Brite Star Aviation, an aircraft company purportedly from the United States which is expected to assist Botswana government to resuscitate Selibe Phikwe, a town reeling from the aftermath of a shutdown of BCL copper and nickel mine – has lately attracted some attention pertaining to its authenticity.
The company, whose owners originate from Hungary, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with six partners in Botswana being Selibe Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU), Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB), Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC), Botswana University of Science and Technology (BIUST), Selibe Phikwe Town Council and Ngwato Land Board.
Based in Fredericksburg, Texas, the company will construct a manufacturing and assembly plant in Selibe Phikwe which has a population of 50 000 people where last year more than 6000 people lost their jobs –at the BCL mine. The plant will cost a whooping 1.5 billion pula and it is understood that Brite Star will solicit funds both in Botswana and abroad in order to design and build the plant, which will be coupled with a tourism centre, a hotel, restaurants, a conference centre and a pilot academy and maintenance area.
“At the end of the plant, when the plant is done, Brite Star Aviation would have invested close to 1.5 billion,” an immaculate source closer to the deal told WeekendPost this week. He continued to state that it is still not clear whether the company is genuine and has good intentions to develop the desperate Selibe Phikwe with the Botswana government. Some key people at the town are skeptical.
“I wish to caution government and its agencies such as CEDA, BDC and SPEDU to be cautious about flyby night investors who will take advantage of our desperation to revitalize the economy of our town,” a Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse told WeekendPost about the company which “raises eyebrows”. He said although the people of Phikwe appreciate efforts by SPEDU, Ministry of Trade Investment as well as other agencies towards diversification of the town economy all they ask for is that the public’s money be protected and used prudently by avoiding flyby night investors who want to steal from them.
He said he hopes that Brite Star Aviation is not a scam to swindle government as the company doesn't appear in the databases of the US Federal Aviation Administration as aircraft parts manufacturers. He said Botswana should have learnt a lesson from the Palapye Glass Project. It is understood that the company name is also nowhere in the list of approved manufacturers in China or Hungary where it claims to have presence. “This would obviously raise questions about the company's alleged manufacturing experience. We hope all is well.”
The law maker highlighted that “all approved flying schools in US are also found in FAA database and Brite Star isn't there. It is also not there in other countries Aviation, a regulatory authority as pilot trainers. Why? But the company seeks to train pilots in Phikwe.” “Nothing in International aviation authority suggests the company does aircraft maintenance,” he added. According to the legislator, the company's website is also vague and highly suspicious and the Director’s business cards raise red flags and the “in Mail” profiles are suspicious.
Dithapelo asserted that Brite Star Aviation is not a multinational corporation specializing in aircraft parts manufacturing and maintenance and pilot training. “I hope this not a company trying their luck in the aviation industry through the help of Botswana government. Aircraft manufacturing maintenance is no child's play, it takes many years of research and development, innovation and huge investment, this track record is unclear for Brite Star.”
Due diligence, according to the MP, must be done to the fullest before the government injects money and gets robbed like in Pula Steel and the Palapye Glass Project. The law maker said it is easy to trace aviation industry players because of the transparency of the industry regulatory authorities. “Why all this information eludes our own CAAB, Government, SPEDU and other players, beats me.”Dithapelo wondered while adding that “I warned about Pula Steel and today I'm warning about Brite Star.”
In an email conversation with this publication upon inquiries, Mbaki Ngaiti, an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer with Air Namibia, said the competence of Brite Star is unclear. In a previously released statement titled “The curious case of Brite Star Aviation”, Ngaiti wrote: “While this sounds very exciting in terms of the positive socio economic impact such a huge investment would bring to the struggling mining town, it would be very naïve not to scrutinise Brite Star Aviation to determine if indeed their promises will come to fruition.”
He said Brites Star Aviation is just a group of aviation hobbyists and enthusiasts, operating a lodge in a hangar in Fredericksburg. “They have obviously been invited by a well-connected Motswana to try and explore how they could make themselves money, while using them (Brite Star aviation) to convince our desperate government that they know what they are doing,” he pointed out. In return, the Namibian based engineer added that the Botswana government will craft a honey laced package to entice the so called investor, things like fast tracked land allocation, tax breaks, provision of utilities, assistance with access to finance from lenders etc. come to mind.
The Aircraft maintenance Engineer said in reality Brites Star aviation are looking to break into the big leagues of aviation with the aid of Botswana government. He emphasised that “while I wish their plans materialize for the sake of Selibe Phikwe, I also hope we avoid another Fengyue Glass project by picking up obvious inconsistencies in the character of our so called investor.” He continued to state that: “starting up aircraft parts manufacturing entity from the ground is no small task, you need to prove to aircraft manufacturers that indeed your manufacturing process comply with industry regulations, and also gain approval of authorities such as FAA.”
According to Ngaiti, this takes years of research and development and all this would be eliminated if Brite Star aviation where who they really claim to be (as it would mean they already have approvals from certain aircraft manufacturers and civil aviation regulatory authorities), and this would hasten their intervention in Selibe Phikwe.
He said a search on the FAA’ database brings up nothing on Brite Star aviation. During the MOU singing one Imre Katona (CEO) said that they have operations in Hungary and China. However, it appears the Chinese and Hungarian civil aviation regulatory authorities also have no record of an approved aircraft parts manufacturer by the name of Brite Star aviation. He also pointed out that the company fails to identify which components they manufacture and for which aircraft manufacturers.
In addition, an Information Technology expert who preferred anonymity said the website of the company does not appear to be authentic. “For website to be authentic, the Unified Resource Locater (URL) has to start with ‘https://www’ then followed by the name of the website. However with Brites Star Aviation it is not the case – which questions its authenticity,” he highlighted. He added that however we cannot base whether the company is authentic or not only on its website.
According to the company website Brite Star Aviation has seven areas of operation; Production, Research and Development, Pilot Academy, Maintenance and Operation, Accommodation, Eco and Travel, Aircraft Leasing. However in an email enquiry sent to Brite Star Sea Group Managing Director, Nazrul Amri Bin Mohamad Salleh, WeekendPost was advised to contact someone referred to as Mme Simon in their office in Botswana. She however, upon inquiries stated that: “kindly direct all your questions to the Vice President of Brite Star Aviation Advocate Efan Khan. He is currently in Hungary.”
This publication went on to contact Advocate Khan who is said to be the Legal Advisor for the company Brites Star Aviation. â€¨In his response he said “Brite Star Aviation is a joint venture set up for the proposed Botswana and other operations. It will incorporate a local Botswana company in the event it proceeds to invest in Botswana.”â€¨â€¨He also said the entity has not entered into any partnership or joint venture with the Botswana Government.
Meanwhile a contact number, supposedly for their headquarters in Texas found on their website that WeekendPost tried to call did not go through. However a source at SPEDU who spoke to this publication anonymously however said there was a delegation from their organisation and BITC that went to Texas and they have seen the plant and the aircrafts being produced and the output. “We have seen the planes being done by those people. So how can we say the company is a fly by night when they are busy operating. As SPEDU we did our due diligence.”
He said on October 20, Brite Star Aviation will be flying into the country with their engineers and other people to do designs of the plant at Selibe Phikwe. “Their shareholders approved funding. They will show us the money in Botswana and millions will be deposited. They would have put necessary funds in their Botswana account. Already they have opened an office in Gaborone. We will give them the benefit of the doubt.” Unlike the Arabs who ditched the Botswana government at the eleventh hour, at least for now, he said, they can trust Brite Star Aviation.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.