Thursday, October 28, 2021

Dodgy, dodgy …mirror on the wall say the truth

Minister Kitso Mokaila was moved from the Ministry of Minerals Energy and Water Resources because he was blocking a bid by the Office of the President to parcel out the multi-billion Pula North South Carrier 11 contract to South Africa-based Malawian billionaire Simbi Phiri ÔÇô Sunday Standard investigations have revealed.

The contract provides a peep show into the influence peddling and power struggle inside President Ian Khama’s inner circle. Phiri who has a penchant for connections with influential politicians finds himself in a bitter love triangle with warring factions inside Khama’s close circle of friends.

The Malawian first made headlines when he paid Khama’s cousin and former Cabinet Minister Ramadeluka Seretse P1,5 million to register his company, Khato Civil with the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB).

The business relationship between Phiri and Seretse came at a time when the latter was embroiled in a bitter fight with Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) Director General Isaac Kgosi. The Khato Civil executive Chairman then switched camps and aligned with the DIS boss who has Khama’s ear.

In 2016, Phiri who may have been aware of the close relationship between Seretse and the then Minister of Minerals Energy and Water Resources Mokaila by-passed him and went to the very top – the Office of the President – where he presented an unsolicited bid for the North-South Carrier II Project.

Mokaila, however, rejected the proposal arguing that the 120mm pipes proposed by Khato Civil were smaller than the ones currently used on the North South Carrier and would present expensive problems.

Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that Mokaila further presented a dossier of press clips to Khama’s Private Secretary detailing the involvement of Khato Civil in a dodgy multi-million Rand water project in South Africa.

Khato Civil was among three companies implicated in South Africa’s shady tender process and ministerial intervention in a 2014 controversial water project aimed at ensuring a consistent supply of water to the Limpopo town of Giyani and surrounding villages. Despite R170 million that was paid to the three companies, Giyani residents still had a water crisis.

A delegation from Mokaila’s Ministry comprising the Permanent Secretary and his deputies was flown to Giyani for an on-the-ground assessment of the situation. Ironically, when they came back, they backed Phiri’s bid. Mokaila, however, dug in his heels and insisted on an open tender.

The Ministry then issued a pre-qualification tender inviting a number of companies to submit bids. At least 16 companies submitted and Khato civil came 13th, failing to make the top eight cut for the prequalification short list.

The adjudicating panel felt that Khato Civils did not have the capacity to carry out a project the size of North South Carrier 11. The adjudication took place in September 2016 and notably a few days after that, Khama restructured and reshuffled his Cabinet and Mokaila was redeployed to the ministry of Transport and Communications.

The Ministry was restricted as Ministry of Mineral Resources Green Technology and Energy Security. The portfolio of Water Resources as hived off to the Ministry of Lands and Housing which was rebranded Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, under Minister Prince Maele.

Curiously, at the time there were questions over Maele’s relationship with Phiri after the minister granted Khato Civils Botswana a change of land use permission for a P3.4 million farm at Gaborone North under controversial circumstances.

Sunday Standard has turned up information that Phiri sponsored a lavish Bot50 celebration party at a Sandton upmarket Hotel in South Africa, and Minister Maele was one of the Botswana government officials who attended the event.

After Maele took over the North South Carrier 11 project, the tender which had disqualified Khato Civils was cancelled and his ministry instructed the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board to unbundle the project.

As a result, the PPADB is currently drawing a new tender to split, the North South Carrier 11 project into three stations and one pump station, making up four parts. Under the new arrangement, Khato Civil would qualify for any of the subdivided four parts.

Responding to Sunday Standard questions this week, Maele denied that he instructed the PPADB to unbundle the North South Career II Project. “As the minister I cannot do that. What your sources are telling you can be described as hogwash.” he said. The Minister also denied allegations that he was invited to attend a party to celebrate Botswana’s 50th anniversary in Johannesburg.

In an email response to questions, PPADB spokesperson Keemenao Jappie, however, stated that, “PPADB is aware of a pre-qualification tender that was issued for the North South Carrier II project which closed on 7th September 2016.”

He added that: “Please note that the pre-qualification tender was not progressed to conclusion as the Procuring Entity changed its approach and submitted a recommendation to unable the project and issue and open domestic tender.” The Procuring Entity is Minister Maele’s Ministry.

According to Jappie, the reason given by the Procuring Entity for changing the approach was to speed up the implementation of the delayed project by involving more contractors to execute the unbundled project. The Board approved the Procuring Entity’s recommendation.”

Asked what the status of the project is, Jappie stated that: “PPADB is awaiting the submission of tender documents by the Ministry for the unbundled project for vetting prior to issuance.”

Responding to Sunday Standard enquiries, Chief Executive of Khato Holdings, Mongezi Mnyani said that during February 2016, a presentation was made to the representatives of Botswana government about the capabilities of Khato Civils and proposal on how the project could be executed using the latest technology and equipment and therefore shortening the time and cost towards the completion of the project.

“During this visit, the representatives were taken to one of the construction sites in order to witness and confirm that Khato Civils has indeed the required capacity to undertake such projects. The delegation also visited other companies within South Africa in order to compare and make proper assessment regarding their capacity and strength,” said Mnyani.

He said Khato Civils cannot dictate to Botswana government on how to undertake the process of procurement for its projects.

“It is the responsibility of Botswana government not Khato Civils to make a decision based on their laws and regulations on how the project should be procured and executed,” he said.

On allegations that Maele instructed PPADB to unbundle the project, Mnyani said: “Khato Civils is a private company and we will never at any stage instruct any government in the world on how to conduct its business and how to source service providers.”

He added that: “As a matter of principle and law, Khato Civils does not at any stage accept work that has not been awarded through proper channels as stipulated in the policies and regulation governing the procurement of goods and services for government or state entity.”

Mnyani also denied as untrue reports that Khato Civils had invited Maele to the Botswana 50th Anniversary.

“At the request of the Botswana High Commissioner to South Africa, Khato Civils was requested to be one of the sponsors of the event and that was our only role we played in these celebrations. We never invited nor met any Ministers in this event,” said Mnyani.

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