Thursday, October 28, 2021

BR board member didn’t declare business dealings with BR

The former Assistant Minister of Agriculture and current Botswana Railways board member, Oreeditse Molebatsi, did not declare his business interest in BR until 11 months later. When that happened, he had already done a lot of business with the loss-making parastatal organisation.

Molebatsi, who is now running his businesses in Mahalapye where the BR is headquartered, joined the parastatal’s board in January last year. In a November 1, 2016 letter that he wrote to the BR Board Secretary, Molebatsi says that on being appointed to the board “I did declare that I have two hotels i.e. Maeto Hotel and Maeto Lodge. I also have Maeto Travel & Tours and Maeto Bureau du Change. The above-mentioned hotels and Travel & Tours minibuses and Quantums have been used by BR staff before and they continue to use our services. The directors of these companies are myself, O. S. Molebatsi and my wife, B.B. Molebatsi.”

The most remarkable thing about this letter is that it seeks to equate declaring one business interests with declaring that one has business interest in an organisation that he is a board member of. As the letter shows, when Molebatsi joined BR he declared his business interests but didn’t tell the board that his companies were doing business with BR until after the fact. The written declaration should have been made when the commercial relationship between his companies and BR started. With no such declaration having been made, there was conflict of interest on the part of the former minister.

Documents passed to Sunday Standard show recent payments that were made to Maeto Lodge and Maeto Travel & Tours. The former was paid P39 433.19 for accommodation, meals and conference facilities while the latter was paid P179 245 for the use of its buses.

Late last month, the BR board was implicated in a conflict-of-interest controversy when it appointed one of its own (Lesedi Moakofhi) as Managing Director of one of BR subsidiaries ÔÇô the Gaborone Container Terminal commonly known as Gabcon. A source at the Ministry of Transport and Communications says that there is an active favours-trading scheme within the BR board that makes it difficult for adhere to principles of corporate governance.

In terms of corporate governance principles, board members are not supposed to do personal-private business with companies whose boards they sit on because their interests may be at odds with those of such companies. There is a very good reason for that: a board member may aggressively lobby for a particular policy because its implementation would benefit him or her personally. However, there is no hard-and-fast rule that board members should not do business with companies that they are associated with through board membership. However, when that happens, they are required to declare such interest and recuse themselves from processes where they would be conflicted.

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