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FNBB CEO orders probe into Itsose business competition

FNBB Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Steven Bogatsu

First National Bank of Botswana (FNBB) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Steven Bogatsu has instructed the bank to investigate the fracas relating to Itsose business competition through which the bank was to finance some business projects to enhance the spirit of entrepreneurship in Botswana.

The aim of FNB Itsose business competition was to “fast track the start-up and growth of businesses with great potential and support their long term success” and to “facilitate the provision of funding to entrepreneurs who meet the criteria of the competition’s funding partners.”

The projects who were expected to be funded emanated from the last 10 front-runners with the business plans out of 2 800 applicants who have thrown their hats in the ring for the then seemingly lucrative and promising competition.

Itsose business competition was initiated under the tenure of the then bank CEO, Danny Zandamela who then passed the baton to Lorato Boakgomo and lately Bogatsu. Bogatsu is said to be unversed on how the competition ravelled since its inception as he was yet to rise to the helm of the bank when it started.

Bogatsu orders a full investigation onto the matter following a Weekend Post exposé earlier in February where there were complaints from some competition winners to the effect that they had not received funding as promised.

It is understood that he has instructed his subordinate to lead the investigation and report back to management.

“Bogatsu gave a directive to the Director of Business to investigate what exactly transpired with the Itsose business project that has led to the current hullabaloo; leading to some of our clients not being assisted according to client specifications,” a highly placed source who preferred anonymity hinted.

Through the inception of the project in 2008, initially close to 2 800 participants had entered the competition and out of that number only 100 were selected and taken through training and development. They were then allocated 3 weeks to craft their business proposals which were later presented before a panel of judges in which only 10 winners with the best proposals emerged.

The ten winners were Thabo Ntshinogang, Setaung Setaung, Moagi Kelerile, Tumo Kgopo, Thomas Bika, Elliot Phindela, Eric Malefu, Kefentse Masimolole, Tiroyaone  Barungwi and Darryl Ellitson.

Information reaching this publication also suggests that there was a secretive 40 million pula which may have been set aside by the bank for the funding of the 10 winners. It is understood that at the time, the money was reserved to finance those proposals as they were regarded as “special projects” that needed to be pursued and be supported.

At the time, FNBB Head of Business Banking, Tsholofelo Kokorwe had stated that 21% of the finalists entered business ideas in the field of Agriculture, 6% in Tourism, 19% in Services, 19% in Manufacturing and the rest in other sector, and that more than half the entrants came from places outside Gaborone.

Projects that could not receive funding through the competition include a condom dispenser, beekeeping, waste management, a piggery business, advertising, a sports academy, a driving school and safari and toll gates among others.

One of the 10 winners, Thabo Ntshinogang could not hide his disappointment with the FNBB and stated, “yes I was one of the last 10 winners. Owaii! Indeed they (FNBB) reneged on their promise. We only received laptops, cell phones and P10 000.”

According to Ntshinogang, even Local Enterprise Authority (LEA) was supposed to assist them find mentors and funding, but they failed dismally.

“I don't mind being part of this story because I believe all the organisations which were involved in the competitions didn't seem serious about the whole thing,” he further lamented.

Another competition winner, Tumo Kgopo, who FNB claimed to have funded was allegedly harassed after he got the money which was “way below” what his business needed.

However, just this week, FNBB Director of Marketing and Communications, Obonye Malope told WeekendPost in an e-mail enquiry that, “two citizen-owned companies that participated in the competition were funded; however, in compliance with our standard banking regulations and responsible practice, we cannot disclose private details of our customers. As a responsible organisation, we uphold the confidentiality of our customers’ information in utmost regard.”

That notwithstanding, this publication has it on good authority that, Tumo Kgopo was the only one funded albeit with a little amount. He was apparently funded with P167 000 while his project of waste management needed close to 3 million pula to take off and sustain itself.  

Another winner that FNBB claims to have funded is Tiroyaone Barungwi who it turns out was never funded.

Malope also insisted that LEA may be a better place to seek such data as this (Itsose competition) was a LEA Programme. She pointed out that “as previously stated, the remaining eight contestants were referred to LEA for advice and alternative funding opportunities.”

When efforts were made to solicit a comment from LEA Chief Executive Officer, Tebogo Matome, he was said to be in a meeting. Matome has been steering the ship at LEA since its inception in 2007.

In the FNB Itsose business competition, LEA provided mentoring and monitoring of the projects. The University of Botswana Business Clinic also participated to ensure business coaching and Sunday Standard also assisted with promotion and publicity for the business competition. FNB was said to be tasked with financing the projects.  

The FNBB Director of Marketing and Communications explained that they are in the business of responsible lending and thus do not prescribe to providing loans that would potentially cripple a beneficiary.

“This would be irresponsible of us to do so and further more would be irresponsible in the eyes of our shareholders and, most importantly, to those we lend to,” she maintained.

According to Malope, it is rather regrettable that WeekendPost would suggest that FNBB has created a “Fiasco” when in fact the opposite is true. “We stood up when LEA asked us to get involved, as we believe it is important to help SMMEs in Botswana grow,” she highlighted in the response.

Conversely Malope stated ambiguously that, “we wish to clarify that this competition was not a donation, but was simply meant to provide Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMME’s) with the correct framework to have a fair chance at success.”

The adjudication processes, according to her was made clear in their terms and conditions which all participants were furnished with-that winners would still need to undergo the normal credit application for funding.

Section 8 of the competition terms and conditions stated that, “I accept and agree that funding is not guaranteed even if I win the competition. And while FNBB will endeavour to fund my proposal, any such funding is subject to satisfactorily conclusion of a due diligence investigation or any other investigation which FNBB may deem necessary; furthermore any funding shall be subject to the negotiation and conclusion of an agreement between myself/ourselves and FNBB.”

The FNBB spokesperson maintained that they want SMME’s to succeed so they are able to contribute to the economy and most importantly, to service the loans they take out without undue stress to their businesses. She said they are also big believers that financial institutions should not be too quick to put SMMEs into debt.

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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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