Sunday, November 27, 2022

DCEC fingers BTC multimillion Pula advertising contract

The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) continues to look into how Botswana Telecommunications Corporation awarded a multi-million Pula advertising contract to a South African firm, Interbrand Sampson.

DCEC joined the fray after local advertising firms cried foul and requested the intervention of Nonofo Molefhi, the Minister of Communications under whose watch BTC falls.

When the controversy broke out last year, local firms complained that at the time that Interbrand Sampson was given the contract, the South African firm had no presence in Botswana, even local presence was one of the bid’s key requirements.

After Sunday Standard broke the story, BTC instituted internal investigations.

This week the BTC Group Communications Manager, Golekanye Molapisi, said investigations by BTC had concluded that the process was free of any corruption.

While BTC has cleared itself, independent investigations by DCEC continue.

“We do confirm that the award┬á of the tender was┬á at some stage┬á the subject of an investigation by the DCEC┬á and BTC representatives┬á┬á were┬á called to appear before the Directorate,” said Molapisi.
He would not go as far as to say if Interbrand Sampson would continue as the service provider, or if the internal investigations had found the firm to have met all the bid’s stated requirements.

“The view was to seek a single company with capacity and expertise┬á to provide┬á all services required as the contracts of the two companies that had been providing service to BTC had expired,” said Molapisi.

His view, however, falls short of answering key complaints raised by a number of Botswana advertising firms at the time who had alleged that over and above not having a presence in Botswana, the winning South African firm had engaged as their key man, Booster Galesekegwe, who they alleged had no advertising background.

Two advertising firms, Hotwire and Leapfrog, had spearheaded the challenge against BTC’s governance structures over the bid.

Managing director of Hotwire, Kabelo Binns, had gone as far as to ask the Chairman of BTC Board, Len Makwinja, to also intervene on behalf of citizen firms:┬á “Their [Interbrand’s] man on the ground, Booster, who as far as I recall has never worked in an agency environment will be hard pressed to deliver this one. We look up to you to guard the interests of us the hard working, taxpaying, young entrepreneurs that employ other Batswana. This situation we see here would never happen in South Africa; a company from Botswana taking a Telkom Account? Never!” Binns said in his letter to Makwinja.

For his part, Thapelo Pabalinga of Leap Frog said BTC behaviour was a glaring example of how far Botswana still had to go before the national policy of citizen economic empowerment could be internalised even by state owned companies like BTC.

“The question that we should ask ourselves is whether it could ever happen in South Africa that a Botswana advertising agency with no representation in South Africa could win such a big tender in that country?” asked Pabalinga.
 
BTC’s Molapisi has also confirmed that indeed some BTC executives have appeared before DCEC to answer questions on how the contract was awarded.

“We do confirm that the award of the tender was at some stage the subject of an investigation by the DCEC and BTC representatives┬á┬á were called to appear before the Directorate,” said Molapisi.

Of interest to DCEC would be minutes of the BTC Management Sub Tender Committee Meeting, which, among other things, indicate that some senior members of the BTC management had serious reservations about appointing a South African company.

The minutes quote one senior executive wondering how it could be that “existing BTC Agencies were scored very low and assuming that they had been doing work for BTC for 2 to 3 years they could be having experience working in the telecommunications market. The Chairperson further observed how a supplier placed in South Africa could score higher than the local agencies, and he wanted to know how they would know the Botswana market.”

“…The meeting felt that in terms of value, the bidder Inter-Brand-Sampson may not be the right company because there were also issues of scope…. The Chairperson felt that the names of the suppliers [Inter-Brand-Sampson] sounded like brand consultancy and wondered how the scope was.”

As one of the biggest companies in Botswana, operating a fixed line as well as a mobile wing, BTC budget for advertising, public relations, communications and public relations is easily among the biggest in the country.

According to Molapisi, the contract given to Inter-Brand-Sampson had been expected to run for two years.

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