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Public servants may lose P500 million

The case between Botswana Public Officers’ Pension Fund (BPOPF) and Capital Management Botswana (CMB) has now taken a legal turn, with BPOPF dragging CMB before the court of law. The case was before the Gaborone High Court on Friday and it is likely to be a marathon case.

At the centre of the case are attempts by the BPOPF to recover P477 million from CMB in the form of assets and cash. It is arguing that the investments made are not in tandem with the agreed investment policy. The most recognized local face behind CMB is Rapula Okaile and he has partnered with South African businessmen. CMB is determined to fight off suggestions by the BPOPF, if the case does not go in the latter’s favour, public servants will be the biggest losers.

But CMB has forced BPOPF to start arguing preliminary matters first. In the active case, the applicant BPOPF is seeking a verdict that they be determined the rightful party to terminate contract with CMB and take over the assets. And on the other hand CMB contends that they are the right party to terminate the contract, not the other way round. This followed an exchange of letters of termination of contract between the two parties a month ago.

BPOPF had three weeks ago written to CMB terminating their contract for persistent breach of the obligation in managing and handling of the funds which they labeled as negligent and an act of misconduct by CMB. They also summoned CMB to return all documentation and assets. In response to this, CMB wrote back to BPOPF a week later that they were actually the ones terminating the contract. Their reason was that BPOPF did not honor the Drawdown notice of Lobatse Clay Works.  CMB then deposited P50 million into BPOPF account citing it was net cash. And BPOPF argument was that the money was short of P420 million.

Should the court grant BPOPF the verdict, BPOPF will then get hold of the records from CMB; get the assets back which are at Bona Life, Wilderness Holdings and Cell City;  do the audit and get to see the valuation of the record as they are of the view that CMB has misused the funds.  BPOPF is also questioning the assets which CMB says they have invested with three other companies namely Kawena, Makuba Airlines and Ajine University. BPOPF says it is not even sure of the existence of the said companies. Kawena was supposed to be a chain of stores competing with Choppies stores according to the records. In the case CMB wins the case, BPOPF will then get nothing from CMB.

The background of the case is that BPOPF entered into an agreement (Advisory and Management Services Agreement 9AMSA) with CMB as the fund of P500 million on 3rd November, 2014. BPOPF at the time committed P500 million. Two years later, BPOPF questioned the way CMB was handling the funds, accusing it of breach of the investment policy. It was then that BPOPF terminated the contract on 30 October, 201, leading to the case before court today. BPOPF also wants all documentation relating to the Fund and to each of the Fund's Investments that are in its possession and which ought to be within its possession in terms of the Partnership Agreement both as its General Partner and Fund Manager.

MOLEFHE HAD SEEN THE SMOKING GUN

This publication learned that when Boitumelo Molefhe joined BPOPF in July 2015 she expressed concern that there were so many loopholes in some of the contracts BPOPF had entered into. She is said to have written to the Board in August 2016 making members aware of the anomalies and the need to take action but she was not successful. Molefhe is said to have asked for a proper valuation of CMB.

Weekend Post is informed that at the time, CMB had only invested in Bona Life. Unfortunately indications are that Molefhe was in her own world as many board members discouraged her from going ahead with the valuation. Board members were convinced that everything looked well and urged Molefhe to let sleeping dogs lie.  Sources point out that some went to the extent of scaring Molefhe by telling her that she was putting her position at risk.

“She demanded that her advice be put in writing as a record that she once demanded that this be done but the board was not willing to do so,” said a source close to the developments.  At some point Molefhe was accused of being trigger happy because every season she was firing one of the Fund managers.  Molefhe is said to have insisted that the board must be vigilant because it was dealing with public money which has to be accounted for. “It is only until recently that she decided to take the bull by its horns and fight this issue of CMB,” said the source. 

“People should understand that these are public funds, it is not somebody’s kitchen where they can do as it pleases them,” said a concerned citizen close to the BPOPF on goings. There was an initial back and forth on the subject of whether to terminate CMB or not. But common sense prevailed and the termination was agreed. On the issue of taking the matter to court the Board unanimously agreed.  A total of P477m was invested in all the six disputed companies and BPOPF wants it returned. BPOPF is represented by Werkmans Attorneys through the local law firm Minchin and Kelly.

A STAND OUT BREACH

BPOPF is taking a strong exception of the breach of the Provisions Relating to Fund Expenses. It notes that Fund Expenses should be reasonably incurred and duly evidenced and should expressly exclude any placement agent fees. It is said that on 3 March 2016, the General Partner drew down an amount of P12,500,000 representing 2.5% of the Total Commitment which BPOPF understood were in respect of Fund Expenses and Organisational Fees. The Drawdown Notice breached the provisions of the Partnership Agreement by not setting out the allocation to each item.

Fund Expenses must be actually incurred by the General Partner before they are reimbursed.  No evidence was provided with the drawdown that such fees were indeed incurred. BPOPF notes that there are caps of 0.25% on each of Fund Expenses and Organisational Fees. It Its concern is that this covers the entire term of the Fund. The capped amount was therefore P2,500,000 over the life of the Fund. Beyond that amount, any expenses of the Fund are to be borne by CMB. The amount drawn down exceeds the capped fees by P10,000,000.

The drawdown was also supposed to cover Management Fees. These are not separately enumerated in the notice but it is noted that the amount of P10,000,000 represents 2% of the Total Commitment whereas the Fund Manager was entitled to 1.5% as a fee. The difference cannot be explained by the reference to cash reserves .

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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