

“And it was clear that they (DIS) are the ones in this dirty war which we don’t understand. Remember when we sue, it will be the Police at the courts not the DIS and that is why we agreed to a ceasefire more so they also requested that be kept under carpet,” said the victim.

Nonetheless, the Police through its spokesperson Assistant Commissioner, Dipheko Motube, briefly said: “we do not have any system that has been hacked.” On the other hand DIS mouthpiece Edward Robert was not in office this week to comment on the matter.

Reports however say DIS boss, Peter Magosi, who most of the victims accuse of the job, is said to have met his police counterpart Makgophe to put the matter to bed.

COVID-19 RAVAGES POLICE

As frontline workers, Police have not escaped the wrath of Covid-19. Already the numbers of those infected has reached the highest of high and they suggest that they be priorities on vaccine rollout.

“Our job is complicated, firstly we arrest including those who are non-compliant to Covid protocols and we go to accidents and many more. These put us at risk and it seems our superiors are not bothered,” said one police officer this week.

The cops further complain about that working spaces are small, as such expose them to contact the virus.

“Some tests positive and go for quarantine while the rest of the unit will be left without even test carried out. If at all the bosses are serious all the police officers should every now and then be subjected to testing or else we will be no more because of the virus,” added another officer based in Gaborone.

The government has since placed teachers on the priority list for the vaccines, it remains to be seen whether the police, who also man road blocks, will be considered.

“But our bosses should convince the country leadership about this, if not then we are doomed,” concluded a more senior officer.

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