Thursday, July 2, 2020

BOKA hall of martial deception can’t stand

On the surface, it looks like another case of a local company failing to complete a tender. Dig a little deeper however and shocking revelations tumble out.

It becomes a story of a never-ending construction project that has left the Japanese Embassy fuming, and the Botswana National Sports Council (BNSC) being forced to intervene to clear the mess.

Beyond the BNSC intervention emerges the story of alleged tender rigging.  A story of an emerging company being left in debt after agreeing to be used as a front by those allegedly close to the Botswana Karate Association (BOKA) or with inside information to ‘win a tender.’ 

According to those in the know, after BOKA received close to P900 000 from the Japanese Government to build the second phase of its training hall, the association floated the tender and eventually awarded it to Sea Iron Holdings (Proprietary) Limited.

And this is where the story began! Allegedly, the company was being used as a front by former BOKA president Ookeditse Malesu, who also happened to be a close ally of BOKA president Tshepo Bathai. 

Whether by design or default, according to those in the know, armed with inside information Sea Iron Holdings, and by extension Malesu won the tender.

While it was not known by then who was involved, affiliates’ curiosity was raised when during a BOKA AGM following the awarding of the tender, Malesu alerted affiliates he would be the project manager for the tender.

“At the time, he (Malesu) informed us that he would be volunteering his services as his contribution to ensure the project ran smoothly and was completed on time,” a source informed Sunday Standard.

“He insisted he would not be getting paid for his services as he was doing all this for Karate. In hindsight, we realized it was a smokescreen to stop us from questioning his ever presence in the construction site,” the source said. 

However, things did not go as planned the monies ran out before the second phase was completed. Concerned about the delays in the completion of the project, the Japanese Embassy started asking questions.

“A meeting was then held between the Japanese Embassy and BOKA and Sea Iron to determine where the problem could have been. At the meeting, Sea Iron owners informed the Embassy representatives that it was not in control and that it had been used as a front by Malesu,” a source disclosed.

While the BOKA representatives at the meeting were allegedly caught by surprise, the revelations are said to have left the Japanese Embassy fuming. With this a Government to Government matter, the BNSC was then forced to intervene.

But all this was not before Sea Iron had allegedly written a letter to the BNSC informing it that it had been used as a front in the BOKA Hall tendering.

Speaking in an interview, Sea Iron Director Kereemang Pharithi informed this publication that while his company had been used for tendering purposes, it was not heading the project.

According to Pharithi, after the tender was floated, he was approached by Malesu who asked him to use his company to bid for the tender to build the hall.

As his company was newly registered and the tender seemed a sure bet to win, Pharithi said he agreed to the deal as it would have helped his company to build a good profile.

“I knew Malesu through my uncle as they were soldiers. When he approached me and asked to use my company ‘Sea Iron’ for a job, I agreed. I handed him everything of my company in exchange for a good profile which meant I signed our agreement contract and the only thing I was doing was to sign any documents since it was my company,” he divulged.

Pharithi went on to reveal that with things however did not go according to plan and the project was halted due to exhaustion of funds. He said the halt led to a face to face meeting between him, BOKA and the Japanese Embassy.

“The Japanese Embassy needed answers as to why the project was not complete and still needing more money. I had no option but to be honest about the agreement I made with Malesu. When I revealed this, BOKA officials pretended to be shocked yet they were aware of what was going on. The Embassy representatives were not pleased at all and this is how BNSC got on board,” Pharithi explained.

He went on to reveal that after the meeting between the Sea Iron, BOKA and the Japanese Embassy, he then wrote a letter to the BNSC informing it of what was happening. 

Pharithi said he then had a meeting with the BNSC, where he got to know that it would be requesting the Ministry of Sport to help with finances for the completion of the project. During the talks, he said he was told that they will be the one to complete the project instead of Malesu.

Things however did not go as expected as the BNSC requested other companies to send in their quotations, which saw BJ Constructions winning the tender to complete the project.  

However, Pharithi said he was not aware of this development and learned about them this past week when he called Bathai, only to learn the project was close to completion. 

“Sea Iron as we speak is in debts, and we wrote to BNSC about it but they have not yet responded. And again, we still have a contract with BOKA which was not terminated and the company that is currently completing the project is working there with our contract with BOKA still valid and running. Due to all this thing, we are planning on suing BOKA,” the Sea Iron Director said.

Reached for comment, BNSC acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bobby Gaseitsiwe confirmed that BNSC had taken over the completion of the BOKA Hall while investigations are ongoing to see what could have transpired.

He said the BNSC intervention was sought as the project was a Government to Government aid and the Japanese were not happy with how things were unfolding.

“We cannot divulge much as these are still internal matters which are under investigation. What we can however tell you is that the BNSC is checking whether proper procurement processes were followed and the internal audit is ongoing,” Gaseitsiwe said.

Asked about the report of a three-man task team that had allegedly been formed by the BNSC to investigate the matter, the BNSC acting CEO said he could not confirm or deny the existence of such task team.

He however said as per the procedure, the BNSC from time to time forms its own internal structures to look into matters that need investigation. “I however cannot tell what is or was discovered by these structures as such matters are internal matters,” he said.

In response to all of this, Malesu noted that his image and reputation was being destroyed noting that all this is not true and whoever is spreading such information should know that it is defamation of character which he too will sue for. 

“I have never fronted in my life why are people always so negative this is why our sport is failing. It should be noted that Sea Iron under quoted as the was no room for errors and if Sea Iron was my company, I would not have taken the job,” he said.

Adding that the allegations are so serious that the law enforcement agencies are also doing investigations of the matter. He noted that, when the project began, they found out that the land was not level which they had to level. 

He said it was all these small details which were not included in the quotation which took the money hence the company failed to complete the project.

When asked of the matter, BOKA president said there was no issue between his association and the Japanese Embassy over the matter. 

Bathai however confirmed that the BNSC had taken control of finishing the building of the second phase of the BOKA Hall and referred all questions on the matter to the BNSC.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.