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Was the Choppies boardroom fight worth it?

Choppies CEO:Ramachandran

A wise man once said when elephants fight it is the grass that suffers meaning that the weak get hurt in conflicts between the powerful. In most cases ‘the elephants’ do not even notice the catastrophic consequences on the weak.

A year ago, the country witnessed one of the biggest corporate fights which involved the Choppies founding Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ramachandran ‘Ram’ Ottapathu and the then board that was led by former President Festus Mogae who was the Choppies Group Chairman. September is the anniversary of the historic Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) that left Botswana in awe of unprecedented legal and corporate drama.

The fight was mainly catapulted by the suspension of Choppies from the local bourse and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) on account of the company’s auditors PwC’s inability to finalize the 2018 financial statements due to alleged ‘irregularities.’ This led to Ram getting suspended as the Choppies CEO and was immediately followed by an EGM where Ram won against the board that had suspended him.

For over a year the business stewed in quagmire during the CEO’ suspension. Value tumbled, millions evaporated in value. Business was torn apart in the court of public opinion. Its once grand and mighty appeal shrunk into oblivion.

A former states man was in one corner with the colossal Botswana Public Officers Pensions Fund (BPOPF) with other fund managers, Ram and his trusted lieutenants on the other. It was a true battle of corporate’s high and mighty.

On the 5th of September 2019 Ram was cast into a nightmare, a marathon of presentations had no Ram sympathizer. However how he won is still a mystery to many who had a cast of his entrepreneurial tombstone ready. Given where we are now, the company lost value. Huge expenses were incurred too as a result of a huge spike in board fees for the case – investigations, payments of consultants for forensics legal and financial, suspension of CEO with no clear retail experience in the board. Was it worth it?

Shareholders voted to oust almost all of the former board members, who had pitted themselves against Ram after a series of investigations into alleged business malpractices at the retailer.

The boardroom fight was epic to watch, it was even documented and packaged as a film documentary titled the Ram- fication but the result exposed a fundamental flaw in the strategy of the outgoing board. How could they lose after 10-hour long presentations to shareholders? Ram speech did not even last more than five minutes. Keith Jefferies is quoted in Rami-fication documentary saying that there is a growing demand for more from board members when they are performing their fiducial duties on behalf of shareholders for listed entities.

One might say they were quick to turn on Ram when it was convenient. Wy didn’t institutional investors ask for a succession plan before the huge investments? Why would the allegations seem new yet they were murmurings on Choppies form the general public years before the investigations?

Giving expert opinion on a clip of the film documentary economist and former Deputy Governor of the Bank of Botswana Keith Jefferies stated that the board put too much reliance on Ram which is dangerous for a board to do especially on a big entity such as Choppies, “the board put too much reliance on Ram to run the company single handedly, it is dangerous for a business to rely one person. Investors and shareholders should have been more active. Board members have a serious responsibility to hold management accountable and read documents thoroughly,” said Jefferies who spoke of activist shareholders being a growing phenomenon of accountability.

Another economic expert who is a senior partner at one of the leading auditing companies in the country stated that the boardroom fight was not worth it mostly because it wasted the public’s time and number of people lost their job in the process only for Ram to win the case against a board that had suspended him and had engaged a number of legal proceedings that found him innocent.

This expert opinion visibly shows what was not done, what needed to be done properly and who was not actively working when they were supposed to be. The question still remains, was the fight worth it after so much resources where utilized?

Some independent investigations and other experts revealed that Ram was suspended as a consequence of personal differences with some members of the board and retaliation for his proposal to introduce a much-needed governance change within Choppies.

With a fresh board Choppies has returned on the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE). Succession seems to be on track. The hurt from the past may force the current board to dig deeper and ask the right questions on behalf of shareholders and Choppies’ business constituents. May be, just may be everything was for the right outcome. Ram will be measured in his expansion and ambitions and will not want to repeat the inconvenience and the shame that his business attracted. As the majority shareholder, he has a lot to lose and so do pensioners who are represented through institutional investors.

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Gov’t shy to shame failing ministers

22nd February 2021

Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Kabo Morwaeng together with Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Elias Magosi, this week refused to name and shame the worst performing Ministries and to disclose the best performing Ministries since beginning of 12th parliament including the main reasons for underperformance.

Of late there have been a litany of complaints from both ends of the aisle with cabinet members accused of providing parliament with unsatisfactory responses to the questions posed. In fact for some Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) backbenchers a meeting with the ministers and party leadership is overdue to address their complaints. Jwaneng-Mabutsane MP, Mephato Reatile is also not happy with ministers’ performance.

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Bokamoso, Gov’t in P10M womb removal suit

22nd February 2021

Bokamoso Private Hospital is battling a P10 million legal suit for a botched fibroids operation which resulted in a woman losing an entire womb and her prospects of bearing children left at zero.

The same suit has also befallen the Attorney General of Botswana who is representing the Ministry of Health and Wellness for their contributory negligence of having the unlawful removal of a patient, Goitsemang Magetse’s womb.

According to the court papers, Magetse says that sometimes in November 2019, she was diagnosed with fibroids at Marina Hospital where upon she was referred to Bokamoso Private Hospital to schedule an appointment for an operation to remove the fibroids, which she did.

Magetse continues that at the instance of one Dr Li Wang, the surgeon who performed the operation, and unknown to her, an operation to remove her whole womb was conducted instead.
According to Magetse, it was only through a Marina Hospital regular check-up that she got to learn that her whole womb has been removed.

“At the while she was under the belief that only her fibroids have been removed. By doing so, the hospital has subjected itself to some serious delictual liability in that it performed a serious and life changing operation on patient who was under the belief that she was doing a completely different operation altogether. It thus came as a shock when our client learnt that her womb had been removed, without her consent,” said Magetse’s legal representatives, Kanjabanga and Associates in their summons.

The letter further says, “this is an infringement of our client‘s rights and this infringement has dire consequences on her to the extent that she can never bear children again”. ‘It is our instruction therefore, to claim as we hereby do, damages in the sum of BWP 10,000,000 (ten million Pula) for unlawful removal of client’s womb,” reads Kanjabanga Attorneys’ papers. The defendants are yet to respond to the plaintiff’s papers.

What are fibroids?

Fibroids are tumors made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue. They develop in the uterus. It is estimated that 70 to 80 percent of women will develop fibroids in their lifetime — however, not everyone will develop symptoms or require treatment.

The most important characteristic of fibroids is that they’re almost always benign, or noncancerous. That said, some fibroids begin as cancer — but benign fibroids can’t become cancer. Cancerous fibroids are very rare. Because of this fact, it’s reasonable for women without symptoms to opt for observation rather than treatment.

Studies show that fibroids grow at different rates, even when a woman has more than one. They can range from the size of a pea to (occasionally) the size of a watermelon. Even if fibroids grow that large, we offer timely and effective treatment to provide relief.

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Masisi warned against a sinking Botswana

22nd February 2021
Ndaba GAolatlhe

The Alliance for Progressives (AP) President Ndaba Gaolathe has said that despite major accolades that Botswana continues to receive internationally with regard to the state of economy, the prospects for the future are imperilled.

Delivering his party Annual Policy Statement on Thursday, Gaolathe indicated that Botswana is in a state of do or die, and that the country’s economy is on a sick bed. With a major concern for poverty, Gaolathe pointed out that almost half of Botswana’s people are ravaged by or are about to sink into poverty.  “Our young people have lost the fire to dream about what they could become,” he said.

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