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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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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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