In a scene reminiscent of action packed thriller movie, Botswana’s security apparatus on Tuesday descended on Botho University and arrested one of the school’s top executives.
The school raid, which left Botho’s staff and students distraught, ended with the arrest of Meenakshie Sundaram Karuppaswammy on allegations of improper diamond dealings. Karuppaswammy, a key figure in the private university, was at the time of his arrest head of department in the faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Botswana, home to the biggest diamond mine by value, has tough laws regarding the handling of diamonds which are the mainstay of the economy. Under the country’s Precious and Semi-Precious Stones Act, it is prohibited to buy, deal in or receive by way of barter, pledge or otherwise, either as a principal or agent, any rough or uncut precious stones, unless the person has duly been authorised to deal in rough or uncut precious stones as a buyer or seller.
Any person who contravenes the provision stated above when found guilty of an offence is liable to an imprisonment term not less than five years but not exceeding 15 years. While it is yet to be determined the extent of Karuppaswammy’s transgressions, there other allegations which have emerged that his names do not match the ones used in his working permit.
The arrest of a leading figure in Botho University sheds light in the workings of the private universities in Botswana which have been fighting allegations of lax corporate structure despite being beneficiaries of billions of pula from the Botswana government in the form of sponsorships given to citizen students. The allegations range from nepotism, appointment of unqualified lecturers, offering unaccredited courses, defrauding the government through ghost students and other costs associated with students which are usually inflated.
Following the arrest of Karuppaswammy, Botho University is being cast under the spotlight at the wrong time as they are about to embark on the second retrenchment of the year. Earlier this year, the biggest private university in the country, retrenched close to hundred staff members. The remaining staff, left traumatized by the axe that fell on the colleagues, find themselves in another predicament as the university forges ahead with another retrenchment exercise.
The school has previously explained that the retrenchments were the result of declining number of students being sponsored by the government. In the last two years, the under pressure Botswana government which is grappling with the highest number of unemployed graduates in its history since independence, has stopped sponsoring students for certain courses, and even the courses which students are being sponsored for have to take a set number of students.
The government decision had caught many private universities with their snouts still in the trough off guard, resulting in disarray. Faced with the reduced millions of pulas received from government, the private universities resorted to retrenchments. However, the actions of the private universities have been blasted by many people who questioned the universities’ business model which was hinged on absorbing as many government sponsored students as possible, with some even lowering entry points to widen the net.
Botho University’s reputation was battered last year when students went on a strike that resulted in the university’s two campuses temporarily closing as tensions reached new highs. The chief concerns were unaccredited courses, and heavy handed school management which has been accused of assuming a hard stance towards dissent.