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Balopi’s P46 million dream up in smoke

Scores of desperate investors in Botswana are facing financial ruin as a multimillion-pula tourism project on the Chobe River struggles to stay afloat amid a sharp downturn in the country’s crucial travel and hospitality industry.

The Bridgetown lodge in Kasane is the brainchild of former speaker of parliament and former minister of labour and home affairs Patrick Balopi, who in 2010 received a presidential order of honour for developing the “state of the art, self-catering holiday resort with a potential to empower over 4 000 citizens”.

Investors now accuse Balopi of failing to keep undertakings made when the resort was launched on the back of a P46-million bank loan.  

Also raising eyebrows is the fact that he offloaded his shares in 2013, and that there are now fresh moves to sell the lodge.

Balopi declined to comment, but told the Botswana Gazette earlier this year that the project was “well-intentioned” but lacked the required participation by Batswana to make it viable.

“The timing of the project was maybe wrong, with the economy taking a downturn and the [government’s] imposition of a hunting ban, which hurt tourism. We had to put in conferencing and restaurant facilities and we ran out of resources.”

An investigation by Weekend Post and the Ink Centre for Investigative Journalism has established that the resort is up for sale to a South African company for P95-million,The current owner, Botswana property mogul Ahmad Mansur Sidiqui, said he has invested P24-million in Bridgetown and is selling his stake because the business is “going down”.

Set in a wildlife paradise, Bridgetown was touted as a magnet for tourists and holidaymakers en route to the Okavango delta and the Victoria Falls. About 100 investors injected close to P30-million, with six of them purchasing two-bedroom, self-catering, self-contained “cabanas”, and 90 others time shares.

They say they were promised that those who bought units would receive a minimum monthly rental of P18 000, effective from May 2012, and that the directors pledged to involve them in the affairs of the company, including giving them access to final statements. This had not happened.

The case has been catapulted into the public eye by a High Court ruling in favour of an investor, Bookie Kethusegile, who bought a cabana worth P2.5-million and now alleges that she has not received the promised return on her investment over four years.

Kethusegile (57) said she received a payout of P45 000 after about 14 months into the investment, and another P45 000 in September 2013 after complaining about non-payment. She claims she was told the initial rental would rise to P2 000 a day after six months.

The pensioner claims to have accumulated debts exceeding P600 000 and now cannot service the P2.5-million loan she received from First National Bank of Botswana (FNBB), which has threatened to attach her Bridgetown unit and her house in Tlokweng.

In September 2015 she won an unopposed court order ordering Bridgetown to pay her P1.2-million and outstanding monthly rentals.

After securing a P46-million loan from FNBB, Balopi built 13 two-bedroom self-catering apartments and 10 one-bedroom self-catering apartments, representing a quarter of the planned project.

But the scheme appeared to struggle against stiff competition from established high-end hotels in Kasane, prompting him to call in a local investor three years later.

Virgin Enterprises, owned by Sidiqui and his family members, Jaudat and Tehniat Sidiqui, acquired a stake in Bridgetown when the family injected P9-million in to the business.

The 50/50 partnership allowed the property baron to change the land use from self-catering apartments to a hotel, slashing the room rates from P2 000 to P1 300 per night.

The hearing on Kethusegile’s application was postponed until August this year after Sadiqui’s lawyers argued that he had not received a summons because of a change of address.

Meanwhile, Sidiqui is in sale negotiations two little-known companies, Forbidden Elephant Kingdom and Ashira Investments.

Papers seen by Weekend Post and INK Centre for Investigative Journalism indicate that the acquisition of Bridgetown is at an advanced stage with a purchase price expected to be proposed to Sidiqui before the end of last month.

Forbidden Elephant Kingdom is a South African company that registered in Botswana in March this year. A source who knows it said it has offices in Swaziland and has sponsored football in Botswana.

South Africa company records indicate that it is a recently established business based in Waterkloof, Pretoria.  Its sole director, Lloyd Leokaoke said this week from South Africa that he is not aware that Bridgetown has not paid some of its investors.  

“The deal is not done yet,” he disclosed.

“It is something we take very serious and we will investigate,” he said about investors who are said to be complaining.

A company search shows that Ashira Investments was registered in Botswana in August 2012 and belongs to Kabelo and Kebonyetsala Kemoabe of Tlokweng. “We don’t know who they are,” sighed Kethusegile.

Another investor who asked not to be named said she purchased a time-share worth P84 000, giving her to access to a room for a week each year. She was not aware that Bridgetown is in financial trouble and that Sidiqui is pulling out.

“What about our investments?'” she asked, adding that she had instructed her lawyers to issue a letter of demand, but that Bridgetown had not responded.

An investor who also did not want her identity disclosed said she invested P60 000 in Bridgetown but has never met its shareholders. She has also engaged attorneys to establish why she has received no returns. “I am not aware of Forbidden Elephant Kingdom,” she said.

Bridgetown spokesperson Mohammed Badrodin said the company had applied for a hotel licence because “there was no business in self-contained apartments”. Although Balopi “had a grand idea, there was little interest”.

The occupancy rate at Bridgetown has never exceeded 32%, he said, and had even fallen to 12% during the 2014 election.

He said Sadiqui constructed bars and a restaurant, but “that did not help resuscitate the resort”. He also revealed that Sidiqui intends to sell his Oasis Motel, near Gaborone, for an undisclosed amount.

“Everyone wants out of hotel and tourism. Gaborone Sun has been sold to Avani, Lahnor sold Masa Square,” he said.
Tourism, centred on the Okavango delta and the Chobe and Moremi reserves, is a major source of jobs and wealth in Botswana, accounting for 12% of GDP.

• INK Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit newsroom to develop investigative journalism, produced this story in collaboration with the WeekendPost newspaper and the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism.

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Details emerge in suspected Batswana poachers in Namibia

28th June 2022
suspected Motswana poacher arrested

New details about a suspected Motswana poacher arrested in Namibian and his accomplice who is on the run were revealed when the suspect appeared in court this week.

The Motswana Citizen who was shot and wounded by Namibia’s anti poaching unit is facing criminal charges under criminal case number (CR NO 10/06/2022) which was registered at the Divundu Police Station in the Mukwe constituency of the Kavango East Region on 10 June 2022.

It is alleged that a patrol team laid an ambush after discovering a giraffe’s fresh carcass in a snare wire and hanging biltong.  According to the Charge Sheet, the suspect Djeke Dihutu, aged 40 years, is charged with contravening and transgressions of Nature Conservation Ordinance andcontravening Immigration Act 07 in Mahango Wildlife Core Area, Bwabwata National Park. Dihutu’s first court appearance was on the 17th of June 2022, Rundu and it was postponed to the 07 July 2022. He is currently hospitalized in hospital under Police Guards.

Commenting on this latest development, the Namibian Lives Matter Movement National Chairperson Sinvula Mudabeti applauded the Namibian Anti Poaching Unit for its compliance with what it called the universal instrument on the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials adopted by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 34/169.

“We are aware that the duties of the police carry a great deal of risk, but our police has shown that they have a moral calling and obligation to protect even foreigners suspected of serious crimes on Namibian soil,” said Mudabeti.

According to him, whereas the Botswana Police Service, the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and Directorate of Intelligence Service (DIS) have “very low moral ethics, integrity, accountability and honesty, the Namibian security agencies has shown very high levels of ethical leadership in the discharge of their duties even under duress.”

He said Namibian’s anti poaching unit has exercised one very important value, that is, the use of force only when it is reasonable and necessary. Mudabeti said this is in harmony with international best practices as enshrined in Article 2 of the UN instrument on law enforcement conduct, “In the performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons.

Our police have protected the life of a Botswana poacher and accorded him dignity, which is very foreign to our Botswana counterparts,” he said. He said article 3 of the same instrument above, calls for Law enforcement officials to use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.

“This provision emphasizes that the use of force by law enforcement officials should be exceptional; while it implies that law enforcement officials may be authorized to use force as is reasonably necessary under the circumstances for the prevention of crime or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of suspected offenders, no force going beyond that was used by our Police,” he said.

Furthermore, Mudabeti said, whereas the universally accepted norm of the law of proportionality ordinarily permits the use of force by law enforcement, it is to be understood that such principles of proportionality in no case should be interpreted to authorize the use of force which is disproportionate to the legitimate objective to be achieved.

“Our police have used force proportional to the situation at hand. Great work indeed! Article 6 urges law enforcement officials to ensure the full protection of the health of persons in their custody and, in particular, shall take immediate action to secure medical attention whenever required,” he said.

Mudabeti said the Botswana poacher was immediately taken to hospital whereas the Nchindo brothers who were captured on Namibian soil, beaten, tortured and executed while pleading to be taken to the hospital we left to die.

“The Namibian Doctor gave evidence in court that Sinvula Munyeme’s lungs showed signs of life (during the autopsy) and that he could have survived if he was accorded immediate medical assistance in time but was left to die while BDF soldiers looked and possibly ignored his cry for help,” he said.

Mudabeti said unlike in Botswana where there are no clear separation of powers between the BDF, Botswana Police Service, Department of Intelligence and their Directorate of Public Prosecutions,” we have a system that allows for checks and balances and allows our people and foreigners who are found on the wrong side of the law to be accorded the right to a fair trial.”

He said Botswana citizens are treated with dignity when apprehended in Namibia and not assaulted, tortured and executed. “We are a civilized country that respects international law in dealing with non-Namibian criminals. The Namibian Police have not mistreated the Botswana poacher but have given him the benefit of the doubt by allowing due processes of the law to be followed,” he said.

He added that, “We are a peace loving nation that has not repaid Botswana by the evil that Botswana has done to Namibia by killing more than 37 innocent and unarmed Namibians by the trigger happy BDF.” He concluded that, “Our acts of mercy in arresting Botswana citizens should never be mistaken for cowardice.”

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Gov’t, Unions clash over accommodation

28th June 2022
accomodation

The government has reportedly taken a decision to terminate provision of pool housing and subsidy for civil servants as it attempts to trim the public service wage bill.

This emerges in a dispute that is currently before the Labour Office headquarters lodged by unions representing thousands of civil servants across the country. This publication understands that the decision to cease providing pool housing and rental subsidy for public officers is part of proposals that government put on the table during its negotiations with public service unions in order for it to adjust salaries.

A letter from Labour Office addressed to the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) shows that the directorate is cited as the First Respondent. The letter is titled, “Dispute lodged: Cessation of provision of pool housing and subsidy for pubic officers.”

“This serves as a notification and requirement to a mediation hearing,” the letter informed DPSM. According to the letter, the Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Unions (BOSETU) Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) and Botswana Land Board &Local Authorities &Health workers Union (BLLAHW) who lodged the complaint are cited as the Applicant.

“Please come for mediation hearing. The hearing will be conducted by Mr Lebang. The hearing is scheduled for date/time 29th June 2022, 09: 00HOURS at Block 8 District Labour Office, Gaborone. Please bring all relevant documents,” reads the letter in part.

According to a document described as a proposal paper on the negotiations on salaries and other conditions of employment of public officers by the employer (government), the government did not only propose to stop providing accommodation to civil servants but also put a number of proposals on the table.

The proposal papers states that the negotiations (which have since been concluded) cover three government financial years; 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25. The government proposed an across the board salary adjustments as follows; 3% for the financial year 2022/23 effective 1st April 2022, across the board salary adjustment of 3.5% for the financial year 2023/24 effective 1st April 2023 subject to performance of the economy and across the board salary adjustment of 4% for the financial year 2024/25 effective 1st April 2024 subject to performance of the economy.

The government also proposed phasing out of retention and attractive (Scarce Skills) Allowance with a view to migration towards clean pay, renegotiate and set new timelines for all outstanding issues contained in the Collective Labour Agreement, executed by the employer and trade unions on the 27th August 2019, to ensure proper sequencing, alignment and proper implementation.
The government also proposed to freeze public service recruitment for the 2022/23 financial year and withdraw the financial equivalence of P500 million attached to vacancies from Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs).

Another proposal included phasing out of commuted overtime allowance and payment of overtime in accordance with the law and review human resource policies during the financial year 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25.

The government argued that its proposals were premised on affordability and sustainability adding that it was important to underscore that the review of salaries and conditions of service for public officers was taking place at a time when there were uncertainties both in the global and domestic economies.

“Furthermore there is need to ensure that any collective labour agreement that is concluded does not breach the fiscal deficit target of 4% of GDP,” the proposal paper stated. The proposal paper further indicated that beyond salary adjustments, the Government of Botswana is of the view that a more comprehensive consideration “must be taken on the issue of remuneration in the public service by embracing principles such as total rewards compensation which involves taking a fully comprehensive and holistic approach to how our organization compensates employees for the work.”

The proposal paper also noted that, “Clearly, the increase in salaries and changes to other conditions of service which have monetary consequences will further increase the proportion of the budget taken by salaries, allowances and other monetary based conditions of services.”

“The consequential effect would be a reduction of the portion that can be used for other recurrent budget needs (e.g. maintenance of assets, consumable supplies such as medicines and books) and for development projects,” the proposal states.

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BPF NEC probes Serowe squabbles

28th June 2022
BPF

Opposition Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) National Executive Committee will in no time investigate charges party members worked with the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) membership to tip the scales in favour of the latter for Serowe Sub-council Chairmanship in exchange for deputy seat in a dramatic 11th hour gentleman’s deal, leaving the ruling party splinter under the political microscope.

In a spectacular Sub-council election membership last Thursday, the ruling BDP’s Lesedi Phuthego beat Atamelang Thaga with 14 votes to 12 for Serowe Sub-council Chairmanship coveted seat and subsequently the ruling party’s councilor Bernard Kenosi withdrew his candidacy in the final hour for the equally admired deputy chair paving the way for Solomon Dikgang of BPF, seen as long sealed ‘I scratch your back and you scratch mine’ gentleman’s agreement between the contenders.

Both parties entered the race with a tie of votes torn between 12 councillors each, translating for election race that will go down to the wire definitely. But that will not be the case as two BPF councilors shifted their allegiance to the ruling party during the first race for Chairmanship held in a secret ballot and no sooner was the election concluded then the ruling party answered back by withdrawing its candidacy for the deputy chair position to give BPF’s Dikgang the post on a silver platter unopposed.

BPF councilor Vuyo Notha confirmed the incident in an interview on Wednesday, insisting the party NEC was determined to “investigate the matter soon”. “During the race for the Chairmanship, two more BPF voted for alongside the ruling party membership. It was clear Dikgang voted alongside the BDP as immediately after the vote for Chairmanship was concluded, Kenosi withdraw his candidacy to render Dikgang unopposed as a payback,” Notha added.

As for the other vote, Makolo ward councilor will not be drawn for the identity preferring instead to say: “BPF NEC will convene all the councilors to investigate the matter soon and we will take from there.” Notha will also not be drawn to conclude may be the culprit councilors could have defected to the ruling party silently.

“If they are no longer part of us they should say so and a by-election be called,” was all he could say. As it stands now, the law forbids sitting Councilors and Parliamentarians from crossing the floor to another party as to do so will immediately invite for a new election as dictated by the law. Incumbent politicians will therefore dare not venture for the unknown with a by-election that could definitely cost their political life and certainly their full benefits.

Notha could also not be dragged to link the culprit councilors actions to BPF Serowe region Chairperson Tebo Thokweng who has silently defected to the ruling party and currently employed by the party businessman and former candidate for Serowe West Moemedi Dijeng as PRO for the highly anticipated cattle abattoir project in Serowe.

“As for Thokweng he has not resigned from the party but from the region’s chairmanship,” he said. WeekendPost investigations suggest Thokweng is the secret snipper behind the recruitment drive of the votes for the elections and is determined to tear the party dominance in Serowe and the neighbouring villages asunder including in Palapye going forward.

This publication’s investigations also show BPF’s Radisele and UDC’s Mokgware/Mogome councilors are under the radar of investigations for the votes-themselves associated with the workings and operations of Thokweng.

“NEC will definitely leave no stone unturned with their investigations to get into the bottom of the matter. Disciplinary actions will follow certainly,” Notha concluded, underscoring the need to toe the party line to set a good precedent. For the youthful councilor, the actions of his peers has set a wrong precedent which has to be dealt with seriously to deter future culprits.

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