Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Botswana Railways CEO fired

Botswana Railways (BR) Chief Executive Officer Dominic Ntwaagae has been fired by the BR board without the approval of the Minister of Transport and Communication Tshenolo Mabeo.

Sunday Standard investigations have established that the BR board has taken a decision to fire Ntwaagae from his position behind the back of the minister in-charge. It is understood that the board recently met and wrote a letter to minister Mabeo informing him about the sacking of the CEO. Mabeo is expected to endorse the board decision.

The board had for sometime put the minister under pressure to sign the dismissal letter.

A close source within the board indicated that “this is long overdue; we will wait and see whether the minister will endorse our decision”.

The source revealed that there is a lot of rot at BR and that something had to be done urgently to prevent escalation.

The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) on the other hand revealed that it has completed investigations surrounding the purchase of passenger coaches which generated fury among locals.

Currently there is a multi million pula tender that the board was forced to reverse as we suspected that the tender was not done procedurally”. The DCEC investigation team has recommended that BR procurement department should also be charged for corrupt practices as they did not follow proper tendering procedures.   

DCEC deputy director for Operations Eugene Wasetso confirmed to Sunday Standard that they are almost complete with investigations surrounding the purchasing of Botswana Railways passenger coaches.

“As DCEC we strongly believe that we have a strong case against those who are implicated in the investigations”. He stated that he is not in a position to disclose the number of people that are implicated.

The investigation took the DCEC team to South Africa where they interrogated a number of Transnet officials. Wasetso said the docket will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecution for advice.

An investigative forensic report revealed how Botswana Railways (BR) management hiked contract values by up to 98% almost doubling the cost of procurement. It also emerged that deserving bidders were qualified and contracts awarded to favored suppliers. Botswana Railways was also investigated over the procurement of 37 coaches from the manufacturer, Transnet from South African. Sunday Standard has turned up information that a high profile businessman with links to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party brokered the controversial deal. Although Transnet has reiterated through South African media that they won the contract “following a public and competitive bidding process”, this contradicts a statement by Transport and Communications Minister, Tshenolo Mabeo that Transnet was picked through selective tendering. Earlier efforts to get clarity from BR officials have proved futile as the organization’s Public Relations Manager Kebabonye Morewagae said only the Chief Executive Officer could provide answers to the question regarding the procurement deal.

Contacted for comment this week Morwaaga told Sunday Standard that, “I am not aware of such allegations”.

Minister Mabeo told Sunday Standard this week that he could not discuss the matter at this juncture at he has not been in the office for some time, adding that the right time will come.

When asked whether he was once questioned by DCEC as part of their investigations, he responded saying “I have not been questioned by DCEC”.

Meanwhile the board chairman Modise Modise could not be reached for comment as his cell phone rang unanswered.

The chairperson Botswana Railways Amalgamated Workers Union (BRAWU) Gaebepe Molaodi said “as we have already said we believe that the law has to take its course”.

The dismissal of the BR boss and recommendations of prosecution against the procurement department is part of an intense two decade long investigation into the parastatal’s long and deep legacy of corruption. The DCEC indicated recently that it would be applying for the extradition of former BR Chief Executive Officer Andrew Lunga to face corruption charges in Botswana. Lunga’s corruption case is the tip of an iceberg as the DCEC cracks down on Botswana Railways’ long legacy of corruption and cover up spanning more than two decades. Sunday Standard has turned up information that while it takes the DCEC about 12 months to investigate reports of corruption, it has taken them two decades to investigate some corruption claims against Botswana Railways because of the seriousness and complexity of the corruption. At least 60 cases of corruption were reported to the DCEC during the period, 25 are being investigated and expected to go for trial while 35 were referred back to management. The DCEC confirmed recently that their investigation against Botswana Railways was initiated in 1994 after receiving the first report of corruption and the last entry in the long running investigation against the parastatal was made five months ago. It has however emerged that a number of star witnesses have died while waiting for the marathon investigations to be concluded and the cases prosecuted. DCEC Deputy Director General, Eugene Wasetso confirmed that the DCEC may be forced to drop some of the cases because some of the star witnesses who had submitted written statements have passed away. Wasetso confirmed that the DCEC is about to conclude its eight year long investigations against former Botswana railways CEO, Andrew Lunga. He explained that Lunga, a Zimbabwean national may be extradited to come and face corruption charges in Botswana.
“Naturally such investigation takes time because of their complexity. Most of our investigations take 12 months to be completed but that is also determined by the gravity of the case and may sometime take much longer that we thought”. Lunga who was fired by Botswana railways eight years ago was given a paltry P5000 (five thousand Pula) golden handshake and told to pack and go immediately.  Lunga went back to Zimbabwe to work for Viamex – an international company which does consultancy work for railways in Southern Africa. He emerged last October as a front ÔÇô runner in the race for CEO of National railways Zimbabwe. He was among five Zimbabweans short listed for the plum post.

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