Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Enterprises Chairman, Samson Guma, has warned Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, to abide by the law or face the consequences.
This follows Khama’s decision to snub the committee after being summoned to appear before it to explain various events which led to Botswana Tourism Organisation’s (BTO) CEO, being told to leave office before the initially agreed time.
“No one is above the law, and he is bound to obey the instruction of this committee,” Guma said.
“When the committee summons you to give evidence, everything else you had planned to do on that day should be cancelled.”
Tshekedi has reportedly flown out of the country ahead of his scheduled appearance before the committee despite being informed by his Permanent Secretary, Elias Magosi, about his summons.
Magosi and BTO CEO, Brian Dithebe, have however appeared before the committee to further give evidence before the panel in his absence. The duo has already appeared on more than two occasions before the committee, with the BTO scandal raging on.
At the centre of events is Minister Khama, who has refused to appoint the BTO board, contrary to the BTO Act and has in the absence of the board been calling the shots at BTO making directives beyond his powers as minister.
Khama has been acting in cohorts with Acting Board Chairperson, Lawrence Khupe, who has been issuing instructions to BTO management using his acting position. The Attorney General’s office has however since clarified to the committee that, Khupe’s instructions and decisions are invalid, since he can only derive that power from an existing board. Khupe is a former partner at Collins and Newman law firm.
Dithebe was billed to leave the organisation at the end of November this year, but a letter signed by Khupe instructed him to leave office by yesterday (21 October). The committee again learnt that Khupe did not have the powers to take such a decision in the absence of a board.
The decision to expel Dithebe was arrived at by the trio of Khama, Khupe and deputy PS, Felix Monggae. Magosi was not part of the meeting, but only learnt of the decision when it had already been taken.
Khama had earlier informed the committee that he is still looking for the “right people” to appoint to the board, but Magosi revealed to the committee that subsequent to the minister’s appearance, they are in the process of issuing a CAB memo to facilitate the process of appointment of new board members.
The committee has also learnt that Khama and a committee he selected recently completed a restructuring exercise for BTO, a structure which has since been approved by Khama himself. Khama further instructed the outgoing BTO CEO to implement the structure despite it going to cost the organisation an additional P22.3 million, which was not budgeted for in the current financial year.
According to Magosi, the BTO had planned to request for a supplementary budget from parliament in the next session, but Guma has since informed Magosi that with the manner in which they are doing things, their request before parliament will not see the light of the day.
The new structure has also raised eyebrows with regards to some of its members of the committee, with the position of Legal Officer occupied by Tswelelo Kebatlile and that of Executive Manager –Marketing occupied by Julian Blackbeard. The duo is attracting salaries higher than that of a CEO and will earn P50 000 and P49 000 respectively, while the CEO earns a basic salary of P42 000.
Another matter which has been raised before the committee by the outgoing BTO CEO is that of Sally-Anne Smith, a British national who have been working at BTO without a permit for over two years now. Smith who was brought to BTO by then chairman of the Board, Neil Fitt, had her application for work permit rejected by Immigration department, and at one point she was arrested for failing to produce a work permit.
When the panel probed further on how it was possible for the said employee to work in Botswana for a period of more than two years without a work permit, Dithebe revealed to the committee that, the said employee enjoyed the backing of Fitt, then Board Chairperson and that of minister Khama. Smith has since been using one month work permits renewed regularly at the request of the minister.
It has also emerged that Khama wants to fill BTO with people who are closely connected or related to him. Julian Nganunu is the daughter of Botswana’s High Commissioner to London, Roy Blackbeard. Blackbeard is close to the Khamas, having paved way for Ian Khama to become MP for Serowe North West in 1998 to take up a diplomatic post.
Recently, Tshekedi has instructed BTO to appoint Changu Newman, wife to former High Court Judge and co-founder of Collins and Newman law firm, as BTO tourism attaché in the United States. Her husband, David Newman is currently in US serving as ambassador after being appointed by President Ian Khama in 2015.
Dithebe further revealed that, Changu had fell short in terms of qualification to be regarded for the post of Tourism Attaché in the US but Tshekedi has insisted that she be appointed, despite that.
Both Dithebe and the PS have stated that they have been acting under massive duress in their posts, and on a number of occasions, the Minister forces them to take illegal decisions. Magosi further stated that his days could be numbered at the ministry as he could leave anytime like Dithebe.
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.