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UB catering tender: Saleshando washes her hands

Professor Lydia Ramahobo-Saleshando

The Gaborone High Court has been asked to determine whether or not, Professor Lydia Ramahobo-Saleshando influenced the award of the University of Botswana (UB) catering tender to her step son’s company, Boitekanelo catering services.

Boitekanelo Catering Services is the applicant in the case, a move motivated by the University’s decision to cancel the award and retender while also giving the losing bidder, Moghul Catering a three months extension to continue serving the UB community.

In a case that was recently registered before Justice Ketlogetswe, the company, Centre of Clinical Excellence (PTY) LTD, trading as Boitekanelo catering Services, in which the step son, Gagoitsewe Saleshando owns major shares, Professor Saleshando’s role in the tendering process will be explained.

In a battle to save the lucrative tender that was revoked last week, the company has filed affidavits that seek to clear Professor Saleshando’s name. The Affidavits suggest that Saleshando, who was a Deputy Chancellor when the catering tender was awarded had declared her interest and recused herself from the tendering process.

“In terms of section 17 (1) of the UB Act, Professor Saleshando disclosed her indirect interest but was directed by third respondent’s (Finance Committee) Ad hoc Tender Evaluation Committee to participate in the meeting,” Clinical Excellence will hook onto this point, as it appears in its filing affidavit.

The Ad hoc Tender Committee is entitled to do this by provisions of tender processes. Professor Saleshando’s disclosure was duly recorded in the minutes under section 17(2) of the UB Act. The aggrieved company whose tender was unceremoniously revoked has therefore taken the matter to court. What they want is for the court to declare the withdrawal of the tender null and void under section 17(3) of the Act because Saleshando “did not fail to disclose her interest and no decision was made which benefits her directly as she stated.”

According to the minutes of the Tender Evaluation committee, at the meeting of the 15 and 16 July 2015, Saleshando declared her interest on the basis of her relationship with her step-son who has major shares in the catering company.

In declaring the interest, Saleshando stated that she had no financial gain in the company. As a result the Ad Hoc tender Evaluation Committee, according to minutes, agreed that she should be part of the meeting and it will be detected if there is any bias.

This meeting was continued on the 16th July 2015 where she made the same declaration and the committee made the same decision as on the previous day.

At the time of tender award, Saleshando was Deputy Vice Chancellor, Student Affairs and was not a member of the Tender Committee as constituted under Tender regulations.

The company lawyer, Tshiamo Rantao of Kewagamang is expected to argue that as Saleshando explained to the Vice Chancellor in her letter to him dated 25 April 2016, she stayed at the behest of the committee.

Saleshando wrote, “I have read in the newspapers about the catering tender. One of the allegations made is that I did not recuse myself. I have also heard from unconfirmed reports that UB wishes to concede having made a mistake. I write to explain that actually I did declare my interest and recused myself. The committee reasoned that since I had no direct benefits from Boitekanelo, I should stay. The main reason was that the then Director, Student Welfare, under whose Department the catering unit falls and could chair the meeting in my absence, was only a few days in office. The task was too complex even for me,”

“I however, did not stay on to the recommendation stage. At the time the Student Affairs Committee made visitations to a number of shortlisted companies, I was not part of the committee. At the time it set to discuss their visitation findings and made a recommendation to Tender Committee, I was not part of the Committee. I had requested Professor Mokgwathi to join the visitations and take over the chairmanship in October 2015,”

“In this regard, UB could concede having made mistakes/s in some other areas and not on the basis of my involvement. It has to be noted that Student Affairs and the Tender Committees are recommending bodies and not final decision making committees. Thus the tender regulations have to be read in this context.”

Saleshando copied the letter to Acting Chairperson of Council Deputy Vice Chancellors, Student Affairs and Finance and Administration and Directors of Student Welfare and Legal Services.

The tender which was awarded to Boitekanelo was terminated on the basis that Professor Saleshando failed to recuse herself in terms of Tender regulation. The contention was that she should have recused herself after disclosing her interest.

Apart from Saleshando’s involvement Moghul were also throwing in thick accusations against Boitekanelo including allegations that the company could not demonstrate technical ability because it was recently registered. They also threw hearsay from the student community.

How Boitekanelo won the tender

The background of the case is that, in or around February 2015, UB finance committee invited companies and entities with proven record of catering to provide catering services to its main campus for a period of 3 years. The tender was to appoint two caterers to provide catering services in two of its major catering facilities and to provide the service to three staff cafeterias.

The initial deadline was 7 May 2015 noon. Meanwhile on the 23 April 2015, the Professor’s step son’s company, Centre of Clinical Excellence proceeded to register its trading name, Boitekanelo Catering Services with the Registrar of Business names. After winning the tender, the long serving caterer at the University, Moghul catering services protested the award and demanded answers from the University. Among the questions they asked was, “who registered for the UB contract, was it Boitekanelo which was only registered in April 2015, two weeks before the tender closed and why didn’t the Deputy Chancellor recuse herself?”

Moghul further alleged that Boitekanelo was de-registered in November 2015 by the Registrar of companies, about four months after winning the tender. However the certificate of incorporation of Boitekanelo was re-issued in March this year.

Last week the University withdrew the tender despite having given Boitekanelo credit that it was the only company that had meal prices for staff cafeteria hence it was awarded the tender at P20.00 for breakfast and P35 for lunch. Boitekanelo had also won the tender for student refectory at a total price of P40.00 per day, that is, P10.00 breakfast, P15.00 lunch and P15.00 dinner.

On 16 May 2016, the Secretariat of the Finance committee wrote a memorandum to its members inviting them to a meeting on Thursday, 19th May 2016. One of the agenda items was the withdrawal of Tender UBT 2015/2016.07 to Boitekanelo.

Allegedly, on the face of it there was never a meeting of the Finance Committee where a resolution was taken to withdraw or invalidate Boitekanelo tender award.

In a confirmatory affidavit filed in court this week, Nollen Bone, UB’s Secretary General for Student Representative Council (SRC) stated that the Finance Committee never had a meeting where a resolution was taken to withdraw or invalidate the said tender award of Boitekanelo.

“Thus the letter of 11th May 2016, written by Mr Davies Tele, the Secretary of the Finance Committee is untruthful and invalid as there was never a meeting where such a decision was taken leading to the letter. I any event neither any member of the SRC, nor I a member thereof were invited to any such a meeting and therefore, any such purported meeting would be null and void.” Bone explained.

As the conflict rages on, Moghul’s contract was extended up until the end of this Month and is most likely to be re-extended pending the outcome of the court decision.

Tender regulations

Section 17 of the UB on conflict of interest is applicable to all committees of the UB council, including the Finance Committee, as provided for in section 17, as read with section 19 of the UB Act.

Papers filed in court, explains that in terms of Regulations 2.1.43 of the Tender regulations, the Tender Committee is a sub-committee of the Finance Committee. So, a Tender Committee is a sub-committee of the Finance Committee, a committee of the UB Council whose conflict of interest situations are covered by section 17 of the UB Act.

To the extent that Regulation 4.4.3 requires one to recuse himself/herself after declaring his/her interest and provides no room for the direction of the committee to permit his or her taking part in the meeting, it is, according to Boitekanelo, ultra vires section 17 of the UB Act because it places on a person more requirements than those required by the Act. The company lawyer maintains that the Act takes precedence both at common law and Part XXXVII of the UB statutes.

The attorney, Tshiamo Rantao is expected to raise legal argument on this point at the hearing.

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Botswana gets P2.750 billion loan from World Bank

14th June 2021
Peggy Serame

Botswana’s efforts to accelerate key economic reforms got a boost following the approval of a $250 million loan by the World Bank today. The Programmatic Economic Resilience and Green Recovery Development Policy Loan (DPL) will support the implementation of Botswana’s Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan and is designed to strengthen COVID-19 pandemic relief while bolstering resilience to future shocks.

This DPL is also designed to support reforms to strengthen private sector development and promote green recovery. It is the first-ever World Bank budget support operation for Botswana and the first of two planned operations.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a great burden on the country’s economy, its people, and firms. With this operation, the World Bank will support the government’s reforms to ensure social spending reaches the poorest and assists Batswana who are most affected by the Covid-19,” says World Bank Country Director for Eswatini, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa, Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly.

“This operation will also support reforms to attract private sector investments, contribute to diversification of exports, and increase job opportunities towards a green economy”. The operation provides both financial and technical support for government reforms to implement a Single Social Registry and to improve targeting of social spending on the most vulnerable while strengthening systems for future shocks.

It will also help strengthen the business environment for increased SME-led job creation and economic diversification through improved access to finance for individuals and small and micro enterprises (SMEs). Furthermore, the program will help Botswana to build the foundations for sustainable, “green” growth by supporting reforms to increase production of renewable energy by independent power producers, promoting and regulating rooftop solar energy generation, and embedding climate change considerations in environmental assessments.

DPLs are used by the World Bank to support a country’s policy and institutional reform agenda to help accelerate inclusive growth and poverty reduction. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a real gross domestic product (GDP) contraction of 7.9 percent in Botswana in 2020 – the largest in the country’s history.

This has also led to a depletion of existing fiscal buffers and has constrained revenue collection, reduced Government’s capacity and resources needed to accelerate the implementation of structural reforms and threatened to reverse progress in poverty reduction.

World Bank Group COVID-19 Response Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank Group has committed over $125 billion to fight the health, economic, and social impacts of the pandemic, the fastest and largest crisis response in its history.

The financing is helping more than 100 countries strengthen pandemic preparedness, protect the poor and jobs, and jump start a climate-friendly recovery. The Bank is also providing $12 billion to help low- and middle-income countries purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.

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UB employees protest against Vice Chancellor

11th June 2021
Professor Norris

University of Botswana Vice Chancellor, Professor David Norris, has lost support of the university staff, with four unions joining forces to demand his removal from office.  

When he was appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana in December 2017, by the then Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr Alfred Madigele, Professor Norris was hailed as an angel sent from heaven.

Professor Norris succeeded Professor Thabo Fako, after the latter led the University during turbulent times — with the university experiencing financial challenges and dwindling enrolment numbers.

Four years down the line, Professor Norris’ presence at the University nauseates many. Academic staff together with manual workers want Norris shown the door as soon as yesterday.

University of Botswana Academic Senior Support Staff Union, (UBASSSU), University of Botswana Staff Union (UBSU) and University of Botswana Manual Workers Union, in a petition submitted to Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Douglas Letsholathebe, called for the dismissal of Norris. The unions said that under the leadership of the Professor, UB staff members suffered immeasurable pain, agony and frustration, and their welfare is entirely overlooked.

The unions petition Professor Norris on a number of issues: blurred roadmap, inflationary adjustments of salaries, security services, corporate governance, teaching and learning resources, deteriorating infrastructure, staff victimization as well as appointment of staff undemocratically.

In their entreaty, staff members say that Vice Chancellor has failed to provide a clear roadmap to guide a wide range of operations within the University. Prior to Norris’ arrival, they say, UB had developed a strategy using its own scholars, led by Prof Thapisa and Prof Moahi respectively.

“They executed the assignment efficiently with intricate insider knowledge of the institution and a global academic outlook. The result of the process was later subjected to external review by consultants, even though the process was later abandoned at huge cost to the University. The Vice Chancellor is three years into this post, but he has done nothing to show, and always blames staff or his predecessors for the problems at UB,” the unions said in their petition.

The petition signed by UBASSSU President, Motsomi Marobela, acting on behalf of Manual Workers Union President, Oneile Mpulubusi and Ghadzani Mhotsha (Staff Union President), argue that Norris relishes grand standing and cheap rhetoric to project a positive image of the University to outsiders while the institution faces monumental challenges.

“Even the so-called new strategy was imposed on the staff, since unions were never consulted. Staff in faculties were threatened and bullied into submission whenever they revealed flaws in the strategy. In short, this strategy lacks the critical ‘buy in’ from those charged with implementation, something which is crucial for any new strategy to succeed.”

Professor Norris, a renowned scholar, has been fingered in being reluctant to advance staff salaries, something which has been done four years ago. Unions claim that despite several shots to alter this status quo, efforts proved vain.

“The Vice Chancellor has dismally failed to bring about any meaningful action to ascertain that staff remunerations are adjusted to mitigate the effects of inflation, despite his attention being drawn to the erosion of the buying power of University staff. UB staff salaries have not been adjusted for a duration of four years, despite numerous attempts by the trade unions (UBASSSU, UBSU and Manual Workers Union) to appeal on behalf of the constituents for his intervention,” reads part of the petition.

University management are said to be relaxed when it comes to the security of the organization, petitioners claim. They stress that this has happened several times in recent years whereby management has allowed private security contracts, which augment the in-house UB security, to lapse before they can float a new tender.

The loan schemes that the University gets into on behalf of employees, is said to be another dare giving staff workers grief, perpetuated by Vice Chancellor Norris.

“It has happened several times that the contract between the financiers and the University lapses before anything is put in place for employees to continue getting financial assistance. Quite recently, it was communicated by a memo from Staff Welfare and Benefits Office that the loan scheme with FNB is coming to an end on the 30th April 2021 and this communication was made on the 29th, just a day before the end of such contract. This again shows lack of proactiveness on the part of management which is led by the VC,” said the petition.

The Vice Chancellor is said to be overreaching in UB administrative structures. Professor Norris, who chairs the Staff Appointment and Promotion Committee (SAPC), hosts illegal Pre-SAPC meetings, which are usually attended by Human Resources and Executive Management, and make decisions on who to appoint, promote or whose contract to renew before the substantive meeting of SAPC.

The Vice Chancellor, disgruntled petitioners say, uses SAPC to rubber stamp the executive decision – this amounts to corruption. “Three years in the institution he has virtually run the university alone. The core and critical Deputy Vice Chancellor posts of Academic Affairs; Finance and Administration; and Student Affairs, have not been filled. Instead he has appointed people on acting positions and he is shuffling them around as he pleases. Those he prefers have been acting for over two years, which is contrary to the Employment Act.”

Professor Norris is a researcher and lecturer, having served in different capacities in Botswana, the United States of America and South Africa.

Prior to joining UB, he was Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BUIST), a position he held since 2016. He is the sixth Vice Chancellor of UB.

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Gov’t slashes P16 million from YDF budget

11th June 2021
YDF

Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development has announced the return of the Youth Development Fund (YDF), after it was put on suspension by Government last year.

The fund however, has been slashed from P120 million to P104 million with the total number of projects expected to shrink. The YDF programme was temporarily suspended last year due to shortage of funds.

The programme introduced in 2009 by government, was a way of improving the lives of the youth as well as helping to fight unemployment.

When addressing the media, Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Tumiso Rakgare said the ministry has resolved to start receiving applications for 2021/2022 Youth Development Fund from 09 June 2021 to 10 August 2021.

Rakgare said government was worried about the high numbers of unemployment hence the resolve to restart the YDF programme even in the midst of the pandemic.

He however revealed that due to budget challenges and the continued restrictive environment imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, there would be some modifications to the implementation of YDF.

“Due to budget challenges the allocation for the fund in the current financial year has been reduced from P120 million to P104 million. Constituencies will thus be allocated less than the usual P2 million, which means that the number of funded projects will be significantly reduced,” he said.

He further said priority for funding shall be for businesses with the potential to create a higher number of jobs and those that address key government priorities.

The sectors to be prioritized include; Manufacturing, Agriculture, Tourism, Technology, Digitization and Innovation. Moreover, the threshold for YDF financing remains at P100 000.00 for individuals and P450 000.00 for youth industries or co-operatives.

In addition to funding youth projects, the Minister said P14, 393,066.77 will be reserved for completion and implementation of Special Projects such as development of Land-banks, mentorship partnerships and trainings.

All changes to the YDF programme are to apply only for this year while a comprehensive review is undertaken. The target is to have the revised programme implemented in the next financial year.

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