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Balopis 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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The curtain came down at the PAP session with pomp and FUNFAIR

23rd March 2023

It was pomp and funfair at the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) on March 18 as the African Cultural Music and Dance Association (ACUMDA) brought the curtains down on the PAP session with a musical performance. 

 

The occasion was the celebration of the Pan-African Parliament Day (PAP Day) which commemorated the inauguration of the first Parliament of the PAP on 18 March 2004 at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

 

The celebrations took place at the seat of the Parliament in Midrand to “reflect on the journey” as the institution turns 19. The event sought to retrace the origin and context of the establishment of the PAP.

 

The celebrations included musical performances by ACUMDA and a presentation by Prof. Motshekga Mathole of the Kara Heritage Institute on “Whither Pan-Africanism, African Culture, and Heritage.”

 

The PAP Day was officially launched in 2021 to educate citizens about the Continental Parliament and ignite conversations about its future in line with its mandate.

 

The establishment of the PAP among the AU organs signalled a historical milestone and the most important development in the strengthening of the AU institutional architecture. It laid solid groundwork for democratic governance and oversight within the African Union system and provided a formal “platform for the peoples of Africa to get involved in discussions and decision-making on issues affecting the continent.”

 

The genesis of the PAP can be legally traced back to 1991 with the adoption of the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community, adopted on June 3, 1991, in Abuja (also known as the Abuja Treaty). This treaty defined the pillars and grounds for realizing economic development and integration in Africa and called for the creation of a continental parliament, among a set of other organs, as tools for the realization of African integration and economic development. This call was reemphasized in the Sirte Declaration of 1999, which called for the accelerated implementation of the provisions of the Abuja Treaty.

 

PAP celebrated its ten years of existence in March 2014, a year which coincided with the adoption, on June 27, 2014, in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, of the Protocol to the Constitutive Act of the African Union relating to the Pan-African Parliament (PAP Malabo Protocol), which, once in force, will transform the PAP into a legislative body of the AU. It requires a minimum of 28 countries to ratify it before it comes into force.

 

Therefore, the commemoration of PAP Day serves as a reminder to the decision-makers around the continent to fulfil their commitment to the PAP by ratifying its Protocol, 19 years after sanctioning its establishment. 14 AU member states have so far ratified the Malabo Protocol.

 

The celebrations of PAP Day coincided with the closing ceremony of the sitting of the PAP Permanent Committees and other organs. The Sitting took place in Midrand, South Africa under the AU theme for 2023, “Accelerating the implementation of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)” from 6 to 17 March 2023.

 

PAP President, H.E. Chief Fortune Charumbira, expressed appreciation to members for their commitment during the two-week engagement.

 

“We have come to the end of our program, and it is appropriate that we end on a high note with the PAP Day celebrations. 

“We will, upon your return to your respective countries, ensure that the work achieved over the past two weeks is transmitted to the national level for the benefit of our citizens,” concluded H.E. Chief Charumbira.

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PAP needs to priorities land issues-Prof Mathole

23rd March 2023

Prof Motshekga Mathole of the Kara Heritage Institute has advised the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) to prioritise the land issue in the continent if they are to remain relevant.

He said this while addressing the Plenary during the commemoration of PAP Day held at the PAP Chambers in Midrand, South Africa

The PAP Day was officially launched in 2021 to commemorate the inauguration of the first Parliament on 18 March 2004 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Intended as a platform for people of all African states to be involved in discussions and decision-making on problems and challenges facing the continent.

In a speech titled “Whither Pan-Africanism, African Culture, and Heritage,” Prof Mathole stated that for PAP to remain relevant, it must address the continent’s key land dilemma, which he feels is the core cause of all problems plaguing the continent

“If this Parliament is to be taken seriously, ownership of land and natural resources must be prioritized at the national and continental levels. Africans are not poor; they are impoverished by imperialist nations that continue to hold African land and natural resources,” said Prof Mathole.

“When African leaders took power from colonialists, they had to cope with poverty, unemployment, and other issues, but they ignored land issues. That is why Africa as a whole is poor today. Because our land and minerals are still in the hands of colonizers, Africa must rely on Ukraine for food and Europe for medical.”

Prof Mathole believes that the organization of the masses is critical as cultural revolution is the only solution to Africa’s most problems.

“We need a cultural revolution for Africa, and that revolution can only occur if the masses and people are organized. First, we need a council of African monarchs since they are the keepers of African arts, culture, and heritage. We need an African traditional health practitioners council because there is no ailment on the planet that cannot be healed by Africans; the only problem is that Africans do not harvest and process their own herbs,” he said.

Meanwhile, PAP President, H.E. Hon Chief Fortune Charumbira expressed satisfaction with the commitment displayed throughout the two-week period and said the PAP Day celebrations were befitting curtains down to the august event.

“On this high note of our two-week engagement, it is appropriate that we close our program on a high note with PAP celebrations, and I would like to thank everyone for your commitment, and please continue to be committed,” said H.E Hon Chief Charumbira.

PAP’s purpose as set out in Article 17 of the African Union Constitutive Act, is “to ensure the full participation of African people in the development and economic integration of the continent”. As it stands, the mandate of the Parliament extends to consultation and playing an advisory and oversight role for all AU organs pending the ratification protocol.

Also known as the Malabo Protocol, the Protocol to the consultative act of the AU relating to the PAP was adopted at the Assembly of Heads of State and Government summit in June 2014 and is intended to extend the powers of the PAP into a fully-fledged legislative organ. It requires a minimum of 28 countries to ratify it before it comes into force.

The commemoration of the PAP Day, therefore, serves as a reminder to the decision-makers around the continent to fulfil their commitment to the PAP by ratifying its Protocol, 17 years after sanctioning its establishment. 14 AU member states have so far ratified the Malabo Protocol.

The PAP Day commemoration also aims to educate citizens about the PAP and ignite conversations about the future of the continental Parliament in line with its mandate.

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DPP drops Kably threat to kill case

22nd March 2023

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Chief Whip and Member of Parliament for Letlhakeng/Lephephe Liakat Kably has welcomed the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP)’s decision not to prosecute BDP councillor, Meshack Tshenyego who allegedly threatened to kill him. However, the legislator has warned that should anything happen to his life, the state and the courts will have to account.

In an interview with this publication, Kablay said he has heard that the DPP has declined to prosecute Tshenyego in a case in which he threatened to kill him adding that the reasons he received are that there was not enough evidence to prosecute. “I am fine and at peace with the decision not to prosecute over evidential deficits but I must warn that should anything happen to my life both the DPP and the Magistrate will have to account,” Kablay said.

Connectedly, Kably said he has made peace with Tshenyego, “we have made peace and he even called me where upon we agreed to work for the party and bury the hatchet”.

The DPP reportedly entered into a Nolle Prosequi in the matter, meaning that no action would be taken against the former Letlhakeng Sub-district council chairperson and currently councillor for Matshwabisi.

According to the charge sheet before the Court, councilor Tshenyego on July 8th, 2022 allegedly threatened MP Kably by indirectly uttering the following words to nominatedcouncilor Anderson Molebogi Mathibe, “Mosadi wa ga Liakat le ban aba gagwe ba tsile go lela, Mosadi wame le banake le bone ba tsile go lela. E tla re re mo meeting, ka re tsena meeting mmogo, ke tla mo tlolela a bo ke mmolaya.”

Loosely translated this means, Liakat’s wife and children are going to shed tears and my wife and kids will shed tears too. I will jump on him and kill him during a meeting.

Mathibe is said to have recorded the meeting and forwarded it to Kably who reported the matter to the police.

In a notice to the Magistrate Court to have the case against Tshenyego, acting director of Public Prosecutions, Wesson Manchwe  cited the nolle prosequi by the director of public prosecution in terms of section 51 A (30) of the Constitution and section 10 of the criminal procedure and evidence act (CAP 08:02) laws of Botswana as reasons for dropping the charges.

A nolle prosequi is a formal notice of abandonment by a plaintiff or prosecutor of all or part of a suit or action.

“In pursuance of my powers under section 51 A (300 of the Constitution and section 10 of the criminal procedure and evidence act (CAP 08:02) laws of Botswana, I do hereby stop and discontinue criminal proceedings against the accused Meshack Tshenyego in the Kweneng Administrative District, CR.No.1077/07/2022 being the case of the State vs Tshenyego,” said Manchwe. The acting director had drafted the notice dropping the charges on 13th day of March 2023.

The case then resumed before the Molepolole Magistrate Solomon Setshedi on the 14th of March 2023. The Magistrate issued an order directing “that matters be withdrawn with prejudice to the State, accused is acquitted and discharged.”

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