Two of Botswana’s most wealthy men, property-cum-media mogul, Sayeed Jamali and retail tycoon, Ramachandran Ottapathu are not prepared to give up on their attempt to own and operate the national airline, Air Botswana.
Fresh investigations suggest that the duo recently tried to use a roads construction meeting to arm-twist the transport minister into discussing the possibility of taking over the national airliner. Indications are that the duo is convinced it can turn around Air Botswana. Weekend Post is reliably informed that on 6 February 2018 the two businessmen tried to take advantage of a meeting called by Minister of Transport and Communication, Kitso Mokaila to discuss the construction tender of Segoditshane Bridge which was won by Jamali’s company, Universal Builders.
Ministry sources that were at the meeting were “shocked” to see Jamali accompanied by Ottapathu who is not party to the bridge construction tender. During the said meeting, Ottapathu attempted to make a presentation to Mokaila, trying to convince him how the two men can be suitable owners of Air Botswana. However, according to sources, Mokaila flatly refused discussing Air Botswana.
“We called them (Jamali and Ottapathu) to talk about roads. They assumed we would talk about Air Botswana but we declined discussing the airline…we only talked about roads,” said a top official at the transport ministry. As if refusing to give billionaires Jamali and Ram audience to discuss possibility of their Air Botswana take over was not enough, high placed sources at the Government Enclave also revealed to this publication that Mokaila will not give the two an ear on Air Botswana as their initial bid failed. The source authoritatively confirmed that while government is still looking for “suitable investors,” Jamali and Ottapathu have never crossed minister Molaila’s mind as he is “now busy looking elsewhere for more suitable bidders to take over the airliner.”
“Their expression of interest (Jamali and Ottapathu) was not successful and it was over for them. Mokaila stated even in cabinet or intra-ministerial meetings that he is going to improve Air Botswana and make it viable and will not take pressure to talk to any of those whose bids failed. That is the reason why he is re-fleeting. He said we are going to look everywhere for suitable investors and Jamali or Ottapathu’s names were never mentioned,” said a highly placed source at Government Enclave.
Jamali and Ottapathu’s move to own Air Botswana started in February last year, a joint venture proposal through a company called LongLeaf and Weekend Post has seen an initial proposal which was received by the Deputy Permanent Secretary Isaac Moepeng. LongLeaf was among the 17 bidders who coveted ownership of Air Botswana subsequently submitting an Expression of Interest on 28 February 2017. Investigations have revealed that Jamali and Ottapathu made another bid last year September after Wilderness Holdings withdrew from the tender following its success through a Presidential Directive. President Ian Khama has indirect interest in Wilderness Holdings that was given Air Botswana and this caused a public uproar, forcing the tourism operator to withdraw its interest on the national airliner.
Initially LongLeaf wanted to hold 52 percent while government was to own the remaining 48 percent. However in the second bid Jamali and Ottapathu wanted 60 percent of the assets, tangible and intangible “including without limitation; the airline fleet, operation experiences, subject to any obligations contained in disclosed license agreements and all related intellectual property, the other fixed assets of Seller (Government of Botswana), any and all customer lists and the goodwill associated therewith, all free and clear of any security interests, mortgages or other encumbrances.” The second bid or proposal was received by Deputy Permanent Secretary Moepeng who the sources reveal that he “deliberately sat on the bid.”
In the initial bid, Cemair were the favourites to take over Air Botswana according to sources, but Mokaila decided to play hardball as he did not want another controversy like the one which involved Wilderness Holdings. Mokaila would say his intuition was served right as currently 11 out of 12 Cemair planes are grounded by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) over regulatory compliance concerns since 2 February 2018.
Incidentally, this grounding also affected the P3 million per month wet lease agreement which Air Botswana gets from Cemair to use its(Cemair) CRJ-100 jet to run the four times weekly Gaborone-Cape Town route. Air Botswana was forced to announce suspension of the Gaborone-Cape Town route on the eve of Valentine’s Day, a week after SACAA declared grounding Cemair planes. As a temporary measure, all Cape Town ticketed passengers were being re-routed via Johannesburg at no extra cost “until a definite solution has been implemented.”
Latest reports from South Africa are that only one of the 12 planes, the domestically used Dash-8 Q400, has been lifted off the ground by SACAA while Air Botswana’s CRJ-100 and other ten Cemair owned airliners remain on the ground. Since last month, SACAA has to run inspections on the 12 Cemair planes concurrently and it is not known when the Gaborone-Cape Town route will be back on the skies, if at all it will pass inspection.
Sources close to development hinted that Jamali and Ottapathu wanted to capitalize on Cemair’s downfall or misfortune because their attempt to coax Mokaila into selling them Air Botswana came just four days after Cemair’s planes were grounded by SACAA. Sources said during the Segoditshane bridge construction meeting Ottapathu made a short presentation that he should take over the Gaborone-Cape Town route with his 30-seater jet. According to a source, Ottapathu also said he can make Gaborone an international travel hub and introduce a direct flight from Germany to Gaborone. Ottapathu has an estimated net-worth of P5 billion which includes his Choppies net-worth estimated to be P2 billion. Jamali on the other hand’s net-worth is estimated to be around P3 billion.
Meanwhile on Wednesday government announced intentions to refleet the national airliner by acquiring a newly manufactured ATR 72-600 turboprop aircraft-with dual-class capacity and more enhancement in the area of performance. A jet will also be added to substitute or add into Air Botswana’s aging fleet.
“Yes we are refleeting. The airline will be well placed to mitigate against the risks of losing its prime routes, which are presently operated by foreign competing airlines. The national airliner will be well-positioned to participate in the process of implementing the open skies policy, as advocated by the African Union,” said Mokaila.
In a brief interview with Weekend Post, Mokaila confirmed the meeting with Jamali and Ottapathu and that he declined talking about Air Botswana. He also said the privatization of Air Botswana is underway and they are looking for suitable investors. On the suspended Gaborone-Cape Town route due to Cemair’s grounding Mokaila reiterated his re-fleeting stance and said the new fleet will help in the future to mitigate against the risks of losing its prime routes like the currently suspended one.
Jamali did not want to be drawn into commenting about Air Botswana, saying his main job is being a builder. Jamali admitted that he was with Ottapathu when they tried to talk Mokaila into discussing Air Botswana but the minister declined. On the other hand Ottapathu denied ever discussing Air Botswana saying “we met the minister to discuss other things apart from Air Botswana.” Ottapathu did not state why he was party to meetings that discusses construction of bridges.
Botswana Police Service (BPS) has indicated concern about the ongoing trend where the general public falls victim to criminals purporting to be police officers.
According to BPS Assistant Commissioner, Dipheko Motube, the criminals target individuals at shopping malls and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) where upon approaching the unsuspecting individual the criminals would pretend to have picked a substantial amount of money and they would make a proposal to the victims that the money is counted and shared in an isolated place.
“On the way, as they stop at the isolated place, they would start to count and sharing of the money, a criminal syndicate claiming to be Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officer investigating a case of stolen money will approach them,” said Motube in a statement.
The Commissioner indicated that the fake police officers would instruct the victims to hand over all the cash they have in their possession, including bank cards and Personal Identification Number (PIN), the perpetrators would then proceed to withdraw money from the victim’s bank account.
Motube also revealed that they are also investigating a case in which a 69 year old Motswana woman from Molepolole- who is a victim of the scam- lost over P62 000 last week Friday to the said perpetrators.
“The Criminal syndicate introduced themselves as CID officers investigating a case of robbery where a man accompanying the woman was the suspect.’’
They subsequently went to the woman’s place and took cash amounting to over P12 000 and further swindled amount of P50 000 from the woman’s bank account under the pretext of the further investigations.
In addition, Motube said they are currently investigating the matter and therefore warned the public to be vigilant of such characters and further reminds the public that no police officer would ask for bank cards and PINs during the investigations.
Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leadership walked out of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting this week on account of being targeted by other cooperating partners.
UDC meet for the first time since 2020 after previous futile attempts, but the meeting turned into a circus after other members of the executive pushed for BCP to explain its role in media statements that disparate either UDC and/or contracting parties.
The Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes (DCEC), Tymon Katlholo’s spirited fight against the contentious transfers of his management team has forced the Office of the President to rescind the controversial decision. However, some insiders suggest that the reversal of the transfers may have left some interested parties with bruised egos and nursing red wounds.
The transfers were seen by observers as a badly calculated move to emasculate the DCEC which is seen as defiant against certain objectionable objectives by certain law enforcement agencies – who are proven decisionists with very little regard for the law and principle.