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SPEDU’s web of failed leadership

Selibi-Phikwe Diversification Unit (SPEDU) is possibly an endangered organisation at the moment, after falling under the stewardship of two men who are currently embroiled in financial mess at other entities they lead, that is, Bammangwato Concessions Limited (BCL) and Botswana Meat Commission (BMC).

Even Parliament is worried about the direction in which SPEDU is seemingly headed. Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Enterprises was this week not convinced with the ambition of the SPEDU project given the poor level of success since its formation. The committee is of the view that there could be a leadership problem at SPEDU, given the ability of the organisation’s failure to appreciate the real reason it was formed.

The current chairperson of SPEDU board is BCL’s general manager, Daniel Mahupela. His deputy is BMC’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Akolang Tombale.

One committee member, speaking off the proceedings, highlighted that at Board level, the organisation is steered by the people who themselves are struggling to salvage their entities from financial crisis they are ensnared in, yet SPEDU is expected to successfully fulfil its mandate under their leadership.  

Chairman of Parliamentary Committee, Samson Guma also expressed concern at the manner in which SPEDU is running its affairs. Guma stated that the organisation’s management does not indicate if indeed it appreciates the reason behind its formation.

Guma is of the opinion that the CEO of SPEDU and its Board should know what is going on with BCL affairs because, SPEDU was formed to respond to BCL’s situation. He mentioned his concern that such is not the case and is a grave error, given the dire situation that BCL is in.

Ndaba Gaolathe, a committee member was worried about SPEDU’s seemingly lack of familiarity with the affairs of BCL. Gaolathe said at present moment, SPEDU should know how they want Selibe- Phikwe economy to look like without the mining activities.

The committee was also not impressed by SPEDU’s spending. Out of its total expenditure, salaries accounts to more than 50 percent of the money, and in the next few years the salaries are event expected to account for more than 60 percent of the organisation’s expenditure.

Mahupela – General Manager of BCL and Chairperson of SPEDU

Daniel Mahupela, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bammangwato Concessions Limited (BCL) is the Board Chairperson of SPEDU, while Dr Akolang Tombale, the CEO of Botswana Meat Commission (BMC).

Mahupela took over the reign at BCL in 2011 following the departure of Montwedi Mphathi, who left to join Botash.  Mahupela joined BCL Limited in 2008 as Divisional Manager of Resource Planning prior to his ascendance to the top position. While during Mphathi’s tenure, BCL endured profitability, Mahupela has watched BCL failing to near collapse, with government coming to its rescue on more than two occasions.

While the BCL situation have also been brought by external factors such as falling commodity prices, there have been reports that lack of shrewd administration have led to the dire financial crisis which the organisation found itself in.  Commodity prices fell by more than 57 percent earlier this year making it one of the worst falls in history.

Amid this crisis, Mahupela has resisted calls for him to resign despite mounting pressure that  including job losses. Government has engaged a consultant on the future of BCL, which will lead the way on what government would do next with the mine.

SPEDU formation, had anticipated that should BCL close, they would be great economic shock to the Selibi Phikwe economy and surrounding areas. Mahupela as the chairperson of Board is not only entrusted with saving BCL, but leading an organisation which would transform the economy of Selibi Phikwe away from the mining activities.

When the chairperson of the parliamentary committee asked for the professional opinion on whether or not government should put more money into the BCL, SPEDU’s CEO, Mokubung Mokubung noted that, while it could be important to do so to save jobs, there is no “business case” for doing that.

A common concern has always been whether it would make business sense for injecting money into BCL without change of model which will ensure that the entity is able to be financial stable again.

Tombale- BMC CEO and Vice Chairperson of SPEDU

Tombale first came into BMC picture in 2012, after being appointed on the initial agreement of 12 months. This was the time when reports were emerging about BMC corruption and dubious business practices which led to an instigation of commission on inquiry.

Tombale, with a background in Geology, has spent the better part of his career as a civil servant and had the opportunity to serve in boards such as of Debswana Diamond Company. He was brought to the BMC with clear believe that he will effectively turn its fortunes around over a short period of time

However, Tombale has not been able to transform BMC from its crisis, despite his assurance when he was appointed four years back that he will ‘fix’ BMC. For the past three years, BMC has continued to make perennial losses, and government have had to come to its rescue on number of occasions.

Until recently, Tombale was resistant to efforts of ending BMC monopoly as a way of ending BMC troubles. BMC has also been accused by parliamentary committee, under Tombale for failing to practise best management as far as public procurement procedures are concerned.

Both Tombale and Mahupela will be in charge of SPEDU direction, but are still fighting their own wars and from a spectator’s view, they are on the losing side. Both BMC and BCL are still in dire financial crisis, their situations have not improved over the last few years, and they would still rely on government for survival.

Tombale and Mahupela have even been associated before. Until June this year, Tombale was the chairperson of the troubled BCL board of directors. The two have worked closely together at BCL, and presided over the mine’s possible worst crisis in its own history.

SPEDU’s risky investment

Meanwhile, SPEDU could be headed for a partnership with an undisclosed company in taking over the business operations of Talana Farms. Talana Farms was operated by Botalana Ventures, which Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) was equity partner. The business involves the horticultural projects, ostrich farming and crocodile farming.

Although SPEDU CEO told parliamentary committee that it is an “ambitious project” the project had failed to produce desired results under Botalana Ventures.

BDC has been operating Talana Farms jointly with Botalana Ventures since 2006 and the two entities had enjoyed what looked like a breakthrough for Botswana’s horticultural produce sufficiency. Talana Farms’ General Manager, Jan Willemse, revealed in the past that for future growth the farm was targeting the South African and Namibian market for their produce.

 Following the appointment of Bashi Gaetsaloe as Managing Director of BDC, the partnership was sacrificed leading to liquidation of Botalana Ventures.

Mokubung revealed that already the equity partner, identified by SPEDU have paid P1.5 million deposits to secure the farm.

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Media have a Role in Accelerating Harm Reduction Adoption

8th December 2022

African Scientists and Experts Call for the adoption of a Harm Reduction in approach in Public Health Strategies and Tobacco Control. Media have a critical role to play in accelerating Harm Reduction efforts by informing and sensitizing cigarette smokers on the availability and benefits of alternative, potentially lower risk products to cigarretes. Traditional cessation and smoking prevention norms are not the only ways that smokers who cannot or don’t’ want to quit can make healthier choices that cause less harm to themselves and those around them.

This was said during the 2nd Harm Reduction Exchange conference for African journalists held in Nairobi, Kenya on the 1st of December 2022. Speaking at the Harm Reduction Exchange Conference, Integra Africa Principal Dr. Tendai Mhizha emphasized the role that journalists and media houses should play in handling misinformation and disinformation in tobacco harm reduction discourse that is actually perpetuating the death and disease caused by people continuing to smoke combustible cigarettes. “There has been a lot of disinformation surrounding the topic of nicotine and the alleged negative effects that e-cigarettes have on public health.

This has led to policies that disfavour risk reduces products and narratives that completely deny their benefits. The media have the difficult responsibility to curb the scourge of disinformation and misinformation on harm reduction just like on other socio-political stances that are prescriptive and do not uphold consumers’ right to healthier lifestyle choices,” Dr Mhizha said.

The Harm Reduction Exchange cast a spotlight on alternative ways to reduce harm among tobacco smokers. Held under the theme Harm Reduction: Making a difference in Africa, the conference focused on the progress being made through harm reduction strategies in all fields related to public health such as drug and alcohol abuse, excessive sugar consumption, skin lightening and other addictive and behavioral practices. A wide array of harm reduction strategies and initiatives that are deployed towards reducing unnecessary deaths through non-communicable diseases were presented and discussed.

On his part, Prof. Abdoul Kassé, a world renowned and awarded Oncologist and a Professor of Surgery at the Cancer Institute in Senegal, said that Harm Reduction is a powerful public A Summary of the HR Exchange 30th November  1st December 2022 health tool that has the potential to reduce cancer by 30% and should be at the centre of all public health development strategies. Harm reduction, he said, has already benefited many people in public health and is the most viable alternative in tobacco control.

It applies to areas where there is a need to reduce the harm associated with a practice or consumption of a substance that is overused in society leading to increased morbidity and mortality. “Innovative Harm Reduction initiatives will help to keep more Africans alive. Tobacco Harm Reduction initiatives, including the use of popular e-cigarettes, nicotine patches and chewing gums, have continued to generate a lot of misunderstanding in both the public health community and in the media. However, there is evidence that the use of potentially less harmful alternatives than cigarettes for those who are not willing or cannot give up smoking with currently approved methods may be a solution, not necessarily the best for everyone but by far better than continuous smoking.

Where cessation repeatedly fails, switching to less harmful products is expected to result in benefits for many smokers,” Prof. Abdoul Kassé said. Similarly, views were expressed by Kenya’s Dr. Vivian Manyeki who said tobacco Harm Reduction has a solid scientific and medical basis, and it has a lot of promise as a public health measure to assist millions of smokers. “Many smokers are unable, or at least unwilling, to achieve cessation through complete nicotine and tobacco abstinence. They continue smoking despite the very real and obvious adverse health consequences and against the multiple public health campaigns. Conventional smoking cessation proposals should be complemented with alternative but more realistic options through Harm Reduction,” Dr. Manyeki said.

Tobacco Harm Reduction was introduced to mitigate the damage caused by cigarette smoking—the most dangerous form of tobacco use, and the leading cause of preventable diseases, including cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “Nicotine has an addictive potential but plays a minor role in smoking-related morbidity and mortality. Across the world, there is growing interest among experts in novel approaches towards tobacco control and there is an ongoing discussion that reducing the negative effects of smoking can be also achieved by tobacco harm reduction,” Dr. Kgosi Letlape, an ophthalmologist and President of Africa Medical Association and the president of the Association of Medical Councils of Africa, said.

Tobacco cessation is a key factor in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Abstinence from tobacco smoking is one of the primary goals for health promotion and management globally but it is unachievable in a huge amount of cases. This task remains unaccomplished despite extensive public campaigns on the health dangers of tobacco smoking. Thus, the development of novel strategies to reduce smoking is imperative. Moreover, the use of innovations in smoking products has been currently adopted by several smokers to reduce the health risks of smoking.

“The Harm Reduction approach prevents drug-related deaths and overdose fatalities and is the only way out for addicts. In the same way these alternative technologies can reduce tobacco harm and accelerate the journey to a smoke-free world as they reduce exposure to toxicants,” Bernice Apondi, A Policy Manager at Voices of Community Action and Leadership Kenya (VOCAL-Kenya), said.

During the Harm Reduction Exchange, journalists drawn from Southern, West and East African countries, including: Nigeria, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Eswatini, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe debated and set forth several resolutions in regards to the present and future as well as the challenges and progress made in Harm Reduction,and science-led regulation.

The Harm Reduction Exchange brought together high-level policy makers, physicians, scientists and health policy experts with media stakeholders from Africa in a lively mix of speeches, presentations, and panel discussions. The key note speakers included Prof Abdoul Aziz Kasse, Ms Bernice Opondi, Joseph Magero, Jonathan Fell, Chimwemwe Ngoma, Clive Bates, Dr. Kgosi Letlape, Dr. Vivian Manyeki and Dr. Tendai Mhizha.

 

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Over 2 000 civil servants interdicted

6th December 2022

Over 2,000 civil servants in the public sector have been interdicted for a variety of reasons, the majority of which are criminal in nature.

According to reports, some officers have been under interdiction for more than two years because such matters are still being investigated. Information reaching WeekendPost shows that local government, particularly councils, has the highest number of suspended officers.

In its annual report, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) revealed that councils lead in corrupt activities throughout the country, and dozens of council employees are being investigated for alleged corrupt activities. It is also reported that disciplined forces, including the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), police, and prisons, and the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) have suspended a significant number of officers.

The Ministry of Education and Skills Development has also recorded a good number of teachers who have implicated in love relationships with students, while some are accused of impregnating students both in primary and secondary school. Regional education officers have been tasked to investigate such matters and are believed to be far from completion as some students are dragging their feet in assisting the investigations to be completed.

This year, Mmadinare Senior Secondary reportedly had the highest number of pregnancies, especially among form five students who were later forcibly expelled from school. Responding to this publication’s queries, Permanent Secretary to the Office of the President Emma Peloetletse said, “as you might be aware, I am currently addressing public servants across the length and breadth of our beautiful republic. Due to your detailed enquiry, I am not able to respond within your schedule,” she said.

She said some of the issues raised need verification of facts, some are still under investigation while some are still before the courts of law.

Meanwhile, it is close to six months since the Police Commissioner Keabetwe Makgophe, Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) Tymon Katlholo and the Deputy Director of the DIS Tefo Kgothane were suspended from their official duties on various charges.

Efforts to solicit comment from trade unions were futile at the time of going to press.

Some suspended officers who opted for anonymity claimed that they have close to two years while on suspension. One stated that the investigations that led him to be suspended have not been completed.

“It is heartbreaking that at this time the investigations have not been completed,” he told WeekendPost, adding that “when a person is suspended, they get their salary fully without fail until the matter is resolved”.

Makgophe, Katlholo and Kgothane are the three most high-ranking government officials that are under interdiction.

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Masisi to dump Tsogwane?

28th November 2022

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and some senior government officials are abuzz with reports that President Mokgweetsi Masisi has requested his Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane not to contest the next general elections in 2024.

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