Thursday, October 28, 2021

BPOPF used to hold no interest for Govt Enclave top dogs

It may be hard to believe this in 2018 but there actually was a time when the Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF) held any interest for senior government officials at the Government Enclave.

Now worth P60 billion, BPOPF’s big-money story begins in 2001 when the government changed public officer’s pension arrangement from a defined benefit pension scheme to a defined contribution pension scheme.

“The Fund has experienced phenomenal growth since its inception owing to the overwhelming positive response as public servants exercised their option to join the fund,” BPOPF says on its website.

Before such growth, the Fund’s offices were located at a nondescript, minimally-staffed office near Gaborone Secondary School. Most civil servants had not joined the Fund then and as a result, the latter was not worth a lot of money. In terms of the Fund’s rules, the government was to be represented in the Board of Trustees and a source recalls that then, no permanent secretary was too eager to attend board meetings. This level of disinterest was such that when a board meeting was held, junior officers would be delegated to attend.

Then more members joined up, causing the Fund’s value to rise and at a point that the billion-pula mark was crossed, the upper echelons of Government Enclave began to take notice. In 2013, all nine members of the Board of Trustees were fired and replaced with senior government officials, among them permanent secretaries.  

At least from some press reportage, senior government officials have been personally linked in one way or another to asset managers who have vied for BPOPF’s billions. The Fund is currently embroiled in legal dispute with Capital Management Botswana (CMB) Capital whose head, Rapula Okaile, is a former senior official of the Directorate of Public Service Management and on account of the latter, once served as Chairman of BPOPF’s Board of Trustees. Media reports would later indicate that the Office of the President hatched a plot to appoint Okaile BPOPF CEO by toppling the person who held the position at the time, Ephraim Letebele. While Letebele ÔÇô who actually built up the Fund from nothing, was indeed later toppled, Okaile also never became CEO. He instead left the civil service and became part of a company that now does business with BPOPF. It has emerged that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime is investigating the Permanent Secretary to the President and current Chairman of BPOPF’s Board of Trustees, Carter Morupisi, for unethical links to CMB.

The Board of Trustees includes representatives of employees in the form of trade union leaders. These people have a lot of say in how the Fund is managed and it has been credibly alleged that senior government officials meddle in the affairs of individual trade unions (notably the election of office holders at national elective congresses) to ensure that those who end up as BPOPF trustees will not frustrate a nefarious agenda to control the Fund. The years-long persecution of the executive secretary of the Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, is said to have been part of a plot to remove him from a position where he could end up as a BPOPF trustee. The plot failed and Motshegwa has become a thorn in the side of senior government officials at the Government Enclave.

The Fund is the brain child of old-school economists, notably the late Baledzi Gaolathe who served a stint as finance minister, who saw it as an citizen economic empowerment vehicle and not as a gravy train that they could ride dirty on as unticketed passengers.

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