Tuesday, January 19, 2021

CEO suspension opens BTC can of worms

Allegations of corruption and political interference at the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation are flying fast and thick at Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) following the suspension of the company CEO ÔÇô Thapelo Lippe.

Lippe was suspended a few weeks after unplugging the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) from the BTC grid because the spy organisation owed the corporation P30 million in unpaid bills and would not pay up.

BTC staff members this week told Sunday Standard that Lippe’s suspension also came a few says after Lippe allegedly complained to the Ministry of Information Technology that some board members may be involved in a corrupt deal with a Chinese company interested in doing business with BTC as a vendor.

BTC currently uses two vendors, Ericsson from Sweden and Huawei from China. A second Chinese group is allegedly trying to muscle in and recently held a meeting with some BTC board members even before the corporation could complete the tendering process for a third vendor.

The case is believed to be a subject of investigations by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC).
Lippe is also reported to have been suspended after BTC lost close to P 2 million in a scam involving the online purchase of tickets for the Fifa World Cup to be held in South Africa later this year.

Around March last year, BTC bought tickets from a company that allegedly ran a scam selling world cup tickets online.

BTC purchased the tickets from the company based in the Caribbean Islands, with the objective of using them in their local promotions. But since transferring the funds through a local bank, BTC has not received any acknowledgement of receipt from the company.

Detective Assistant Superintendent Chifana Toitoi of the fraud unit of the Serious Crime Squad on Monday confirmed that they are investigating a case in which BTC might have been swindled of millions of Pula in a World Cup ticket scam.

“We have not made any headway because this is a fresh matter. We have, however, consulted Interpol to assist us with investigations,” he said. The Attorney Generals Chambers have also been brought in to try and get back the BTC money from the company.

It is understood that the Office of the President has also been dragged into the BTC fray. This comes after a local company linked to some influential Batswana complained to the Office of the President that Lippe would not do business with them.

Meanwhile, a local firm of auditors, Delloitte and Touch├®, has been engaged to do a forensic audit of the goings on at BTC.

“It’s our opinion that there are serious internal issues. But we are still looking around,” said BTC board Chairman, Len Makwinja, before adding that the Board has “complied” with all the parastatal’s regulations before suspending its Chief Executive

He indicated internal investigations will start with immediate effect.
“Of course, there are problems, but for now those are internal problems,” said Makwinja.

He said the Board would be making a formal announcement as to who will be acting during Lippe’s suspension. Makwinja started speaking in turns in December last year when Lippe said in an interview that the Board had given him a go ahead to implement staff bonuses only for Makwinja to contradict him by saying there were “outstanding issues” he wanted sorted out first.
At the time, Makwinja said he had given himself a month to digest all the outstanding issues.

Two months hence, by the look of things, it would look like after a period of self enforced digestion, Makwinja and his team do not like the picture that is emerging at BTC.

A strong-willed personality, Lippe has been at odds with a section of the Board who felt that BTC executive management had not met and fulfilled certain rules and regulations of the Corporation’s bonus Policy.

A former Chief Executive of Orange Botswana, Lippe has been steadfast that BTC had to pay bonuses to deserving employees.

At the time, one Board Member was quoted in the Sunday Standard saying they were worried that if the BTC Bonus Policy was not followed, Directors risked being sued in their individual capacities.

Makwinja would not say if the staff bonuses remained at the centre of contention between his Board and Lippe.
Lippe would not comment, saying he was still a BTC employee.

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