Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Acting BR CEO didn’t see eye to eye with predecessor

You would have wanted to be a little fly on the wall in the period of time that the former Botswana Railways Chief Executive Officer, Dominic Ntwaagae, was handing over to the incoming Acting CEO, Stephen Makuke.

Ntwaagae resigned his position last month and Makuke, whose substantive position is Director of Business Development, now helms BR while the process for recruiting the next substantive CEO plays itself out. The two men didn’t get on well andSunday Standard has just turned up confidential information that shows just how bad their relationship was. How bad was it? Bad enough that two weeks before he resigned, Ntwaagae was “lenient” enough to record an official reprimand against Makuke.

One point of friction between the two men relates to correspondence from clients that Makuke forwarded to certain members of the Board of Management.

“What was even worrying to me was that this information relating to clients as it did and communicating to members of the Board selectively and inappropriately, was done so on your personal email address having been forwarded thereto from your official email account,” wrote Ntwaagae in a February 9, 2017 letter of reprimand to Makuke whose contents are headlined “Cumulative Transgressions by Yourself ÔÇô Corrective Action.”

There had been another letter from Ntwaagae to Makuke prior to the mentioned incident. The February 17 letter says that Makuke had also copied his response letter to the chairpersons of two Board sub-committees as well as BR’s own Director of Human Capital. The chairpersons in question are Oreeditse Molebatsi (Business Operations and Investment Committee) and Lesedi Moakofhi (Human Resources Committee). In at least one instance, the Board Chairperson, Modise Modise, was also copied. Ntwaagae expressed some befuddlement that Makuke would choose to copy these people notwithstanding the fact that his own letter made no reference to them, “either remotely or directly.” With specific regard to the Board members, “I can only hope that you did not do so as part of a stratagem and in keeping with your past conduct of copying management related issues to members of the Board.”

On the reasoning that what Makuke amounted to was self-indulgence at company expense, Ntwaagae accused the latter of having “abused BR’s electronic services for personal use.” The ex-CEO deemed it improper for Makuke to have forwarded official correspondence from his work mail to personal mail and subsequently used the company’s electronic mail facilities for personal use “to the extent that you communicated confidential information to selected members of the Board in respect of whom there was no need to transmit such information as they had no entitlement and/or right of receipt accruing to them.”

The letter records one instance when Makuke’s cultivation of the Board may have yielded fruit ÔÇô or sour fruit as Ntwaagae’s tastebuds would diagnosed the taste. One of Makuke’s juniors was an officer called Mooketsi Maiketso who held the position of Customer Relations Manager. Maiketso’s contract (as those of three other officers) was about to expire, Makuke wanted it renewed while Ntwaagae didn’t feel that way. The February 9 letter says that Makuke “convened or caused to be convened, a Human Resource Committee meeting to adjudicate on a contract renewal of Mr. Mooketsi Maiketso without any mandate, authorisation or delegation from myself as the Accounting Officer and as a person under whose authority, control of all employees of the organisation fall.” Ntwaagae accuses Makuke of being “malicious” and of having “misled the Board by deceiving the Board that Mr. Maiketso and the three others fell within the category of senior officers, in order to force the Board to meet outside its mandate as enshrined in the Botswana Railways Act.”

“Not only was your referral of the matter to the Sub-Committee of the Board improper and unprocedural, it also usurped my powers bestowed on me by the Botswana Railways Act. It also offended Section 10(7) of the Botswana Railways Act as read with the Board Charter to the extent that the person in respect of whom the referral was made was not a senior officer whose matters of appointment, discipline and dismissal ought to be taken to the Board of Management,” Ntwaagae wrote.

Makuke’s defence to some of the charges made against him is summarised in a letter that he wrote to Moakofhi in her capacity as the Chairperson of the HR Sub-Committee. The stated objective of the letter is to have the Board “intervene in the process of recruitment and release from work senior management employees.” He wanted Maiketso’s contract renewed, he explained, because he is a pillar of strength and has “managed to deliver on our customer retention strategy very well.” He notified Moakofhi that he had made a recommendation to Ntwaagae that Maiketso’s contract be renewed but three months after the fact, had not received official response. The only response he got, he says in the letter, came verbally at an executive committee meeting when Ntwaagae said that he is not willing to renew the contract of some of the four senior managers as “they are not loyal to him.” Makuke said that he found this assertion to be “very disturbing and unfortunate to come from the leadership and be used as a yardstick for contract renewals.”

Acting CEO and ex-CEO also locked horns over the operation of a special passenger trains during the 2016 Independence Day holidays. With the decision to operate such trains having been taken, advertisments were placed in newspapers. From what his letter suggests, Ntwaagae learnt about this development from newspapers when “all communication to the public must be on delegated authority of the Chief Executive Officer … this was not done.”

Ntwaagae also expressed “discomfort” that both he and the Director of Operations and Engineering, Justice Ramontsho, were kept in the dark about the operation of these trains. The latter is responsible for the “maintenance, planning and execution of running all trains.” In response, Makuke said that the Public Relations Manager, who reports directly to the CEO’s office, told him that he had discussed the matter with Ntwaagae and that he (Ntwaagae) approved the publication of the schedule in newspapers.

The February 9 letter served as a record of reprimand against Makuke for his “unacceptable and offensive conduct” and clearly indicated how high the stakes were. Ntwaagae warned that “almost all the offences, individually are serious offences, and if found guilty they carry a sentence of summary dismissal” and that “the leniency that I have displayed must not be misconstrued to be weakness.”

Whatever drama, if any, that played itself out when Ntwaagae handed over to Makuke may repeat itself when the situation is linearly reversed. The former has applied for reappointment and will go back to BR if he is successful. Conversely, Makuke has also applied for the same post.

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