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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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UDC founder warns against merger

19th October 2020
Ex UDC Convener: Mpotokwane

Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.

The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).

Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model.  BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.

“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.

Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.

Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board.  However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.

He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.

“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).

“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.

“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.

Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.

“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.

“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.

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BDP attaches Boko’s property

19th October 2020
DUMA BOKO

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.

WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs.  High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.

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COVID-19 exposes decay in the education system

19th October 2020
Education Systm

Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.

The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.

“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.

As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.

“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.

Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.

“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.

The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.

“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.

BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.

“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.

Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.

In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.

“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.

The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.

“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”

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