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Executives jailed as ‘Blue Train corruption’ slide off rails

As things stand, about P750 million is poised to leave the coffers of the Botswana Railways in the course of the next two financial years, but it has come to light that brazen oversight will be required to ascertain that this money represents the true value of services offered to the organisation and that the characters involved are not up to no good.

The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and the Directorate on Intelligence Security (DIS) were this week called to action to prove or disprove allegations of corruption against some top executives of the Botswana Railways. Three of them ended up spending a night in jail; some had their gadgets confiscated by the corruption busting agencies.  

“This serves to confirm that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) is currently conducting investigations on Botswana Railways. The investigations have been ongoing for more than a week now,” wrote Botswana Railways CEO Dominic Ntwaagae in a memo to staff on Wednesday.

Botswana Railways in currently involved in a number of transactions involving millions of Pula, hence some staff members have noticed questionable decisions within the organisations that border on corruption on the part of some executives hence the involvement of the DCEC. Some Board members have told this publication that they have been reduced to puppets by the management and they could not continue to watch the alleged corruption episode explode without intervention of the authorities.

“We wish to inform staff that as an organisation, being owned by government, it is expected and appreciated that from time to time government agencies mandated to carry out such exercises may visit us to ensure that processes and procedures are dully followed,” Ntwaagae further expressed in his ‘call for calm’ memo to staff.  He further indicated that his organisation should be held to account in all its dealings. He vowed to be supportive to “the ongoing investigations, to clear all allegations of corruption against the organisation”.

Ntwaagae said the organisation would not reveal the detail or discuss the contents of the investigations, “as professionally we believe it is unethical to discuss the matter while the investigations are still underway”.  In his memo, Ntwaagae did not put a face behind the investigation; he randomly used words to indicate that it was the “organisation” that was being investigated for corruption and “to clear allegations of corruption”.

THE GENESIS OF SPOOKY COACHES

Government through the Ministry of Transport and Communications, headed by Tshenolo Mabeo has committed Botswana Railways to bring back the passenger train.

Ntwaagae, the BR CEO told staff this week that the Passenger train will be launched on March 22, 2016 at Lobatse, behind Peleng Dam. Weekend Post has established that it will be a mixed train along the way, because the margins are not adding up in terms of profit when it comes to operating the passenger train. The night passenger trains will commence on March 23rd from Lobatse and Francistown.

As a result of the decision to reintroduce the passenger train, which was stopped in 2009, Botswana Railways was forced to procure new coaches. A tender was flighted and several companies from Africa and Asia expressed interest in supplying the Botswana Railways with 37 coaches. Currently the Botswana Railways offices are more like a war zone, where words are weapons, on who actually won this tender.

A Board member who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity disclosed that a committee member had told him that the tender was initially awarded to a Chinese company. China is known for trading in steel and it has a developed manufacturing sector for coaches.  “But it later came out that the assessment marks were tinkered with to undermine the Chinese company,” he said.  But this, he said, was for the investigators to prove or disprove.

South African based Transnet Engineering which has bases in Cape Town and Pretoria was given the job to construct 37 NEW coaches for Botswana Railways at the tune of P280 million. Botswana Railways has already paid R82 million towards the job. It is expected that before March 22nd they will have supplied Botswana Railways with at least 10 coaches. Weekend Post has learnt that Minister Mabeo, the CEO, Director of Operations and Engineering, the Board chairman – Modise Modise and others visited South Africa recently to go and assess the extent of progress in relation to the supply of the coaches. The plant sites are in Cape Town and Pretoria, they visited both.  

Indications are that the deadlines for the delivery of the 37 coaches are too tight for the supplier despite initially agreeing to the terms and conditions of the deal. This publication is informed that a deal was struck to the effect that they could instead supply Botswana Railways with old coaches as long as there was a patch up job of repainting them.

Impeccable sources indicate that priority was given to the deadline of launching the passenger train, but it is not clear how the costs will be dealt with, “for example, if there is need to revise down the cost of the initial quote”, a board member revealed. The board member further indicated that some of them had asked these questions and they were shot down fast. Another matter that arose is that of the bogie (the steel base or frame that supports the coaches); it is clear that Transnet will have to order it from elsewhere, presumably China. Board members had asked why the deal was not given to a company that could bring a complete package; still they were hauled at by part of management.

Therefore Transnet will patch an old bogie and deliver it in the meantime.  

MORE QUESTIONS FROM THE BOARD

Meanwhile the Botswana Railways management is said to be confident that all the coaches will be delivered by the end of April this year. But some of the Board members want the DCEC to ask direct questions regarding the P280 million deal, they want the original tender documents, they want to know how much was revealed to the minister in relation to the coaches and the repainting job, they want to know how this will affect the original cost and whether there will be compensation to the Botswana Railways. It is evident that the Board had in most cases been overlooked when these deals were reached or approved.

AMERICANS GET P375 MILLION DEAL FROM RAILWAYS

Meanwhile as the Botswana Railways top brass has to ward off corruption allegations levelled against the ‘organisation’, an American company, Electro Motive Diesel is demanding that it be furnished with a Letter of Credit for the manufacture and supply of eight locomotives.

Botswana Railways has awarded the American company the deal at a value of $34 million. This publication has established that Botswana Railways paid 50 percent of the amount in September 2015 but has been dilly dallying when asked to produce the Letter of Credit. The New York based company has indicated that it will need 18 months to put the heads together and be in a position to supply.

The deal between the two parties was supervised by attorneys from Collins Newman and they have since slapped Botswana Railways with a bill of P8 million, which the Botswana Railways Board had wanted to distance itself from only to realise that management had committed to the Law firm already. The negotiations and the deal were sealed at Rail Park mall last year.

UNREPORTED LOCOMOTIVE ACCIDENTS

Three Botswana Railways locomotives veneered off the railway line and crashed on 22nd December last year and the incident was never reported. One of the locomotives is said to be almost beyond repair but management is said to have decided to repair all the three anyway. A source at the Ministry of Transport and Communications revealed that the accidents occurred as a result of negligence because the locomotives actually sped off unmanned for 5km after a mechanical error occasioned by one of the engine men. It is estimated that the cost of the damage is in the region of P50 million. The damaged locomotives are currently piled at Lobatse.

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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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