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Taxpayers pay bill for CKGR case that never happened

Pilane

Botswana’s taxpayers will foot the bill in the fresh legal battle between the government and some residents of Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).  The matter which was expected to be argued before the court went nowhere-but tax payers will pay P200 000 in legal fees. This was after the government reached an out of court settlement with the Basarwa tribesmen.

The result is that taxpayers will pick the legal bill arising from the out of court settlement agreement reached by the Ghanzi District Council and Pitseng Gaoberekwe’s family.  On behalf of the Botswana Government, the Ghanzi District Council had engaged Sidney Pilane’s law firm to sue Gaoberekwe’s family over its decision to insist that he should be buried in CKGR where he was born instead of New Xade where he resided at the time of his demise.

Documents before the High Court show that the corpse of the 75 year old Gaoberekwe who was born in the Reserve is still lying at a mortuary for more than three months following his death during Christmas Eve due to a standoff between his family and the Ghanzi District Council as to where he should be buried.

According to a consent court order dated 9th March 2022, which forms part of the out of court of settlement between the parties, it was agreed that Gaoberekwe’s family was, “To remove the corpse of Pitseng Gaoberekwe from the mortuary at which it is currently kept and to bury it at their own expenses within seven days of the date of the making of this order.”

This was also confirmed by Ghanzi District Counsel Secretary, Dick Kalantle, in his letter addressed to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Molefi Keaja, dated 11th March 2022. Stating that the matter has been finally settled by consent, Keaja explained that, “It must be noted that the delay was due to the fact that the respondents (Gaberekwe family) wanted Council to participate in burying the deceased in CKGR.”

He added, “They throughout insisted that notwithstanding the fact that they wanted to bury the deceased at CKGR, such burial should still be at the expense of the Ghanzi District Council.”  “The policy relative to burial of Council beneficiaries is such that, should they take over the burial, such shall be at the expense of the next of kin,” Kalantle said.

The decision to challenge the matter before the Court did not come cheap. While the government sought to reach a win-win situation in their never-ending legal battle with the residents of CKGR in the latest saga, the biggest loser is the taxpayer. The botched suit against Basarwa will see the government partying away with at least P200 000 in legal fees.

Advocate Sidney Pilane who was the State Counsel in the initial suit that saw the government being directed to allow Basarwa to return to CKGR has issued a legal fee note to cash strapped Ghanzi District Council. Kalantle confirmed in his letter to Keaja that, “We are already in possession of the legal fee note from Advocate Pilane our instructed Counsel (in the fresh matter).” He reminded Keaja that, “You are in no doubt aware of our financial state as at current. We, as we do hereby, seek financial assistance relative to this fee note in order to settle the bill as a matter of urgency.”

According to the legal fee note from Pilane, the amount is broken down as follows;

-On 10th to 17th February 2022, Pilane attended to “numerous telephone discussions, some of them lengthy , between him and one Attorney Moeng (who according to a trove documents seen by INK, is Ghanzi District Council legal representative) in respect of the dispute between Ghanzi District Council and the family of the deceased.”

This involved among others receipt, perusal and consideration of deration of brief and pertinent documents from the Council, consultation with Attorney Moeng on different dates and hours; on 15 February 2022 from 1400 hours to 1700 hours; consultation with attorney Moeng and Council, Kelebogile Tlhako Simula and Roy Sesana on 17th February 2022 from 10 00 hours to 17 hours. Consultation for the said dates and hours will see the taxpayer parting away with P85 000. The consultation with Sesana also raises questions about his role in the dispute.

Sesana who was a fierce critique and the lead applicant in the case against the relocation of Basarwa from CKGR in the initial legal battle is currently a civil servant. He has since been accused of ‘betraying the struggle’ by his kinsmen, something which he has since denied.
The legal fee note also shows that on 18th February 2022 to 21 February 2022; Pilane also billed the Ghanzi District Council for “preparation of application papers on 18 February 2022 from 08000 hours to 1700 hours; on 19 February 2022 from 0900 hours to 1730 hours, on 21 February 10000 hours to 12 00 hours and various telephone discussions with attorney Moeng” His legal consultation for this attracted a fee of P97 000.

The legal fee note further indicates that on 22 February 2022, there were, “various telephone discussions with Molodi Molodi and Beghani, both of the Attorney General’s Chambers and Mrs Acting Deputy Director General (operations) of the Department of Wildlife, National Parks and to the latter’s supporting papers from 1400 hours to 17 30 hours.” This attracted a legal fee amounting to P17, 500.

Pilane’s law firm also billed the Ghanzi District Council for among others, printing, photocopying and to collation, compilation, pagination of Court documents and preparation of bundle by Chamber staff that occurred on 2nd March 2022 from 1000 hours to 1700 hours. The legal fee for this is P5000.

The Ghanzi District Council was also billed for the consultation with “Attorney Moeng and Council Secretary that occurred on 3rd March 2022 from 14000 hours to 1700 hours” and for another consultation with “Attorney Moeng and the Council Secretary and settling replying affidavit on 04 March 2022 from 12000 hour to 16000 hours.” The legal fee for this is 20 000

Preparations for Ghanzi District Council Heads of Argument as well as telephonic conversation from 5th to 9th March 2022 resulted in the authority picking another legal bill amounting to P30 000.
This legal fee was also part of the “discussion in respect of settlement with attorney Nelson Ramaotwana (Gaoberekwe family legal representative) on 06 march and 08 march 2022and with attorney Moeng on the same dates, to settling draft consent order and appearance at the High Count in Lobatse to have the draft consent order made an order of the court.”

The legal fee note also shows that Vat is calculated at P35 7 00 and the legal fee was “Discounted 100 000.”  Therefore, the whole legal fee “due and payable” to Pilane’s law firm is “P190 700.”

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