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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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 Zakhem vindicated

15th September 2021
Zakhem

Botswana Football Association (BFA) leadership appears to be bowing down to Nicolas Zakhem’s football pressure. The development comes to the open roughly 24 hours after the Gaborone United director publicly labelled Maclean Letshwiti and his committee failures for deciding to chop five premier league clubs under the pretext of club licensing disqualification.

As early as Wednesday noon, the BFA emergency committee met with one agenda item to discuss the possibility of reinstating the clubs. This publication gathers that the committee saw it fit to pardon the five clubs without entertaining a second thought. The committee even invited the clubs to the meeting, sources say.

Late last month, the five teams were disqualified from playing in the premier league, pending the appeal outcome. The teams are Notwane, Extension Gunners, BR Highlanders, Mogoditshane Fighters, together with Gilport Lions. The immediate decision by BFA follows what Zakhem had said and advised that it was wrong to chop clubs given the COVID-19 situation in the country.

Unbeknownst to BFA leadership, observers stress that Zakhem exerted public pressure and influenced them to change tone without asking. At the meeting, BFA president Maclean Letshwiti, his vices, Marshlow Motlogelwa and Masego Ntshingane, Aryl Ralebala, the Botswana Football League (BFL) chairman, together with Alec Fela, an ordinary member in the now stubborn NEC.

However, the reactive move by the association to reinstate the clubs is highly welcomed in certain quarters, but it also appears to have left a permanent scar, especially at BFL. As things stand, the general feeling on the ground is to oust chairman Ralebala for failing to defend these clubs before the eyes of President Letshwiti.

This publication has intercepted an ongoing petition to unseat Ralebala and his deputies from the BFL board. Strange enough, the signed petition has thus far attracted clubs with household influence in the league itself. GU, Township Rollers, Notwane, Extension Gunners, Police XI are some clubs that have already appended their signatures to have Ralebala removed.

The big clubs are believed to fighting for principle and demand fair governance at BFL. The reality is that these clubs command a large following, and sponsors can always have a say based on their presence.

When approached for clarity, Ralebala said he could not comment on allegations or issues that lack substance. He concedes that he has heard about the rolling petition but is yet to lay his eyes on it.
“I have heard about the petition, but I don’t know where it is coming from. I think it is best you ask those who have signed it. My focus is to commence the league and make sure everything is on point,” said Ralebala.

Football observers state that Ralebala, together with Letshwiti, are now faced with a dilemma. Reports coming from Lekidi Football Centre, although yet to be fabricated, are that the big guns lead others to form a parallel structure where they will play on their league. The clubs are angry at their chairman for taking many of the instructions from the BFA boss, and already a general melee is gathering traction that the two must resign as football has lost direction.

Zakhem says, although he supported Letshwiti, he has a sense of duty to stand for the truth. “I knew I supported Letshwiti and his troops, but you see, these guys have lost direction. I have long advised them that chopping clubs like this will cause confusion and delay progress, but they cannot listen. Letshwiti gave BFL autonomy, but I do not know why he is still interfering,” Zakhem said.

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The untold brighter side of the P100bn case fall

15th September 2021
President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi

You may, by now, have heard about the dark side of the high profile P100 billion case, but wait, there is also the brighter side. Staff Writer AUBREY LUTE explores the positives accruing from the fall of the country’s biggest financial ‘scam-dal’.

A chance to fix the country’s financial record

They have not publicly been saying it, but the state agencies and the President, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, have been at pains to explain and rationalise how an amount almost equal to the country’s GPD left the central bank.

Many insiders attributed the country‘s troubled financial status to the case, including the grey-listing, non-compliance and identified deficiencies, some of which were hitting citizens around the globe. Botswana was in 2018 taken aback by FATF news that the country has been listed alongside countries that do not comply with (AML/CFT). The European Union Commission later flagged Botswana in March 2019 for lacking strategic deficiencies in AML/CFT regulations.

A chance to restore the dignity of the law enforcement arms

The case, without a doubt, was a distraction object on the law enforcement agencies, which spent a chunk of their time bickering and finger-pointing. A leaked audio recording exposing the explosive meeting of the law enforcement arms of government, being the Intelligence Services, Corruption and Economic Crimes agency, and the Prosecutions division summed it all.

The case presented a monumental crisis threatening the core of their being. Following these developments, the Presidency, clearly under the influence of a tripartite member, took a spine-chilling decision to disband the DCEC, a move that was saved by the organisation’s founding director- Tymon Katlholo’s bold protest.

The DPP, the Police, and the DCEC staff were used in the process to carry out bizarre instructions, some of which left the state with an egg on its face. Mistrust and backstabbing were the order of the day within the law enforcement agencies, and the P100 billion case was to blame. “Some badly wanted the plot executed while the other side badly wanted it to end to restore sanity,” an insider says.

The source further adds that “if the case did not end soon, it was going to end a lot of people’s relationships and careers because those who refused to carry the insane instructions were seen as sympathisers to former President Ian Khama.” With the case having fallen, these agencies can reflect, reconcile and go back to work.

A chance to fix diplomatic relations…

It was not only South Africa that was accused of Sabotaging Botswana’s prosecutorial goal. The state also accused several countries of refusing or delaying to assist in the process. Of all the nations, only South Africa has decided to take Botswana to task, perhaps on its proximity to Botswana. Others long ignored Botswana’s requests for assistance to the frustration of former DPP deputy director who repeatedly told the courts that they were struggling to get responses from the international community. With the case having fallen, Botswana may get a chance to face her actions, apologise and rectify the promise that lessons have been learnt.

Pressure off the shoulders of those who have to account…

The case did not only affect the law enforcement agencies. All the stakeholders were put in the spotlight to provide answers. The first to bolt out of the circle was the central bank, Moses Pelaelo, who, like DCEC director-general, long declared the case a scam. He told the world that his books were in order and that no money was missing risking his high-paying job.

According to insiders, his superiors, the then Minister of Finance and Development Planning – Dr Matsheka and his subordinate, Dr Wildfred Mandlebe, were only whispering, without success, to the Gods that there is no money missing.

So concerned and under pressure was Dr Sethibe- then the head of the Financial Intelligence Agency- who, like his Ministry supervisors, was engaging in silent screams to warn the powers that be, all in vain. He later jumped the ship to his former employer, the University of Botswana, allegedly to protect his name and career.

At the time of the fall of the case, the DIS and the DPP were at advanced plans to higher American to come and probe the Bank of Botswana’s servers in a move that bankers feared could compromise them further.

The case was bleeding the country’s coffers…

Had it not ended, the case was likely to end up ‘genuinely’ costing the country P100 billion Pula duo to its complexity and challenges. Insiders say sources who had sold the law enforcement agencies some falsified documents were paid handsomely.

Moreover, investigations were costly as they involved the international community and frequent travelling. “We are told there was also motivation for some officers to act abysmally and out of their way,” an insider said.

Lessons leant for public officers…

Public officers are often duty-bound to obey superiors instructions, no matter how irrational. The case was an eye-opener to many public officers that principle pays in the discharge of one’s duty at all times. The professional careers of the P100 billion case conspirators are currently in shambles. And as expected, the influencers, if at all there any, are nowhere to be seen.

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Botswana could exit FATF “greylisting” in October 

15th September 2021
President Dr Masisi & Minister of Finance and Economic Development Peggy Serame

Botswana remains on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the “black list” of the European Union, a status quo that highlights the country as one of the high-risk jurisdictions to deal with money.

The far-reaching implications of these listings is a compromised Foreign Direct Investment drive for Botswana. In particular, these listings mean investors now have to exercise some caution and restrain when thinking about putting their money in Botswana. On Tuesday, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Peggy Serame said that Botswana could see itself out of the “undesirable listing” by October this year.

Serame called for united and concerted efforts towards liberating Botswana out of this financial noncompliance tag. She said the delisting could be archived by concerted efforts from all stakeholders: players in the financial services sector, non-financial services businesses, regulators, and every individual who deals with transactions.

Botswana is a founding member of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG). This regional body subscribes to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism and proliferation.

One of the membership obligations to ESAAMLG is for Botswana to be peer-reviewed by the other Member States and other international bodies like the World Bank, IMF or FATF.
The most recent assessment for Botswana to gauge compliance with the FATF standards was conducted by ESAAMLG in 2016 and culminated with publishing the Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) in 2017.

Following the discussion and adoption by the Task Force and approval of the MER by the Council of Ministers, the country was placed under enhanced follow-up.  This led to a one (1) year observation period in which the country was expected to improve its technical compliance (legislative framework) by correcting the deficiencies identified in the MER.

After one year, in October 2018, the Task Force decided that the country was not taking sufficient steps to implement the recommendations made by the assessors in the MER.  The Task Force recommended that Botswana be referred to the International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) for monitoring and potential listing often referred to as the ‘FATF greylisting”.

Following the FATF greylisting, the EU placed Botswana on its list of high-risk third countries, often referred to as the ‘black list.’ In 2018, Botswana and FATF agreed to an Action Plan that had six items with several timelines. In terms of Risk and coordination, Botswana was told to develop and implement a risk-based comprehensive national AML/CFT strategy, assess the risks associated with legal persons, legal arrangements, and NPOs, and operationalize the modernized company registry to obtain and maintain essential information and Ultimate Beneficial Ownership information.

Botswana was further advised to enhance the capacity of the supervisory staff, including by developing risk-based supervision manuals and providing adequate training, implement risk-based AML/CFT supervision and impose sanctions against violations.

Furthermore, Botswana was instructed to improve analysis and dissemination of financial intelligence by the Financial Intelligence Unit, including operationalizing an online Suspicious Transactions Report filing platform and prioritizing high-risk predicate crimes, and enhancing the use of financial intelligence among the relevant law enforcement agencies.

Regarding terrorism financing investigation, Botswana was instructed to develop and implement a Counter Financing of Terrorism Strategy, operationalize the Counter-Terrorism Analysis and Fusion Centre, and ensure the Terrorism Financing investigation capacity of the law enforcement agencies.

In 2018, the 11th Parliament passed 25 pieces and, later, six others related to AML/CFT/CFP. At the just ended Parliamentary session of the 12th Parliament, lawmakers passed the Financial Intelligence (Amendment) Act to address the definition of beneficial ownership.

Cabinet approved the National AML/CFT/CFP Strategy of 2019-2024 in October 2019. At the June 2021 FATF Plenary meetings, the FATF made the initial determination that Botswana had substantially addressed the Action Plan and that this warranted an on-site assessment to verify that the implementation of Botswana’s AML/CFT/CFP reforms is in place and is being sustained.
Furthermore, an assessment was to be instituted to check if the necessary political commitment remains to sustain implementation in the future.

Serame said in a televised press briefing that Botswana’s exit from the FATF grey list and the EU black list would be determined by the outcome of the on-site assessment, which will be discussed at the FATF Plenary in October 2021.

She revealed that the Botswana delegation attended the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group 42nd Task Force of Senior Officials meeting from the 26th August to the 6th September 2021, followed by the Council of Ministers on the 7th September 2021.

She told the media that at these meetings, Botswana was commended for making progress in complying with the FATF standards by addressing deficiencies in her AML/CFT/CFP framework.
“We are making all these efforts of complying with the FATF standards so that we guard against our financial system being used for money laundering, terrorism financing and proliferation financing,” she said.

“We are hopeful that at the October 2021 FATF Plenary meetings, the outcome of the on-site visit undertaken by the FATF in August 2021 will bear positive results, leading to Botswana being delisted from the FATF greylisting,” she said. However, Minister Serame called on all stakeholders to support the government to remove Botswana from the greylisting.

“As Government continues its efforts of putting in place the necessary legislative and institutional framework, due diligence must be exercised by all institutions, including the ordinary Motswana, so that no one is found dealing with financiers whose credibility is wanting,” she said.

The minister reiterated that all players in the financial services sector had a role to play: “It is important that where unsolicited funds are offered, the individual or entity so receiving the offer must ensure that the funds being offered are not associated with unlawful acts. If we are not diligent, criminals may use unsuspecting people and entities to launder proceeds of crime.”

She reiterated that the government is committed to doing all within its power to remove the country from the FATF “grey list” and the EU “black list”. However, she noted that to achieve that requires the cooperation and assistance of financial institutions, designated non-financial businesses and professions and individuals to ensure full compliance with AML/CFT/CFP rules and regulations.

“These efforts will not only assist us to be removed from these mentioned lists but are for the benefit of our country to maintain a high standard of financial prudence and an economy which genuine investors can have the confidence to invest in,” Serame explained.

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