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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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Understanding the US Electoral College and key election issues 

28th October 2020
Mark J Rozell

The United States (US) will on the 3rd of November 2020 chose between incumbent Donald Trump of the Republicans and former Vice President Joe Biden of the Democrats amid the coronavirus pandemics, which has affected how voting is conducted in the world’s biggest economy.

Trump (74) seeks re-election after trouncing Hillary Clinton in 2016, while Biden (77) is going for his first shot as Democratic nominee after previous unsuccessful spells.

US Presidents mostly succeed in their re-election bid, but there have been nine individuals who failed to garner a second term mandate, the latest being George W H. Bush, a Republican who served as the 41st US President between 1989 and 1993.

Dr Mark Rozell, a Dean of  the School of Policy and Government at George Mason University  in  Arlington, Virginia describes the complex US electoral system that will deliver the winner at the 3rd November elections.

“The founders of our Republic de-centralised  authority  significantly  in  creating  our  constitutional  system,  which  means that  they  gave  an  enormous  amount  of  independent  power  and  authority  to  State  and  local governments,” Dr Rozell told international media on Elections 2020 Virtual Reporting Tour.

Unlike  parliamentary  democracies, like Botswana the  United  States  does  not  have  all  of  the  national government elected in one year. They do not have what is commonly called mandate elections where  the  entire  federal  government  is  elected  all  in  one  election  cycle  giving  a  “mandate”  to  a particular political party to lead, and instead US have what are called staggered elections, elections over time.

The two house Congress, members of the House of Representatives have two-year long terms of office. Every two years the entire House of Representatives is up for re-election, but senators  serve  for  six  years  and  one  third  of  the  Senate is elected every  two  years.

For this election cycle, US citizens will be electing the President and Vice

President, the entire House of Representatives and one third of the open or contested seats in the Senate, whereas two thirds are still fulfilling the remainder of their terms beyond this year.

An  important  facet  of  US electoral  system  to  understand  given  the  federalism  nature  of  the republic, the US elect presidents State by State, therefore they do not have a national popular vote for the presidency.

“We have a national popular vote total that says that Hillary Clinton got three million more votes than Donald Trump or in Year 2000 that Al Gore got a half million more votes than George W. Bush, but we have what is called a State by State winner takes all system where each State  is  assigned  a  number  of  electors  to  our  Electoral  College  and  the  candidate  who  wins  the popular vote within each State takes 100 percent of the electors to the Electoral College,” explained Dr Rozell.

“And that is why mathematically, it is possible for someone to win the popular vote but lose the presidency.”

Dr Rozell indicated that in 2016, Hillary Clinton won very large popular majorities in some big population States like California, but the system allows a candidate to only have to  win  a  State  by  one  vote  to  win  a  100 percent of  its  electors,  the  margin  does  not  matter.

“Donald  Trump  won  many  more  States  by  smaller  margins,  hence  he  got  an  Electoral  College majority.”

Another interesting features by the way of US constitutional system, according to Dr Rozell, but extremely rare, is what is called the faithless elector.

“That’s the elector to the Electoral College who says, ‘I’m not going to vote the popular vote in my State, I think my State made a bad decision and I’m going  to  break  with  the  popular  vote,’’ Dr Rozell said.

“That’s constitutionally a very complicated matter in our federalism system because although the federal constitution says electors may exercise discretion, most States have passed State laws making it illegal for any elector to the Electoral College to break faith with the popular vote of that State, it is a criminal act that can be penalized if one is to do that. And we just had an important Supreme Court case that upheld the right of the states to impose and to enforce this restriction”

There are 538 electors at the Electoral College, 270 is the magic number, the candidate who gets 270 or more becomes President of the United States.

If however there are more candidates, and  this  happens  extremely  rarely,  and  a  third  candidate  got  some electors  to  the  Electoral  College  denying  the  two  major  party  candidates,  either  one  getting  a majority, nobody gets 270 or more, then the election goes to the House of Representatives and the House of Representatives votes among the top three vote getters as to who should be the next President.

“You’d have to go back to the early 19th century to have such a scenario, and that’s not going to happen this year unless there is a statistical oddity, which would be a perfect statistical tie of 269 to 269 which could happen but you can just imagine how incredibly unlikely that is,” stated Dr Rozell.

BLUE STATES vs RED STATES

Since the 2000 United States presidential election, red states and blue states have referred to states of the United States whose voters predominantly choose either the Republican Party (red) or Democratic Party (blue) presidential candidates.

Many  states  have  populations  that  are  so  heavily  concentrated  in  the  Democratic party or the Republican party that there is really no competition in those states.

California is a heavily Democratic State, so is New York and Maryland. It is given that Joe Biden will win those states. Meanwhile Texas, Florida and Alabama are republicans. So, the candidates will spent no time campaigning in those states because it is already a given.

However there are swing  states, where  there is a competition between about five and 10 states total in each election cycle that make a difference, and that is where the candidates end up spending almost all of their time.

“So  it  ends  up  making  a  national  contest  for  the  presidency  actually  look  like  several  state-wide contests with candidates spending a lot of time talking about State and local issues in those parts of the country,” said Dr Rozell.

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Masisi to make things right with Dangote

26th October 2020

High Commissioner of the Federal Government of Nigeria to Botswana, His Excellency Umar Zainab Salisu, has challenged President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi to move swiftly and lobby Africa’s richest man, Nigerian Billionaire, Aliko Dangote to invest in Botswana.

Speaking during a meeting with President Masisi at Office of President on Thursday Zainab Salisu said Dangote has expressed massive interest in setting up billion dollar industries in Botswana.  “We have a lot of investors who wish to come and invest in Botswana , when we look at Botswana we don’t see Botswana itself , but we are lured by its geographic location , being in the centre of Southern Africa presents a good opportunity for strategic penetration into other markets of the region,” said Salisu.

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Dow wants GBV culprits isolated

26th October 2020
Unity Dow

As murder cases and violent incidents involving couples and or lovers continue to be recorded daily, Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Dr Unity Dow has called for more funding of non-governmental organizations and accelerated action from government to come up with laws that could inhibit would-be perpetrators of crimes related to Gender Based Violence (GBV).

Just after Dr Dow had deposited her views on this subject with this reporter, a young man in Molepolole opened fire on a married woman he was having an affair with; and ended her life instantly. While it is this heinous cases that get projected to the public space, the former minister argues that the secrecy culture is keeping other real GBV cases under wraps in many spaces in the country.

The former Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said there is GBV all the time in all kinds of places. “We have become accustomed to stories of rapes, marital rapes, defilement of children, beatings and psychological violence and even killings,” she said.

Gender-based violence is a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality, Dow is worried that there is absolutely no social punishment for perpetrators; they will continue to have the same friends, jobs, wives, homes, as before. Yet another factor, she said, is that there is little or no “justice” for victims of GBV.

The renowned activist said justice for GBV victims is not just the jailing of the perpetrator. “Justice for victims means an agile, victim-friendly, accessible (time, money and procedures) and restorative justice system.”

Asked what could be leading to a spike in Gender Based Violence cases or incidents, she observed that there is no one factor to which this spike can be attributed. “The most obvious factor is stress as a result of economic distress and or poverty. Poverty makes one vulnerable and open to compromises that they would otherwise not make. For perpetrators with anger management issues, economic stress leads to lashing out to those closest to them. Another factor is the disintegration of families and family values,” she opined.

According to Dow, no government anywhere in the world is doing enough, period. “We know the places and spaces where women and girls are unsafe. We know the challenges they face in their attempts to exit those spaces and places.” The former Judge of the High Court said GBV undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in the culture of silence.

Asked what could be done to arrest GBV cases, Dow said it is critical to involve and fund civil society organizations. She observed that much of the progress done in the area of women’s human rights was during the time when Botswana had strong and funded civil society organizations.

“The funding dried up when Botswana was declared a middle-income country but unfortunately external funding was not replaced by local funding,” she acknowledged.

Further Dow said relevant government institutions must be funded and strengthened.

“Thirdly, create a society in which it is not okay to humiliate, rape, beat or kill women. You create this by responding to GBV the same way we have responded to livestock theft. We need to create agile mechanisms that hear cases quickly and allow for the removal of suspected perpetrators from their homes, work places, boards, committees, etc.”

The former Minister said the much anticipated Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Gender Based Violence will have its work cut out for it. According to Dow, GBV is not just a justice issue, it’s not just a gender issue, but rather an issue that cuts across health, education, labour, economic, housing and politics. “As long as any one believes it is someone else’s problem, we will all have the problem,” she said.

In her view, Dow said every work, educational and other place must have a GBV Policy and/or Code of Conduct. “It is important that we acknowledge that the majority of men are law-abiding. The problem is their silence, in the face of injustice,” she observed.

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