Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Former Museum director takes stand in defamation case

The former Director of the National Museum and Arts Gallery, Tjako Mpulubusi, spent the first half of last Friday lamenting how he lost a fully resourced dairy farm to a Specially Elected councillor in the Central District Council who is now suing him for defamation. The councillor is Banthasetse Merementsi, who represented Kodibeleng, a small village 15 kilometres west of Shoshong, until 2019 and has returned to the CDC as a Specially Elected member. In his evidence in chief, Mpulubusi told the court that Merementsi came to acquire his dairy farm in Otse in an illegal manner.

Through Sedze Ramantswe Investment, Mpulubusi acquired a P272 000 loan from the National Development Bank. In his personal capacity, Mpulubusi applied for and was given an adjoining piece of land. When Sedze Ramantswe Investment defaulted on the loan repayment, the bank seized and sold the farm by auction. The latter task fell to Deputy Sheriff Waheng who was acting on the bank’s behalf. Mpulubusi told Justice Itumeleng Segopolo, whose court is collocated within the Broadhurst Magistrate Court, that a couple of days before the auction, Waheng told him to round up the cattle that were to be auctioned off. Never once the latter show him a copy of the advertisment – which in terms of the law, should have been published in the Government Gazette.

Mpulubusi testified that having attended numerous Central Transport Organisation public auctions in his personal capacity, he understood how auctions of this nature were conducted. One example he cited was that the goods to be auctioned off are assigned lot numbers and reserve prices are set for each lot. However, that was not the case at the auction that was held on Mpulubusi’s farm which was attended by only four people: himself, his herdsman, Waheng and Merementsi. All told, the property included the farmland itself as well as the following: 14 dairy cows – mixed breed of brown Swiss and Friesian; six cattle of Tswana/Brown Swiss; 10 calves all branded “TLA”; one female ostrich; three pigs; one deep freezer; 1 400-litre cooling tank; one batch pasteurizing machine; one HR2 Lister engine and generator combined; 39 50mm galvanized pipes with mono head 1.5ky moto; 1 gypsy trailer caravan; 1 48kg gas cylinder; and 1 19kg gas cylinder.

Merementsi bid P140 000 but Waheng rejected Mpulubusi’s own and higher bid for P150 000, saying that he (Mpulubusi) had not registered to participate in the auction. The result was that the farm came into the possession of the only registered bidder –Merementsi.

Some two or three months after auction, Merementsi came around and told Mpulubusi to move out of the farm. Mpulubusi obliged, relocating his trailer caravan camp into the adjoining farm allocated to him in his personal capacity.

Much later, Mpulubusi said that he would discover that the auction was fraught with a slew of anomalies: he received a statement of account from NDB for a loan he had never taken out; while he had written “about 14 or 15 letters” to the Francistown High Court – which had initiated the action against him, he found none of those letter in his court file; the file would mysteriously disappear and re-appear; and while conditions of sale required lump-sum cash payment or a bank-guaranteed cheque, Merementsi had himself paid by instalments. In restating the latter point in his testimony, Mpulubusi said that on investigating this matter further, an NDB officer told him that “the person who acquired the farm didn’t actually buy it because he didn’t have money.” Mpulubusi never got to elaborate on this particular episode but he also told the court about a visit to the Deeds registry in Francistown where he also made more shocking discoveries.

While tangentially related to the defamation case, the auction was not itself the cause. With as much information as he acquired during the course of a painstaking, years-long investigation, Mpulubusi felt confident enough to make damning accusations against Merementsi in a letter that he wrote to the Council Secretary of the Central District Council.

The all-caps title of the “strictly confidential” letter does more than sum the matter up: “I, Tjako Mpulubusi, humbly requests your invoking executive powers vested upon you to verify whether Councillor [Banthasetse] Merementsi’s conduct conforms and complies with the code of conduct and ethics expected of a BDP councillor when he indulges in the recidivistic surreptitious collusions with a rogue NDB syndicate characterized [by] misinforming authorities, faking acquisitions of attached properties disregarding terms and conditions stipulated in the High Court writ and repeatedly making false statements to public officers while he is under oath (Oct 2004-2017)” The first paragraph of the letter uses language as robust: “I find myself submerged in a very unpleasant situation in search of avenues to find justice and inform those with powers about a scandalous scam at NDB where one of the very senior councillors has been swimming in an ocean of rot as stated above with the sole purpose to acquire properties unlawfully with the assistance of NDB.”

On Friday, Mpulubusi told the court that the letter was meant for the Council Secretary’s eyes only and that the other addressee (the District Commissioner) never received a copy of the letter. Mpulubusi explained that he wrote the letter for two reasons: to officialise his grievances about the manner in which NDB had participated in a fraudulent scheme to dispossess him of his farm and to blow the whistle on the complicity of a parastatal organisation in such scheme.

At some time in the past, Mpulubusi reported the matter to the Directorate on CEC and did actually get to meet the former Director General, Rose Seretse – who has since been redeployed to the Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority. DCEC investigators would also meet Mpulubusi in Mahalapye where he produced some more documents to back up his case. That effort didn’t help and DCEC cleared Merementsi of criminal wrongdoing.

“These documents were analysed and cross-checked accordingly and they couldn’t change the complexion of the case. As such, the investigations carried out did not reveal any relationship between the Sheriff and Mr. Merementsi that could amount to conflict. The enquiries could also not reveal any element of corruption perpetrated by either the bank employees or court officials who handled the matter. This communique therefore informs you that the enquiries in the matter were closed due to insufficient evidence,” reads the letter from DCEC investigators.

The two men have also tussled in another court and Mpulubusi won. Way after the transfer process had been completed, Merementsi discovered that the dairy farm had been extended prior to the auction. Resultantly, he asked the Shoshong Sub-Land Board to grant him rights to the additional piece of land. The request was denied on the reasoning that the additional land had not been affected by the auction sale. The Sub-Land Board directed that in order to avoid any confusion, the additional land should be registered in Mpulubusi’s name. Dissatisfied with this ruling, Merementsi appealed to the Ngwato Land Board, which, in turn, upheld the ruling of the Shoshong Sub-Land Board. However, it also ruled that Mpulubusi was himself not entitled to the extension as it was erroneously made. On the basis of the latter, it ruled that the addendum be cancelled and that the additional land be returned to it for re-allocation.

However, the Palapye Land Tribunal would later find that the two pieces were actually never consolidated because at the time of the auction sale and that the additional piece of land had not been registered under the Deeds Registry Act. It also found that the additional piece had never been registered by a registered surveyor and approved by the Director of Surveys and Mapping. The latter are standard legal requirements. On the basis of the foregoing, the Tribunal concluded that while granted for purposes of extending the dairy farm, the additional piece of land remained outside the registered title deed and was held as a personal right to Mpulubusi.

On such basis, the Tribunal ruled that Merementsi was contractually entitled only to the land he bought at auction and had failed to establish legal basis for why he was entitled to the additional piece of land which Mpulubusi owned personally and not through his company.

The Ngwato Land Board also lost in its claim to have the additional land returned to it for allocation and from what the judgement says, scored an own goal. In minutes that dealt with this matter at one of its meetings, the Landboard had, without giving reasons, stated that the extension was erroneous. The Tribunal couldn’t discern any error on the basis of the papers before it and thus threw out the Land Board’s claim. Resultantly, it ruled that Mpulubusi still holds the rights to the additional piece of land unless such rights are cancelled in terms of the Tribal Land Act.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.