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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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DPP halts JSC, Judge’s back to work plan

25th January 2021
Kebonang

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.

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BDP rejects Saleshando payment proposal

25th January 2021
MP saleshando

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.

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Boko-Khama axis viewed with suspicion

25th January 2021
boko-and-khama

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.

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