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Friday, 19 April 2024

Executives jailed as ‘Blue Train corruption’ slide off rails

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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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Nigerians, Zimbabweans apply for Chema Chema Fund

16th April 2024

Fronting activities, where locals are used as a front for foreign-owned businesses, have been a long-standing issue in Botswana. These activities not only undermine the government’s efforts to promote local businesses but also deprive Batswana of opportunities for economic empowerment, officials say. The Ministry of Trade and Industry has warned of heavy penalties for those involved in fronting activities especially in relation to the latest popular government initiative dubbed Chema Chema.

According to the Ministry, the Industrial Development Act of 2019 clearly outlines the consequences of engaging in fronting activities. The fines of up to P50,000 for first-time offenders and P20,000 plus a two-year jail term for repeat offenders send a strong message that the government is serious about cracking down on this illegal practice. These penalties are meant to deter individuals from participating in fronting activities and to protect the integrity of local industries.

“It is disheartening to hear reports of collaboration between foreigners and locals to exploit government initiatives such as the Chema Chema Fund. This fund, administered by CEDA and LEA, is meant to support informal traders and low-income earners in Botswana. However, when fronting activities come into play, the intended beneficiaries are sidelined, and the funds are misused for personal gain.” It has been discovered that foreign nationals predominantly of Zimbabwean and Nigerian origin use unsuspecting Batswana to attempt to access the Chema Chema Fund. It is understood that they approach these Batswana under the guise of drafting business plans for them or simply coming up with ‘bankable business ideas that qualify for Chema Chema.’

Observers say the Chema Chema Fund has the potential to uplift the lives of many Batswana who are struggling to make ends meet. They argue that it is crucial that these funds are used for their intended purpose and not siphoned off through illegal activities such as fronting. The Ministry says the warning it issued serves as a reminder to all stakeholders involved in the administration of these funds to ensure transparency and accountability in their disbursement.

One local commentator said it is important to highlight the impact of fronting activities on the local economy and the livelihoods of Batswana. He said by using locals as a front for foreign-owned businesses, opportunities for local entrepreneurs are stifled, and the economic empowerment of Batswana is hindered. The Ministry’s warning of heavy penalties is a call to action for all stakeholders to work together to eliminate fronting activities and promote a level playing field for local businesses.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s warning of heavy penalties for fronting activities is a necessary step to protect the integrity of local industries and promote economic empowerment for Batswana. “It is imperative that all stakeholders comply with regulations and work towards a transparent and accountable business environment. By upholding the law and cracking down on illegal activities, we can ensure a fair and prosperous future for all Batswana.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Merck Foundation and African First Ladies mark World Health Day 2024

15th April 2024

Merck Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA Germany marks “World Health Day” 2024 together with Africa’s First Ladies who are also Ambassadors of MerckFoundation “More Than a Mother” Campaign through their Scholarship and Capacity Building Program. Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation emphasized, “At Merck Foundation, we mark World Health Day every single day of the year over the past 12 years, by building healthcare capacity and transforming patient care across Africa, Asia and beyond.

I am proud to share that Merck Foundation has provided over 1740 scholarships to aspiring young doctors from 52 countries, in 44 critical and underserved medical specialties such as Oncology, Diabetes, Preventative Cardiovascular Medicine, Endocrinology, Sexual and Reproductive Medicine, Acute Medicine, Respiratory Medicine, Embryology & Fertility specialty, Gastroenterology, Dermatology, Psychiatry, Emergency and Resuscitation Medicine, Critical Care, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Neonatal Medicine, Advanced Surgical Practice, Pain Management, General Surgery, Clinical Microbiology and infectious diseases, Internal Medicine, Trauma & Orthopedics, Neurosurgery, Neurology, Cardiology, Stroke Medicine, Care of the Older Person, Family Medicine, Pediatrics and Child Health, Obesity & Weight Management, Women’s Health, Biotechnology in ART and many more”.

As per the available data, Africa has only 34.6% of the required doctors, nurses, and midwives. It is projected that by 2030, Africa would need additional 6.1 million doctors, nurses, and midwives*. “For Example, before the start of the Merck Foundation programs in 2012; there was not a single Oncologist, Fertility or Reproductive care specialists, Diabetologist, Respiratory or ICU specialist in many countries such as The Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Guinea, Burundi, Niger, Chad, Ethiopia, Namibia among others. We are certainly creating historic legacy in Africa, and also beyond. Together with our partners like Africa’s First Ladies, Ministries of Health, Gender, Education and Communication, we are impacting the lives of people in the most disadvantaged communities in Africa and beyond.”, added Senator Dr. Kelej. Merck Foundation works closely with their Ambassadors, the African First Ladies and local partners such as; Ministries of Health, Education, Information & Communication, Gender, Academia, Research Institutions, Media and Art in building healthcare capacity and addressing health, social & economic challenges in developing countries and under-served communities. “I strongly believe that training healthcare providers and building professional healthcare capacity is the right strategy to improve access to equitable and quality at health care in Africa.

Therefore, I am happy to announce the Call for Applications for 2024 Scholarships for young doctors with special focus on female doctors for our online one-year diploma and two year master degree in 44 critical and underserved medical specialties, which includes both Online Diploma programs and On-Site Fellowship and clinical training programs. The applications are invited through the Office of our Ambassadors and long-term partners, The First Ladies of Africa and Ministry of Health of each country.” shared Dr . Kelej. “Our aim is to improve the overall health and wellbeing of people by building healthcare capacity across Africa, Asia and other developing countries. We are strongly committed to transforming patientcare landscape through our scholarships program”, concluded Senator Kelej.

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Interpol fugitive escapes from Botswana

15th April 2024

John Isaak Ndovi, a Tanzanian national embroiled in controversy and pursued under a red notice by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), has mysteriously vanished, bypassing a scheduled bail hearing at the Extension 2 Magistrate Court in Gaborone. Previously apprehended by Botswana law enforcement at the Tlokweng border post several months earlier, his escape has ignited serious concerns.

Accused of pilfering assets worth in excess of P1 million, an amount translating to roughly 30,000 Omani Riyals, Ndovi has become a figure of paramount interest, especially to the authorities in the Sultanate of Oman, nestled in the far reaches of Asia.

The unsettling news of his disappearance surfaced following his failure to present himself at the Extension 2 Magistrate Court the preceding week. Speculation abounds that Ndovi may have sought refuge in South Africa in a bid to elude capture, prompting a widespread mobilization of law enforcement agencies to ascertain his current location.

In an official communiqué, Detective Senior Assistant Police Commissioner Selebatso Mokgosi of Interpol Gaborone disclosed Ndovi’s apprehension last September at the Tlokweng border, a capture made possible through the vigilant issuance of the Interpol red notice.

At 36, Ndovi is implicated in a case of alleged home invasion in Oman. Despite the non-existence of an extradition treaty between Botswana and Oman, Nomsa Moatswi, the Director of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP), emphasized that the lack of formal extradition agreements does not hinder her office’s ability to entertain extradition requests. She highlighted the adoption of international cooperation norms, advocating for collaboration through the lenses of international comity and reciprocity.

Moatswi disclosed the intensified effort by law enforcement to locate Ndovi following his no-show in court, and pointed to Botswana’s track record of extraditing two international fugitives from France and Zimbabwe in the previous year as evidence of the country’s relentless pursuit of legal integrity.

When probed about the potential implications of Ndovi’s case on Botswana’s forthcoming evaluation by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Moatswi reserved her speculations. She acknowledged the criticality of steering clear of blacklisting, suggesting that this singular case is unlikely to feature prominently in the FATF’s assessment criteria.

 

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