Monday, January 30, 2023

BR CEO steps down a month early, might return

Tomorrow is Dominic Ntwaagae’s last day at work but from what Sunday Standard learns, he might return as Botswana Railways Chief Executive Officer.

Ntwaagae was supposed to have stepped down next month when his contract officially ends but decided to do so a month earlier. It is unclear why he did so but that may have had something to do with a tumultuous relationship with the previous Board of Management which the Minister of Transport and Communications, Kitso Mokaila, dissolved last week and appointed a new one. One of the tasks that the new board will tackle is the recruitment of a new CEO. The post was advertised late last year and Ntwaagae is said to have applied ÔÇô which is unusual because under normal circumstances, CEOs’ contracts are renewed while they are still in post. If Ntwaagae makes the grade, he will return to helm BR and under a completely new environment.

The relationship between old board and CEO was very bad – so bad that the latter was almost fired last year at the insistence of the board. This followed a messy procurement deal with a South African company called Transnet Engineering. The company was contracted to supply BR with 37 coaches ahead of the resumption of a passenger train service between Lobatse and Francistown. A source says that while there was negligence, there certainly was no corruption in this deal. At the time the minister was Tshenolo Mabeo, who was redeployed during last year’s cabinet reshuffle.

Following a meeting, the board took a resolution to fire Ntwaagae. However, the government system works in such manner that the board can only make a recommendation to the minister who has the final say. Mabeo is said to have refused to endorse the board’s decision for three reasons. Firstly, the board appeared to want him to rubberstamp its decision and not exercise his discretion as minister. Secondly, he questioned why Ntwaagae had to be fired for just one case of alleged corruption which was still being investigated when there are many more such cases that DCEC is still trying to unravel. The Directorate is said to be investigating 25 cases of alleged corruption at the parastatal. The source says that in one fatefully important way, Ntwaagae’s exit would have had the effect of killing off some of those investigations. Thirdly, Mabeo is said to have discovered that Ntwaagae’s replacement was already waiting in the wings, which discovery raised serious doubts about the board’s real intentions. In the end, Mabeo decided that he was not going to endorse the board’s decision to fire Ntwaagae. This is said to have reflected the minister’s own belief about the CEO’s own role in the Transnet deal.

Ntwaagae also failed to get on the same page with the board with regard to the appointment of one of its own, Lesedi Moakofhi, as Managing Director for a BR subsidiary ÔÇô the Gaborone Container Terminal (Gabcon). In a letter to Legodile Serema, the Chairman of the Gabcon Board of Management, Ntwaagae made the point that Moakofhi’s hiring flew in the face of corporate governance ideals.

It would have been interesting to see what becomes of Ntwaagae’s candidature in a scenario where the old board was still in post. Some board members would have interviewed him and the bad blood between the parties would definitely have been a factor during such interaction.


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