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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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Gov’t has no budget for Magosi’s SADC chase

12th April 2021
Elias Magosi

Despite the government of Botswana’s ambition to have one of its own to lead Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) since its establishment in 1980, the Presidency says there is no budget specifically dedicated to the campaign.

The Government has released the name of Permanent Secretary to the President, Elias Mpedi Magosi, as the candidate for the SADC Executive Secretary position. Magosi is expected to face off with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) candidate, Faustin Mukela. The position will become vacant in August this year.

However, despite the optimism the Botswana Government has not yet set aside a budget to assist Magosi to win against the seemingly DRC giant. “We all know that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the country’s ability to effectively fund any new project. This campaign is not an exception. As such, we do not have any budget for the campaign. However, we have so far managed to take advantage of His Excellency the President’s working visits to the neighbouring countries to also carry out the campaigns,” Press Secretary to the President, Batlhalefi Leagajang, explained.

Botswana has housed SADC since the establishment of the then SADCC in 1980, but has never occupied top most leadership positions at the SADC Secretariat.  “We therefore, strongly believe that we should also have an opportunity to contribute to the management of our regional body as it continues to drive the important issues of regional integration industrialization and socio-economic development.

This will also profile Botswana as a strong advocate of regional integration,” he responded to this publication’s questionnaire as to why the Government wants to occupy the plum post. SADC is a Member State driven organization. As such, Leagajang said, needs a well-grounded Executive Secretary with a blend of management and leadership acumen; a transformational leader with political awareness and integrity; private and public sector experience; a deep culture of corporate governance; as well as strategic agility and result-oriented consummate diplomat.

“These are the unique attributes of our candidate,” he said. So far President Mokgweetsi Masisi has visited nine out of 16 SADC member states on a working visit and also taking an opportunity to present to them his candidate.

“The countries have appreciated this effort and we remain hopeful. However, it is important to note that this is a democratic and competitive process which must be respected,” he responded when asked about the reception and assurances from various countries to cast a vote for Magosi.

In 2018, when Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi challenged for the Africa Union (AU) Chairperson, the government appointed former President Festus Mogae to be the campaign leader. Does the Government have anyone apart from Masisi to help with the campaign?

“The campaigns for the candidate are strictly led by the Government of Botswana. Since this is a candidate for Botswana, not just the Government, it will be appreciated if all Batswana, including the media, could also shoulder the responsibility to campaign for the candidate in their own spheres of influence,” Leagajang responded.

While there are sceptics on Magosi winning against the DRC man, the Government is confident and believes that with the unique traits that he possess, Magosi stands a chance. He is said to be a strong advocate of justice and fairness as he has played this role in his current role as PSP and in his previous roles as PS and in the private sector. He has helped individuals and companies to find justice and fairness in most of their dealings with Government.

Magosi is also said to be a proponent of corporate governance and which he has relentlessly pursued in most of his career including in Government and other sectors. A strong believer in following laid down procedures and laws. “He carries a variety of skills as an HR expert with experience in different sectors, a strategist and an Organization development specialist.

His experience and exposure spans government, parastatal, private sector and at regional level as well, thus making him a suitable candidate for the regional role. He has worked with governments, businesses, development partners and politicians and is comfortable navigating through all of them,” Leagajang concluded.

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Mzwinila’s P4.3 Billion gamble to keep water flowing

12th April 2021
orth-South-Carrier

The Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, Kefentse Mzwinila looked a politician set to shoot the moon as he laid bare his billions of pula development agenda recently in Parliament.

His Ministry’s combined Recurrent and Development Budget Proposals for the 2021/ 2022 Financial Year is pegged at Four Billion, Three Hundred and Sixty – Five Million, two Hundred and Nineteen Thousand, Five Hundred and Sixty Pula (P4, 365, 219, 560). This is a budget 38.3% more than the allocation for the 2020/2021 Financial Year.

Mzwinila preluded his request to parliament with a demonstration that his Ministry has no champagne taste on a beer budget – indicating that his ministry’s expenditure at the end of February 2021P2.111 Billion or 96% of development budget; and P910 million or 90% of the recurrent budget.

Notwithstanding the budget dust, the Minister justified this year’s increase in the Ministry’s total budget. He attributed the escalation to the commencement of major projects under the water sector. These include the implementation of the North South Carrier (NSC) 22.2 covering various sub projects. Mzwinila noted that these are all public value projects which are aimed at improving the lives of Batswana.

Mzwinila’s Ministry has projected that the sum of Nine Hundred and Sixty –Three Million, Nine Hundred and Forty – Seven Thousand, Five Hundred and Sixty Pula (P963, 947, 560) be permitted for the Recurrent Budget and stand part of the 2021 / 2022 Appropriation Bill ( No. 1 of 2021).

“55% of the Recurrent Budget is geared towards the Revenue Support Grant for 12 Land Boards and their subordinate authorities while the sum of P5 Million is allocated to the Real Estate Advisory Council (REAC). The remaining 44% is proposed for the Ministry Departments.”

The sum of Three Billion, Four Hundred and One Million, Two hundred and Seventy –Two Thousand Pula (P3, 401, 272, 000), for the Development Budget was approved and stand part of the same schedule of the appropriation (2021/2022).

When breaking down the Development Budget, Minister Mzwinila noted that Water Supply and Sanitation projects will account for P1.098 Billion to finance the Maun Water and Sanitation project, Molepolole Sanitation projects and the Shakawe Water Treatment Plant Rehabilitation.

With all the implementation bottlenecks troubling several projects in the country, Mzwinila had to satisfy the question of whether his Ministry demonstrated a dire need for the budget with reference to its execution of the budget for the financial year 2020/2021 and its delivery of strategic initiatives and projects?

Mzwinila’s pitch found favour with parliament and his ministry will get an aggregate budget of P3.198 Billion for the 2020/ 2021 Financial Year. Within this allocation, P2.188 Billion is for the Development Budget and P1.010 Billion will cover the Recurrent Budget.

The Minister revealed his strategic interventions for land management, water and sanitation services. Highlighting that efforts by Government to provide serviced residential land to citizens on the waiting list are being hampered by limited resources. He shared that his ministry needs P94 Billion to cover such costs which will directly link to water, sewage, roads, electricity, telecommunications and storm water drainage leading to the allocation of 4 587 plots on un-serviced land.

The minister projected that 22 952 un-serviced residential plots are planned to be allocated in the next financial year. However, there is a trend where allocated land remains fallow and undeveloped which raises misgivings that the requests could have been made on speculative plans.

Mzwinila noted that in the spirit of forging stronger International connections, the Ministry will in June 2021 sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Land matters between Namibia and Botswana with the aim of opening doors to the creation of Dry Ports in the country, facilitate international trade through Walvis Bay Sea Port.

Botswana is already challenged by scarcity of naturally occurring water resources due to the aridity of the country creating persistent water shortages. The type of infrastructure required to improve national water security is a true reflection of intensive investment needed in the water sector The Minister stressed.

“An emerging issue such as the COVID -19 pandemic poses serious challenges as the control of the virus requires reliable water supply. In an effort to mitigate the challenge, the Ministry has undertaken extensive bowsing throughout the country which included the provision of additional capacity for supplementary bowsing to areas with pervasive water shortages, plus an additional forty one (41) un-gazetted settlements.

Operational costs due to bowsing were at an average of P6 Million per month before the COVID-19 pandemic and increased to an unsustainable amount of the order of P13 Million per month, since the beginning of the State of Emergency in April 2020,” the minister shared.

Through the support of a World Bank Loan, the Ministry is implementing several initiatives under the Botswana Emergency Water Security and Efficiency (BEWSE) project. Through BEWSE the Raw Water Pricing and Abstraction Strategy will assess the pricing of water in a manner that enables the provision of water to support new economic development, the strategy is planned to be completed in June 2021.

The Ministry has commenced the development of a long term National Water Security Strategy to improve resilience to climate change impacts. The strategy development entails prioritization of the proposed future mega water transfers such as the Chobe – Zambezi water transfer, the Atlantic Ocean water transfer to Botswana through Namibia and Lesotho – Botswana water transfer.

Following the signing of the tripartite Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa in November 2017 for the Lesotho –Botswana Water Transfer project, a 24 months contract for a combined prefeasibility and feasibility study for the development of a bankable Lesotho – Botswana Water Transfer project feasibility study was signed and is to be completed in 2022.

One of the Ministry’s famous major water supply projects such as the North South Carrier (NSC) 2.2 has experienced hiccups; having tenders for contract 1 (Masama to Mmamashia Pipeline) and Contract 2 (Mahalapye to Masama Pipeline) cancelled due to budgetary constraints.

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Will Botswana’s Climate Change policy climax?

12th April 2021
Botswana Climate

The Botswana Climate Change policy draft of 2021 was tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Philda Kereng for consideration and adoption.

The policy attempts to indicate the country’s environmentally conscious development agenda as Substantial resources are being dedicated to research and policy efforts to mitigate climate change and support adaptation to the current and future impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Kereng indicated that Botswana is not immune to the impacts of climate change and it continues to delay the country’s national development efforts and that the key economic development sectors dependent on the climate system have recorded declines over the years due to the variability of the rainfall and other climatic conditions. Experts elsewhere have pointed out that lack of consideration of population dynamics hampers the development of stronger, more effective solutions to the challenges climate change poses – hopefully this policy if effectively implemented could partly answer this question.

Kereng underscored that sectors such as agriculture, water, bio diversity, health and tourism have suffered the most and the consequences of these have contributed significantly to the decline of livelihoods in Botswana especially in rural areas.

To respond to the changing climate, Botswana has embarked on sectoral reform such as climate smart agriculture, poverty alleviation initiatives, building resilience on the economic productive sectors, diversification of tourism for the improvement of livelihoods and income generation, local economic development and sustainable environment.

The efforts require a coordinated mechanism that will provide an enabling environment for an integrated approach to the formulation and implantation of development plans and socio economic related policies in Botswana that are responsive to the changing climatic conditions.

Minister Kereng explained the draft policy is characterized by an inclusive and integrated approach to social, economic development and governance modalities that would enable the country to achieve a sustainable development pathway. It provides opportunities for improved livelihoods through creation of green jobs, development and transfer of relevant technologies as well as creation and ease of access to both local and international markets. It also commits the government, private sector and non-state actors to adopt adaptation and mitigation measures that would facilitate sustainability and building of resilience of all sectors.

While Members of Parliament were trying to comprehend the policy, this publication got in touch with Green Botswana to solicit their views on the policy draft. Ms. Sela Motshwane, the Founder of the Trust highlighted that “the Climate Change policy was meant to be read in August 2019. It is long overdue, and we all need to see it and understand it in full.

I understand the current budget does not allow for a full implementation- but I could be wrong. More funds could have been allocated since. I think generally, Batswana need to understand fully what this means to our daily lives. I believe the true understanding is by policy drafters and the Ministry of Environment only.”

In the same vein, Green Botswana Trust took to the streets to provide a community solution to climate change on World Health Day (Wednesday). Green Botswana held a “Free Trees for Babies” at Extension 2 Clinic where fruit trees were gifted to parents, expectant mothers, 25 health workers, police officers and the prison officers who had accompanied prisoners to the clinic.

Motshwane said: “The decision to do the “Free Trees for Babies” by gifting fruit trees was to raise awareness to our imminent food security issue as stated by the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Mr. Thabang Botshoma and encourage the general public to plant a tree so that we can reach our SGD Goal 13 : Climate Action. The trees gifted are to be named after the baby recipient”.

Green Botswana is calling for the urgent action from government and members of the public to create a culture of community accountability and collegiality in moving Botswana towards climate action and sustainability. To achieve the 2030 Paris Agreement Pledge, it will take all citizens and not just the government to reach goals.

Parliament resolved to adopt the Botswana Climate Change Policy, 2021.

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