Monday, October 25, 2021

Board member of ailing BR routinely stayed in presidential suite

Botswana Railways has not turned profits in a really long time but that didn’t provide disincentive for one member of its Board of Management to curb an appetite for lavish spending at the organisation’s expense. For as long as she was board member, Lesedi Moakofhi, stayed overnight at a Cresta Mahalapye Hotel presidential suite each time the board met.

BR headquarters are located in Mahalapye and all but one of its board members (former Assistant Minister of Agriculture, Oreeditse Molebatsi) live 190 kilometres (or two hours) away in Gaborone. Sunday Standard’s information is that when the board met, all Gaborone-resident members (with the exception of Moakofhi), drove to Mahalapye in the morning and back in the afternoon. On the other hand, Moakofhi would go to Mahalapye a day before and stay at Cresta Mahalapye. When a meeting would end late in the day, she would spend another night at the hotel. We learn that not once did she stay in a standard room, opting instead for a presidential suite all the time. The hotel would later send the bill, which included expenses for meals and drinks, to BR headquarters. Upon her resignation late last year, Moakofhi was one of the longest-serving board members who include motor magnate and Botswana Democratic Party treasurer, Satar Dada as well as Legodile Serema, former senior civil servants whose official post-retirement engagements have included a stint as Lobatse mayor.

Shunning standard accommodations was standard living for Moakofhi, who served briefly as the Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Public Officers Pensions Fund. The latter is the largest pension fund in the country and a substantial portion of its money is invested in First World cities like London and New York. Sources say that when she headed BPOPF, Moakofhi routinely stayed in a presidential suite whenever she travelled locally and internationally. Board members, who would tag along on some international trips, were reportedly too grateful to question this spending. The extravagance extended to the quality of transport as well. A source recalls that during a trip with other BPOPF staff members to attend an international conference in South Africa, she was picked up by a rented luxury rental car (a gleaming Jaguar according to the source’s recollection) at the Oliver Tambo International Airport while her juniors used ordinary transportation. Slithering into the Johannesburg traffic, the luxury car whisked her to a top-notch hotel where she stayed in a presidential suite.

The difference though was that while BPOPF is awash with cash, BR is not. As the Vice Chairperson of the Board of a government-owned organisation that is not doing too well financially, Moakofhi should ideally have seen the need to lead the way by scrimping and scraping but that is not what happened. Featuring spacious bedroom, lounge, three toilets as well as two TV sets and separate shower and bath tub, the P3418-a-night Cresta Mahalapye presidential suite is luxury redefined. Every other guest can host a maximum of 15 visitors in the lounge. Explained in more relevant context, the lounge can accommodate a presidential entourage which will typically include aides, bodyguards and hosting protocol officers. Even more fittingly, this suite is named after a man who was just a heartbeat away from the presidency and would in fact, act as president when his only superior was out of the country: former (and now deceased) Vice President, Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe, who was also Mahalapye West MP. Guests at the Merafhe Presidential Suite get a free basket of fresh fruits at the reception desk when they check in.

Moakofhi’s tenure ended in quite dramatic fashion late last year when she was controversially appointed the Managing Director of a BR subsidiary, the Gaborone Container Terminal – more commonly known as Gabcon. During the recruitment process, the BR CEO, Dominic Ntwaagae, fired off a letter to Serema ÔÇô who is the Chairperson of the Gabcon Board of Directors – to register grave concern about this development.

In his letter, Ntwaagae raised grave concern about “an inherent conflict of interest whereby a serving member of the Botswana Railways Board (the Parent Company) is headhunted to be the Managing Director of the Subsidiary Company that reports directly to the same Board.” He unsuccessfully implored the Gabcon Board to consider this concern before making its determination on this matter.

The other point that Ntwaagae raised in his letter was that results of the psychometric tests clearly showed that a South African citizen called Luvuyo Hobo to be a better candidate for the position. The problem though was that he was earning much more money where was working and Gabcon could afford offer a better package. The latter notwithstanding, Ntwaagae advised that Hobo should be offered the position and that if he declined the offer, “then the position should be re-advertised.” The third issue of concern was that results of a third candidate were missing from the official record.

Ntwaagae’s entreaties fell on deaf ears because Hobo was never offered the position. Instead, Moakofhi ÔÇô who was retrenched by BPOPF last year, was given the P66 000-a-month job. Naturally, the MD position involves a lot of travel and gives Moakofhi greater control over Gabcon’s money. The subsidiary of an ailing parastatal organisation would seem ill-suited to financing luxury hotel accommodations and she may be forced to adjust to lower categories of accommodations.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper