Sunday, July 25, 2021

Former BPC boss challenges dismissal in court

BY JOSEPH BALISE

The Francistown Industrial Court on Thursday heard the case in which former Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) chief operations officer (COO), Jonathan Raheem Hosseini, is challenging his dismissal from the corporation and seeks reinstatement.

The case did not take off to a smooth start as the presiding judge Galesite Baruti sought to understand whether or not the parties had explored out of court settlement possibilities as the mandate of the court encouraged harmonious working industrial relations.

Appearing for Hosseini, attorney Tswelopelo Mere of Mere Attorneys indicated that they were prepared to proceed with the case as the door to settlement had been shut by the respondent (BPC. That notwithstanding, Mere indicated to the court that his client was still amenable to an out of court settlement as their doors for settlement still remained open despite the widening gap in pursuing a settlement.

In reply, attorney Tengo Rubadiri, representing BPC also indicated that the corporation was looking at an out of court settlement as the applicant sought reinstatement and that there is no matter that cannot be settled out of court if the litigating parties are not poles apart in exploring that avenue.

However, Judge Baruti said it is evident that the distance between the litigating parties is distant and as such it would be ideal to proceed hearing the case although the court would be amenable even at later stage to have the case withdrawn if the parties decide to settle out of court in due course of the proceedings, especially that the case is too involving with voluminous documents filed for court’s perusal before a determination could be reached.

However, for the whole morning the case did not proceed as Rubadiri advised that to make the court work easier, the applicants had to paginate their papers for ease of reference which was granted  and took the whole morning to conclude.

When the proceedings eventually started around lunch time, Hosseini took to the witness stand and enumerated events that lead to his appointment as chief operating officer on May 22, 2017 as an understudy to the chief executive officer in a succession plan to eventually take over the throne at a later stage.

Hosseini, who reported directly to the CEO explained that after being interviewed and granted the job which he accepted, his roles in the corporation included line management of the corporation’s core deliverables of national power generation, transmission, distribution as well as customer service functions and corporate services as his strength in time of recruitment was identified from his previous experience in the renewable energy sector of which his family business have a foundational background on.

The former COO explained that when he applied for the job and selected for interview, the job interview centered on his curriculum vitae, career path, presentation of a scenario the board presented of its operations and his experience in the renewable energy sector.

He explained that during the interview, the interviewing panel scrutinized thoroughly possible areas of conflict of interest particularly that his parents business was involved in some BPC projects.

To this extent, after being offered and taking up the job, he was made to fill out a standard declaration form of interest as it was a known fact that he had grown in an environment in which his family businesses specialized in renewable energy and had dealings and or running contracts with the corporation.

Hosseini told the court that during his tenure with the corporation he had a good working relationship with the CEO and individual members of the BPC board and that prior to his joining, the corporation had issues two big tenders for renewable solar energy projects.

To avoid conflict of interest, Hosseini explained that frequently he recused himself from tender meetings in which possible conflict of interest was potentially imminent and timeously filled the required declaration forms.

Hosseini told the court that in the month of August 2017, he met the then Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security Sadique Kebonang who informed him that BPC had  a project in Tobela village whose progress was not satisfactory, and to that extent he was disappointed with the contract execution.

He said he explained to the Minister that the project in question involved his family business and the Tobela community and expressed his fear of possible conflict of interest were the project to be taken over by BPC since it would fall directly under his line of duty.

Following the minister’s unscheduled meeting at Airport junction, Hosseini said he took it upon himself to inform the CEO of his encounter with the then minister and relayed the concern that the mister had expressed especially that the project did not fall under BPC at the time of his unscheduled meeting with the minister.

It turned out in his interactions with the CEO that he was all the time alive to the fact he had been hired on the strength and knowledge of renewable solar energy projects and had to maintain and execute projects within BPC in his line of expertise. According to Hosseini, he also informed the general manager responsible for internal audit regarding his unscheduled meeting with the minister.

However, on January 24 2018 the CEO Dr Stefan Peter Schwarzfischer issued an email addressed to the executive team and those involved that there was conflict of interest emanating from his family business and he was subsequently removed from accountability on the on the project on the basis of the alleged conflict.

At this point in time, BPC general counsel sought a second opinion no how to proceed with the matter at hand and the opinion was tendered by attorney Lawrence Khupe who advised that in his view there was no conflict of interest.

According to Hosseini,  Khupe advised BPC that were the corporation to terminate my services on the allegations of the conflict of interest issue as it then prevailed, it would be an unlawful act and following that advise he got divorced from solar energy projects supervision.

To his utter surprise, on 19th March 2018, he was given a letter of suspension by BPC CEO on charges of conflict of interest and the suspension was to run for a full month while the corporation pursued further investigations on the matter.

“The suspension came as a great shock to me. The only plausible explanation for the suspension was that on March 13, during a board tender committee meeting, the general manager (generation) presented a board paper related to a large contract at Morupule A. The gist of the paper was a request to rescind the previous award of the tender to the contractor upon discovery of a litany of irregularities done by the awarded company being Feedback Power of Indian origin”, Hosseini told the court.

It also came to light that the BPC had blacklisted Feedback Power hence the request for the rescission of the tender award to the company.

The BPC board however overruled the executive committee decision and relations between some executive management team members and the board continued to deteriorate to the extent that board member Professor Motshegwa openly castigated the executive management.

On the 7th June 2018 Hosseini was charged with six counts of failure to declare interest, insider trading, abuse of office, conflict of interest, dishonesty, breach of trust and confidence and was subject to a disciplinary hearing which exonerated him of all the charges.

Despite the exoneration, he was finally dismissed from wok on 28th August 2018 and has since been fighting for his reinstatement with the institution of the court case.

The case is scheduled to continue on June 25th and 26th.

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