Monday, October 18, 2021

Board suspected Transnet bribed BR exec managers

A confidential letter written by the former Botswana Railways Chief Executive Officer, Dominic Ntwaagae, suggests that the previous Board of Management called Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) investigators on the parastatal’s executive managers. This came after some board members had openly stated that they suspected that the managers of having been bribed by a South African company called Transnet Engineering. The letter was written to the Minister of Transport and Communications, Kitso Mokaila, in October last year.

Transnet was contracted to supply BR with 37 coaches ahead of the resumption of a passenger train service between Lobatse and Francistown. Millions of pula were used in this project and last year the press carried reports about DCEC investigating the BR-Transnet deal. Through a confidential letter written by Ntwaagae, who was BR CEO at the time of this procurement, it has emerged that the board may have played no small role in DCEC’s involvement. Ntwaagae’s letter details the emotional abuse that he says he suffered from two male members of the Board. The alleged abuse was mainly delivered through a never-ending stream of caustic personal remarks at board meetings. During one meeting, the board members in question are alleged to have stated that the BR executive management team was “on the payroll of Transnet.” Ntwaagae’s letter says that this accusation was made “against a backdrop of accusations that the tender for the procurement of passenger coaches had been fraudulently awarded to Transnet, and that management was concealing information.” Following the meeting where these allegations were made, DCEC investigators showed up at the BR headquarters in Mahalapye the very next day.

The letter suggests that the board didn’t provide the support that management hoped for in the procurement process. At a special board meeting in February last year, members “kept raising concern that the progress was too far behind to the point where the board expressed that they would be ‘pleasantly surprised’ if management were to deliver the passenger train on time. Therefore, practically management was on its own, without the required support from the board.”

A month later, however, the coaches had been delivered and President Ian Khama launched the new passenger train service at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Lobatse. One board member whom the letter characterises as having been particularly abusive, told staff members that “come April 2016, I would no longer be in the employ of Botswana Railways.”

The board did indeed hatch a plan to get rid of Ntwaagae but went about it the wrong way. The minister then was Tshenolo Mabeo who refused to endorse the plan on conviction that Ntwaagae had done nothing wrong. Mabeo is said to also have taken umbrage at the fact that the board wanted him to rubberstamp its decision and not exercise his discretion as minister. Much earlier, Mabeo had proved a pillar of support for Ntwaagae and his executive management team when DCEC investigators pounced. With no “support, encouragement and guidance” coming from the board, the minister filled the void and his actions are said to have  “assisted management to remain calm, cohesive and focused.”

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