Friday, July 19, 2024

Absence of substantive CEOs at BDC and BITC and a Board of Directors at BTO undermining governance

It has been a while since the last Managing Director at Botswana Development Corporation left that organization. Not so coincidentally it was not long after that her departure was followed by a host of other executives. Before then, BDC had for no less than two years received unusually bad press for various things, including procurement, allegations of impropriety and favoritism in the appointment of the CEO and most remarkably a terrible relationship between the Board on one hand and the CEO and the Minister on the other. The importance of BDC in the economy of this country cannot be over emphasised. In fact there are few decisions that immediately come to mind made by Botswana Government, over forty years ago that can surpass a decision to create BDC – in all its manifestations. The trouble though is that over the last few years, the same Government that created it left the corporation to go haywire; literally foregoing if not forgetting its mandate.

The situation has been so stinky such that for BDC the last few even eclipsed what was until then the corporation’s dimmest days in the late 1990s when it perennially had to turn to the shareholder with a cap in hand begging for one equity recapitalization after another. It has been heart-wrenching watching BDC unravel including eroding the benefits that had been painstakingly put together through an elaborate multi-year strategic plan that so spectacularly turned the corporation around after the lows of the late 1990s and early 2000s. As we speak many observers are still not convinced of BDC’s long-term viability without and ability to invest in the market without direct assistance from government as a shareholder. Many of us will also be hard pressed to believe that BDC still enjoys the same regard that it used to among financiers and creditors; not just in credit-worthiness but also in integrity and corporate good standing. Whatever goodwill remains attached to BDC, is a result of the many years of hard work, put in place not by latter day executives, but by an earlier crop of executives and board members before them who included by such stalwarts like Michael Molefhane and especially Baledzi Gaolathe who until he joined active politics had been a Member of the BDC board for an uninterrupted period of almost 25 years since the corporation was established. Today’s BDC commands neither clout nor respect among members of the public. Our view however is that BDC is not irredeemable. In fact all have to be done to restore BDC to its previous glory heights.

We however do not see that happening when it takes so long to fill the vacancy of Managing Director. The position of Managing Director at BDC has been vacant for so long such that it has become inevitable that questions will be asked just what it is that is keeping the Board and indeed the shareholder from appointing a substantive Managing Director. We are aware that adverts have recently been circulating inviting potential applicants to declare their interests. This is the second time that such adverts have been making their rounds. In the meantime the corporation has to go on without a substantive leader which means that key operational decisions cannot be made. It may provide a measure of some solace that there is still a board in place to offer guidance and counsel. But a Board can never be a substitute for a CEO. The situation is even worse when one considers the fact that at BDC it is not just the Managing Director that still; has to be appointed. A number of key positions are either vacant or have people holding forte in acting capacity. That denies the Corporation the benefits of executive leadership that can make investment decisions with a reassuring knowledge that they are backed by substantive positions behind their designations.

We call on cabinet to look into the BDC matter urgently. Sadly it is not only BDC that grapples and gropes along without guidance of a duly appointed CEO. Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) also does not have a substantive leader. We are not calling on the appointing authority to supply us as the media why this has taken so long. All we are saying is that this inordinate delay has serious performance and indeed governance ramifications for BITC to deliver on its mandate; and we need not remind anyone that attracting foreign investment in this day and era of intensive competition among states is an overwhelming and indeed overawing responsibility that can wreck even a duly appointed substantive CEO. What then of a person on an acting capacity who inevitably is always reminded of their inadequacy by the shareholder and Board’s tacit reluctance to appoint them! The list is not done yet. It has been a while that Botswana Tourism Organisation has been without a Board of Directors. This is unpardonable, reprehensible and indeed potentially illegal. Just how does an important organization like BTO which is tasked with an all important mandate of enhancing commercial value of a key economic sector like tourism run on rudderless for such a long time? An impression has been created that the privatization agency (PEEPA) is the organization that these days appoints board directors to various parastatals. Is PEEPA sleeping on its job? Or there is a yet another invisible hand manipulating the dynamics for an even grander plan? Whatever the answer, it is wrong for such an economically important institution to run even for a day without the benefits that derive from strategic guidance delivered by the Board.

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