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Botswana civil society Umbrella body faces closure

The umbrella of NGO’s, Botswana Council of Non-Governmental organisations (BOCONGO) is facing closure, Weekend Post has learnt.  

Following a recent resignation of Executive Director, Bagaisi Mabilo, this publication has established that the organisation is currently facing a “leadership vacuum.”

In addition, as it stands, all four currently remaining staff members including Communications Officer, Administration Assistant, Accounts Assistant as well as Front-desk Officer have been counselled to also “exit” BOCONGO at any-time.

In fact the board has resolved not to extend their staff contracts. It is the reason why the board went on to suspend the then Executive Director, Mabilo – who defied the resolution – although she later resigned citing professional integrity. The staff is at the mercy of the board which is determined to release them as the organisation board and Secretariat have reached “irreparable differences.”

The turn of events have compelled some members of the umbrella organisation to pour their hearts out by registering their concerns at the debacle currently engulfing the organisation they call “theirs” as its “membership driven.”

Director of Peddys Widows Forum, a member organisation of BOCONGO, Pednah Mogomotsi stated in a communication to other members that she “can confirm that for the last four months Peddy’s Widows Forum (PWF) has been providing counselling to the staff of BOCONGO. This counselling came as a result of board’s decision to dismiss and not renew contracts of staff members.”

The resolution not to renew BOCONGO Secretariat staffs’ contracts was taken at a board retreat of March this year in Maun.

According to Mogomotsi, the secretariat staff had expressed quite a number of abnormalities that were transpiring at the Secretariat and felt they were being displaced with ulterior motives of creating jobs for some of the board members.

The BOCONGO member continued, “I am equally concerned with the manner in which the Secretariat is being governed. There is lot of interference from the board members in particular the chairperson.”

It is said that this interference has resulted in abuse of power and verbal harassment.

“Fellow members we need to speak against misgoverning of BOCONGO. We cannot allow this organisation to function in a manner that will disgrace us as members, and this nation. We have a responsibility as members and therefore I agree with Mr Kingston Mmolawa that a special meeting of members be called,” Mogomotse pleaded.

Mmolawa who is Executive Director of Food Bank Botswana (FBB), another BOCONGO member, had earlier written in a letter to colleagues that they should rise and save good reputation of the organisation and advised that “the current state of affairs warrants a special/extraordinary general meeting.”

As a member he also cautioned that he is worried that if it is allowed to continue then it will set a bad precedence. Under the headline “warning!! Our BOCONGO under siege” he cautioned, “we cannot have a situation where Directors are chased willy-nilly.”

Mmolawa said the board need to account to them and he wondered if any of them as BOCONGO members have given them the mandate to the drastic decisions that are clearly leading to the “collapse of the organisation.”

He then asked: “this state of affairs then jeopardises the entire planned change process and raises more questions than answers. Do we really need to change BOCONGO or we need change of mind set in leadership.”

This comes at a time when BOCONGO board has proposed to change BOCONGO constitution, name, missions and visions, objective statements and current structures of the umbrella body of the NGO’s, an action which is shunned by some members. They cite no enough consultation to the far-reaching changes.

The FBB Director said he learnt that the staff at the Secretariat live under constant fear as some board members would routinely come and remind them that as far as they are aware there is no staff at the Secretariat.

“The staff morale has visibly gone down as they are no longer focusing on their core mandate but battling for their survival,” Mmolawa explained.  

What has led to the deteriorated relationship?

BOCONGO staff members have also stated in a letter directed to board members that the Secretariat has become extremely hostile and had asked that measures be taken to address the situation.

“We feel we have needlessly been subjected to a systematic campaign of harassment, bullying and humiliation, due to the board’s failure to undertake any preventive measures to ensure a working environment, free from such at a time the E.D Ms Mabilo first reported her ordeal to the board in her letter dated 9 July 2016,” the staff members stated in a collaborative letter that broke the camel’s back. Since the letter was written, it is said that no action was taken.

Therefore the employees said it can accordingly be argued that what is happening now between the board Chairperson and E.D (and by extension the whole Secretariat) is a direct result of inaction by the board.

“It is our contention that Mr Motsumi’s leadership and his defiance to observe basic principles of governance pose a profound danger to the image of the civil society and its capacity to attract donor funding in future,” further reads the letter and added that, “We have observed that, that boardroom bullying and abuse of Executive Directors, particularly female ED’s, by board members in the civil society is on the rise and Ms Mabilo is just one of the victims of this evil phenomenon.”

One of the employees who has worked with BOCONGO for more than 10 years, Maitio Setlhake highlighted that the current board is the most secretive and controversial he has ever worked for. He defended the notion that the staff is resistant to change.

“We are not resistant to change as reported in the newspapers. We like change and we embrace it. Change is good. Nonetheless, if it is rushed, concealed and driven by hatred and anger, change can come handy with devastating consequences which includes manipulation by partisan political agendas, loss of membership and a “sure collapse of the organisation.”

According to the president and Chief Executive Officer of GovernanceMatters.Com Les Stahlke who was a consultant who also drafted BOCONGO constitution and the board’s governance manual as well as facilitating the board’s strategic plan between 2012 and 2015, BOCONGO has gone too far now, he said.

“From this great distance, it seems that this conflict has gone on far too long it threatens to do great harm to the vital mission of BOCONGO. The hole that is being dug by this conflict is not a diamond mine or a refreshing water well. It is a grave. BOCONGO must not be allowed to come to harm over this.”

He said he supports the call for a special meeting of the BOCONGO members, and that special meeting must be chaired by a neutral person, a lawyer or judge whom they respect, not any board member or chairperson who is a party in the conflict.  

“You elected this board including the chairperson, and you can un-elect them, if your examination of them determines they should be replaced, clearly, there must be an investigation from outside,” Stahlke said.

He also mentioned that this is a rare time in the history of BOCONGO, one that cannot be wished away.

“When a board can no longer hold itself or its chairperson accountable, fairly and firmly, the members must step in to save the organisation from conflict that, if you do nothing, will take many years to recover,” the President and CEO of GovernanceMatters.com pointed out.

BOCONGO flouted tendering processes?

According to a classified letter from the then Executive Director Ms Mabilo, which she wrote to the board’s tender committee, there was a concern and a conflict from the chairperson, Mr Motsumi regarding the tendering for the BOCONGO change management consultancy.

When justifying the concern, the E.D said EXCENTRE is a company owned by Mr April, an acquaintance to Mr Motsumi and she said this was declared at the tender committee meeting of the 29th June 2016 by Motsumi.

Bagaisi revealed that at the drafting stage of the terms of reference, she was referred to Mr April (a would be bidder at the time) by Mr Motsumi, to have a debriefing with him inter alia on what BOCONGO intended to do in respect of the change management consultancy, where BOCONGO needed to go, what components would be ideal for change and what the cost implications would be.

As a result of interaction with Mr April, she said certain information was availed to her which she then used to draft the terms of reference for the change management consultancy.

“At all times, my interactions with Mr April were monitored by Mr Motsumi to a point where he would call me and ask me if I thought he could be the right candidate for the job. My response was that ‘I am not an expert in the area but it seemed as though he had knowledge of what should happen.’”

She added that the BOCONGO chairperson further said to her that he wanted them to agree on whether Mr April could do the job.

Mabilo continued: “I mentioned to him that the procurement regulations require for a tender process to take place and therefore Mr April could not be handpicked and given the job. In response Mr Motsumi said he was aware of this,” She further explained.

The BOCONGO Secretariat boss pointed out that, in declaring his interest to the Tender Committee, the Chairperson did not disclose that he had recommended Mr April to provide administrative information to the Secretariat regarding the drafting of the terms of reference and cost of the change process.

“He knowingly withheld information that he (Mr Motsumi) referred EXCENTRE to the Secretariat for administrative purposes. An arrangement that could be interpreted as having given EXCENTRE an unfair advantage over other bidders who also demonstrated a high level of technical expertise in the field.”

She reminded the chairperson that, mind you, we are being monitored by European Union (EU)/ Non State Actors (NSA) every quarter for the funds that we received from them, and this may arise as a red flag in the tender process that may even result in expense being disallowed.

Mabilo stated further: “as a licensed governance trainer, failing to inform you of this and to let this happen under my watch would be a serious betrayal of my conscious and professional aptitude.”

It is understood that Mr Motsumi further volunteered himself to be in the board tender committee at the last board meeting of 26th May 2016. She added: “though he excused himself from the scoring, Mr Motsumi maintained the role of chairperson in the committee, which is my view is a highly influential position, more so that he rejected some of the recommendations coming from one committee member, including my advice to re-advertise the change management consultancy tender.”

According to the former BOCONGO Executive Director, she felt Motsumi had substantial influence to the outcome of selecting EXCENTRE, and in her view, did not declare all the information as he should have done as a conflicted member and chairperson of the tender committee.   

“I also believe that having declared his interest, and knowing the trails of events as they unfolded, it would be prudent for Mr Motsumi to have completely recused himself from the entire tendering process both as chairman and member of the tender committee.”

“I would like to indicate to you once again,” she said, “that there is a need for vigilance in handling a matter such as this one, where donor money is involved, and therefore you as the tender committee must have all the information prior to making a final decision on the tender.”

When reached for comment the BOCONGO Chairperson, Motsumi had not responded to inquiries on the matter at the time of press.

However recently in an interview with Weekend Post, Motsumi indicated that there was extensive consultation where members throughout the country identified changes that needed to be made.

“The Board then presented the proposed Strategy at the last Annual General Meeting which members endorsed and adopted subject to a few changes.”

He said matters of organisational transformation and their impact on Staff will be discussed internally and with other relevant bodies such as the Labour Department to ensure that they are implemented in a fair manner, according to our laws and that any anxieties or concerns by Staff are managed in the best manner possible through the structures we have set up. So, this is still very much an internal process whose detail cannot be divulged,” he said.

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Mowana Mine to open, pay employees millions

18th January 2022
Mowana Mine

Mowana Copper Mine in Dukwi will finally pay its former employees a total amount of P23, 789, 984.00 end of this month. For over three years Mowana Copper Mine has been under judicial management. Updating members, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Executive Secretary Kitso Phiri this week said the High Court issued an order for the implementation of the compromise scheme of December 9, 2021 and this was to be done within 30 days after court order.

“Therefore payment of benefits under the scheme including those owed to Messina Copper Botswana employees should be effected sometime in January latest end of January 2022,” Kitso said. Kitso also explained that cash settlement will be 30 percent of the total Messina Copper Botswana estate and negotiated estate is $3,233,000 (about P35, 563,000).

Messina Copper was placed under liquidation and was thereafter acquired by Leboam Holdings to operate Mowana Mine. Leboam Holdings struck a deal with the Messina Copper’s liquidator who became a shareholder of Leboam Holdings. Leboam Holdings could not service its debts and its creditors placed it under provisional judicial management on December 18, 2018 and in judicial management on February 28, 2019.

A new company Max Power expressed interest to acquire the mining operations. It offered to take over the Mowana Mine from Leboam Holdings, however, the company had to pay the debts of Leboam including monies owed to Messina Copper, being employees benefits and other debts owed to other creditors.

The monies, were agreed to be paid through a scheme of compromise proposed by Max Power, being a negotiated payment schedule, which was subject to the financial ability of the new owners. “On December 9, 2021, Messina Copper liquidator, called a meeting of creditors, which the BMWU on behalf of its members (former Messina Copper employees) attended, to seek mandate from creditors to proceed with a proposed settlement for Messina Copper on the scheme of compromise. It is important to note that employee benefits are regarded as preferential credit, meaning once a scheme is approved they are paid first.”

Negotiated estate is P35, 563,000

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Councilors’ benefits debacle-savingram reveals detail

18th January 2022

A savingram the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development sent to Town Clerks and Council Secretaries explaining why councilors across the country should not have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term has been revealed.

The contents of the savingram came out in the wake of a war of words between counselors and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The councilors through the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) accuse the Ministry of refusing to allow them to have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term.

This has since been denied by the Ministry.  In the savingram to town councils and council secretaries across the country, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja states that, “Kindly be advised that the terminal benefits budget is made during the final year of term of office for Honorable Councilors.”  Keaja reminded town clerks and council secretaries that, “The nominal budget Councils make each and every financial year is to cater for events where a Councilor’s term of office ends before the statutory time due to death, resignation or any other reason.”

The savingram also goes into detail about why the government had in the past allowed councilors to have access to their terminal benefits before the end of their term.  “Regarding the special dispensation made in the 2014-2019, it should be noted that the advance was granted because at that time there was an approved budget for terminal benefits during the financial year,” explained Keaja.  He added that, “Town Clerks/Council Secretaries made discretions depending on the liquidity position of Councils which attracted a lot of audit queries.”

Keaja also revealed that councils across the country were struggling financially and therefore if they were to grant councilors access to their terminal benefits, this could leave their in a dire financial situation.  Given the fact that Local Authorities currently have cash flow problems and budgetary constraints, it is not advisable to grant terminal benefits advance as it would only serve to compound the liquidity problems of councils.

It is understood that the Ministry was inundated with calls from some Councils as they sought clarification regarding access to their terminal benefits. The Ministry fears that should councils pay out the terminal benefits this would affect their coffers as the government spends a lot on councilors salaries.

Reports show that apart from elected councilors, the government spends at least P6, 577, 746, 00 on nominated councilors across the country as their monthly salaries. Former Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso once told Parliament that in total there are 113 nominated councilors and their salaries per a year add up to P78, 933,16.00. She added that their projected gratuity is P9, 866,646.00.

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Households spending to drive economic recovery

17th January 2022

A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.

The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.”  According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.

“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.

Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions.  It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.

“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.

Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.

Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.

According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.”  Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.

It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from.  “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.

Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems.  It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation.  Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.

It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.

“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions.
Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.

“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions.  Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”

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