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.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”