“Conflicted” Collins law firm accused of inflating UB legal bill

24 Feb 2019

The University of Botswana’s alleged slipshod decision to hire a former council chairperson’s law firm is blamed on the institution’s ever ballooning legal fees. 

The University of Botswana (UB) is expected to cancel a legal service contract with law firm Collins & Newman which former university council chairperson, Parks Tafa, has had an interest.

This is meant to avert a backlash from the university community which has served Council Chairperson Dr Joseph Makhema with a litany of demands relating to the legal bill.

The former UB council chairperson, Parks Tafa, has an interest in Collins & Newman.

The UB community through the University of Botswana Academic & Senior Support Union (UBASSSU) is baying for Makhema’s blood holding that the decision to have Collins & Newman as the legal advisor smacks of bad corporate governance.

In a letter addressed to Makhema dated 30 January 2019, UBASSSU Chairperson, Dr Kaelo Molefe, demands the contract be cancelled to safeguard the university’s reputation and avert further financial losses.

“The contracting of Collins & Newman as the University’s law firm while one of the major partners (i.e., Mr Parks Tafa) was the University Council Chairperson, exposed the University to various forms of bad corporate governance – especially conflict of interest and insider trading,” wrote Molefe.

He added: “We further opined that this could explain why the university became litigious and incurred hefty legal bills on a continuous basis – to the benefit of the former Council Chair’s legal firm.”

Kaelo also stated: “Therefore we demanded that you review this decision, and appoint a law firm that could minimize the exposure to various practices of bad corporate governance.”

On another list of demands, Kaelo revealed: “We have also raised objection on the continuing participation of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology (Dr. Theophilus Mooko) in the internal structures of the decision-making body at the University on grounds of good governance.”

He said Mooko doubles as a member of an internal Council committee, namely, the Staff Appointments and Promotions Committee (SAPC) adding that he is also a member of the University Council.

He also took issue with the fact that different matters are escalated or conveyed to the Permanent Secretary to other principals with the capacity to make some decisions on a given matter.

He said the union believes the situation “exposes both the University and the parent Ministry to failure to maintain a system of checks and balances that enhances decisional integrity.”

“It also exposes the Permanent Secretary to abuse of power and authority, as well as make him vulnerable to hypocritical actions and decisions, unwittingly,” said Kaelo.  For his part, the union’s secretary general Aobakwe Banamile also states in a report that “The appointment of a new Council has not redeemed the situation because the current Chairman of Council, Dr Makhema is not up to the task on issues of governance.”

Banamile contests, Makhema “makes abrupt, uniformed and arbitrary decisions without following due process.”

He accused Makhema of disregarding legally constituted structures such as the unions, joint negotiating committee (JNC) and disregards due processes in making decisions.

“One of the issues that bedeviled our tenure of office is the salary inflationary adjustment and the implementation of government directives on salary adjustments.”

He said the union party and management arrived at an agreement during a Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) meeting held on 15th May 2018 that the university will pay a 7% salary inflationary adjustment to the university employees but that agreement has not been honoured to date.

Banamile said the reasons for none payment of a 7% salary inflation adjustment is that the university has no money - an insinuation by the Council that the agreement is null and void.

“The Executive Council maintains its posture that the Council is misdirecting itself on this matter,” said Banamile.

In a letter addressed to the university community dated 11 February 2019, Makhema states that the decision not to pay financial performance rewards for the year 2018 calendar was due to financial constraints.

“This was an imperative imposed upon Council following engagement with the University Auditors who had otherwise been of the impression that the University was a going concern and thus the Financials would be qualified unless among other measures Council would NOT increase salaries and NOT pay performance rewards as had reflected in submitted cash flows which severely aggravated the already dire financial situation of the institution,” he explained.

Makhema said the issuance of qualified audits “would have been detrimental to current and future efforts of Council to address the financial of the institution and new strategies to reverse and mitigate against it.”