Saturday, July 4, 2020

Cabinet caught up in a web of P240 million Covid-19 Tender

The fast-tracked procurement processes adopted by Covid-19 Presidential Task Force will come under renewed scrutiny when Botswana Government this week receives a hefty bill from a South African company that says Covid-19 Presidential Taskforce had approached them to source Personal Protective Equipment and various laboratory test kits from suppliers in China. Sunday Standard has seen a suite of documents exchanged by Covid-19 Task Force officials and Theunis Crous, the Chief Executive Officer of Ehang Africa, a logistics and aviation company with offices in Beijing, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

Crous says if he is not compensated, he will drag Botswana government, through their High Commission in Pretoria to a South African court. He said his lawyers are considering issuing a string of subpoenas that might go all the way to the highest echelons of Botswana government to possibly include President Mokgweetsi Masisi, minister of Health Lemogang Kwape, minister of Finance Thapelo Matsheka and a clutch of senior government officials.

“According to my lawyers if the court case happens, it will have to be in South Africa because that is where the transaction happened. The invoice was issued not in Botswana, but from here [SA},” said Crous.“In all likelihood the president does not know about this, but it is the Government of Botswana that has put me through this,” he added.

Crous says he got a shock of his life when this week he learnt that Botswana government had already paid two companies Mileage Group (PTY) LTD and Pula Rich Investment a combined total of P89 million for the goods for which he was awaiting payment from government after he had been ordered to source them from China. The money awarded to Mileage Group and also to Pula rich Investments shocked many Batswana business people who had also wanted to get a piece of Covid-19 relief money.Botswana Government through Covid-19 Task Force had initially asked Crous to provide a quotation of goods that amounted to $24 million (P240 million.)

That included molecular tests kits, rapid test kits, protective equipment that included gloves, head covers, goggles, disposable plastic aprons, surgical masks, shoe protectors, examination gloves and a plethora of laboratory commodities – all in the thousands a piece.Crous was immediately thereafter asked to remove some goods from his list as the Covid-19 Task Force had found they could get them straight from manufacturer. Crous issued a revised price, down to $17 million, before he was yet again instructed to whittle it down to $13 million after removing more goods.For the most part Covid-19 Task Force was represented in the deal by Dr Mogomotsi Matshaba, who at one point wrote Crous that because government was urgently looking at acquiring the goods if Crous could provide an invoice sooner, payment would be processed that same day.

In the meantime Crous was also urged to book an aircraft that could airlift the goods out of China where he had already asked manufacturers to go ahead and start production.He also booked a cargo Boeing 777 for which he says he paid a deposit.“Because of the global pandemic, just getting a landing slot in Hong-Kong was not easy,” said Crous.The manufacturers in China had wanted a deposit before they could start manufacturing.As delays of payment from Botswana Government continued, Crous said he paid $3 million (P30 million) from his company account so that manufacturing of goods ordered could start in China.“I was totally convinced that I had a deal with Botswana Government. They had been referred to us by an international mining company present in Botswana with which we do a lot of business,” said Crous.

Delays in payment became suspicious to him the moment he was referred to Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Finance Wilfred Mandlebe who mentioned a letter of Credit and a purchase order.But, according to Crous Dr Mandlebe too insisted that Botswana Government still needed the goods that Crous had been asked to source.By that time Crous and his company were clearly growing desperate.They had already issued an invoice as ordered by Botswana Government officials. But the officials had stopped taking calls. And emails were no longer being responded to.

Specifically Crous singles out Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health who he says would not even acknowledge his emails.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.