Wilderness Safaris has withdrawn its Expression of Interest on Air Botswana. This follows Government decision to invite interested companies to bid to operate the faltering Airline. Wilderness decision comes on the wake of a barrage of criticism on government as Batswana question the alleged sale of public enterprises.
“In the announcement of the results of the Company for the year ended 28 February 2017, issued on 31 May 2017, it was confirmed that the Company had in February 2017 submitted an Expression of Interest in the privatisation of Air Botswana but that there had been no further progress in the matter,” reads a statement from Wilderness Safaris.
The statement further indicates that the Company was informed by the Ministry of Transport and Communications that the Government of Botswana wishes to enter into discussions with the Company regarding privatization of Air Botswana. However, after careful deliberation, the Company has decided to not pursue the matter any further. Accordingly, the Company has withdrawn its Expression of Interest and has advised the Government of its decision,” the statement reads.
PAC HAD WARNED PS
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this week piled more pressure on Kitso Mokaila’s Ministry of Transport and Communications demanding answers on the reported Air Botswana privatization. They had asked the number of companies that had expressed interest, they were told it is only two – Wilderness Safaris and a South African company.
The PAC members wanted to understand how the bidding process was conducted and they could not get convincing answers as the accounting officer was new to the position. The understanding is that some of the piercing questions at PAC put pressure on Wilderness and Cabinet to withdraw the interest. PAC members have made it clear to a number of accounting officers that some of their requests will not pass in Parliament regardless of their convenient relations with Cabinet.
CABINET SIDELINED BOARD
Wilderness, a Company whose primary listing is on the Botswana Stock Exchange and its secondary listing is on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, had been linked to the takeover of Air Botswana for a while. The decision by Wilderness Safaris means that government will have to consider other bidders.
Some companies that had shown interest in buying Air Botswana when the deal was still being handled by the Board of Air Botswana pulled out after discovering that they will be compelled to retain the name of the Airline, the colours, and to a larger extent the staff that currently operates Air Botswana. Indications are that some companies were interested as long as they do as they please to make the Airline look attractive and become economically viable. Air Botswana is currently making huge losses and has an aging fleet.
At the time of considering Wilderness, Cabinet had taken over the process of privatizing Air Botswana and was running the risk of being accused of sidelining the Board. The Air Botswana Board had at some stage been informed that there was a likelihood of Air Botswana being moved to the Ministry of Tourism because 70 percent of the customers who use Air Botswana are tourists. It is not clear as to what will happen next at Air Botswana following the withdrawal of Wilderness Safaris.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.