A raft of confidential documents passed to The Telegraph reveal information suggesting that former Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) Chief Executive Officer, David Falepau, may have been forced to resign in a bid to cover up blunders and the incompetence by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Designated by the European Union as Botswana’s “Central Competent Authority” (CCA), the Department of Veterinary Services in the Ministry of Agriculture is entrusted by the EU with the responsibility of guaranteeing that meat exported to the EU market meets standards for animal health, identification, movement control and traceability and for abattoir and meat hygiene.
An investigation into the BMC de-listing crisis has, however, turned up information that DVS withdrew Botswana from the preferred list of EU beef exporter and later refused to re-licence BMC to export to the EU market because that would have exposed blunders and incompetence at DVS.
A report on BMC “Commissioner research into status of Lobatse Abattoir Relicensing application to Department of Veterinary Services DVS for Access to EU” of November 2011 states that, after a meeting with former BMC Chief Executive Officer David Falepau and a full complement of management, “there was consensus that the main reasons for EU failure was the absence of a credible traceability system LITS in Botswana which is the responsibility of DVS together with an absence, on behalf of DVS, of a credible monitoring schedule/process relating to the EU protocol….indicating that DVS themselves had failed the EU audit”.
The report, which was compiled by Messrs R. Munger and D. Barnes with the assistance of Mr. A Bloxsom, Australian Traceability, Abattoir Expert and Consultant, further states that, “We also had the opinion that DVS were avoiding re-licensing as a diversion of attention from the exposure that they have in the failure of the LITS and FBO monitoring systems, with special reference also to the current failure of “Compliant Feedlot Cattle” becoming non compliant upon being consigned to the FBO.
An inspection by the investigation team last November revealed that the BMC abattoir met EU standards and “we are of the opinion that it is ready to be inspected by DVS.”
The Department, however, refused to inspect the BMC abattoir so that they could give them an EU export licence.
On the evening of 3rd March 2011, the investigating team interviewed the Co-ordinator of the Botswana Agricultural Hub, Mr. Fitt who felt that the BMC was responsible for the non licensing controversy. He told the team that BMC should do everything that DVS demanded. The investigating team of experts, however, “indicated that this was unreasonable and not required and that it was due to DVS incorrect interpretation of how and what was required”.
The investigating team said it sensed tension between Falepau and the co-ordinator of the Botswana Agricultural hub. The team further observed that, Falepau “had a very clear understanding of the process that has to be followed, also in terms of Global EU procedure and that this was not being understood by DVS”.
At some stage the investigating team and BMC agreed on the proposal that, “in the event the DVS persist with their attitude/interpretation/ non-relicensing, BMC should request Arbitration Inspection from an EU qualified consultant. This would expose DVS short comings holistically and delay ÔÇôre admittance to the EU market, but should be considered only in the event of a stalemate”.
This proposal irked the Minister of Agriculture’s Christian De Graaf who entered the fray against Falepau and on the side of DVS and the Coordinator of the Agricultural Hub.
In a letter marked “secret”, De Graaf took a position against the findings of the investigating team saying, “The report basically challenges the competency of the Veterinary Department and even alleges that should the Veterinary insist on their position, the Commissioners would request for Arbitration Inspection from an EU qualified inspector. Such a disposition corroborates the non responsiveness of the Commission to rectifying the shortcomings identified in the European Union audit report and subsequent audit reports by the Veterinary Departments.”
At this stage the battle lines had been drawn between Falepau and Ministry of Agriculture officials and a lot was at stake. The Ministry and the DVS stood to be caught in a lie in their dealing with the EU, that involved falsifying reports to create an impression that Botswana was complying with requirements of the EU beef market.
EU and Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) documents passed to The Telegraph reveal that through a combination of mismanagement, negligence and malfeasance, the Ministry of Agriculture’s (MOA) Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) was responsible for the EU deciding in January 2011 to remove BMC’s Lobatse and Francistown abattoirs from its list of approved export abattoirs. Article 12 of EU Regulation No 854/2004 requires that fresh meat may only be imported into the EU from abattoirs that appear on the EU’s list of approved export abattoirs.
After completing its Veterinary Inspection audit in January 2011, the EU briefed DVS on numerous compliance deficiencies, which DVS knew were serious enough to warrant the EU taking the extreme step of delisting BMC’s two export abattoirs.
This would have forced DVS to undergo a rigorous EU relisting application process which DVS knew would be problematic given the nature and extent of its non-compliance. DVS’ responded by pre-emptively “suspending” its issuance of EU Export Certificates in the hope that it could unilaterally resume issuing EU Export Certificates once the deficiencies had been corrected so that the decision to resume exports would lie with the DVS and not the EU. But it was not to be.
In the Final Report, No. 2011-6119, issued on 20 May 2011 of their January 2011 audit, [which can be downloaded at http://ec.europa.eu/food/fvo/rep_details_en.cfm?rep_id=2667], the EU Veterinary inspectors found that DVS had failed in its role as CCA in three ways. DVS had failed to enforce BMC compliance with EU plant and meat hygiene standards.
DVS itself had failed to comply with EU cattle identification, movement control and traceability standards which is evident from the FAO’s January 2010 Review of the Botswana LITS which found that the bolus traceability system was in a state of systemic failure: “The LlTS has largely failed to meet the expectations of both the Government of Botswana and the beef sector.”
But most alarmingly, DVS had failed to maintain the integrity of the EU export certification system by renewing the annual EU export license of BMC’s Lobatse cannery when DVS knew the cannery was not EU compliant and by falsely attesting in EU Export Certificates to overall compliance with EU standards when DVS knew that neither the BMC nor DVS were compliant. The gravity of the findings caused the EU to write a follow-up letter dated 08 March 2011 to DVS Director Dr. Phillemon-Motsu in which the EU stated that the credibility of EU Export Certificates issued by DVS, and by necessary implication, the credibility of DVS itself, had been called into question.
In other words, the trust that the EU had placed in DVS as CCA to guarantee compliance with EU standards, which in effect is the basis for BMC’s ongoing access to the EU market, had been broken: It is understood that DVS veterinary officers who resisted falsely attesting to compliance in EU Export Certificates were coerced into doing so by their superiors under threat of being reported to the Minister contrary to EU Directive 96-93-EC, which requires that certifying veterinary officers must be completely impartial to maintain the integrity of the EU certification system.
Given the serious nature and extent of DVS’ compliance deficiencies, the EU rejected DVS’ intention to simply suspend issuing EU Export Certificates and demanded that DVS immediately requests the EU to delist BMC’s two export abattoirs failing which the EU would delist them on its own initiative: “We welcome the fact that the competent authority (DVS) has stopped issuing certificates for the meat produced in the two establishments (abattoirs) in Lobatse and Francistown.
In accordance with our administrative procedures, we expect your formal request to remove the entries for those establishments from our EU list until both sides are satisfied that they comply with EU requirements. In case our services do not receive such request within 14 days of date of this letter, the Commission will remove those establishments from the EU list on its own initiative.”
In response to the delisting, the Minister of Agriculture, Christian de Graaf, told Parliament on 31 March 2011:”We subsequently requested the European Commission to temporarily suspend our export abattoirs from the EU list of approved facilities until we have satisfactorily addressed deficiencies observed during the inspection – this is standard practice. It will take us approximately six months to address these deficiencies.”
The Minister’s statement was misleading on three counts.
Firstly, abattoirs cannot be “temporarily suspended” from the EU list of approved abattoirs. They can only be delisted by the EU until such time as the DVS applies for them to be relisted subject to the EU being satisfied that all its requirements for listing are met.
In other words, DVS had no choice but to request that the EU delists BMC’s two export abattoirs failing which the EU would have unilaterally delisted them.
Secondly, the statement that deficiencies “observed during the inspection” suggested that these deficiencies had only been brought to DVS’ attention for the first time during the EU’s January 2011 Veterinary Inspection. In fact most such deficiencies had been known to the DVS for years as EU Inspection Reports some going back to 1999 and the 2010 FAO Report on the LITS confirm.
Thirdly, the delisting BMC’s two EU export abattoirs to address compliance deficiencies is not, and has never been, “standard practice”. To protect the interests of Botswana cattle producers, the EU has historically accommodated DVS’ ongoing compliance deficiencies without resorting to delisting.
In January, however, DVS’ continued failure to enforce compliance and to fully implement agreed action plan items to correct long outstanding compliance deficiencies was seen as a serious potential health and safety risk for EU cattle and consumers.
But the decisive factor was likely the EU’s concern over DVS having compromised the integrity of the EU Export Certification system, and its own credibility, by renewing the annual EU export licence for the BMC’s Lobatse cannery, which DVS knew was not EU compliant, and by issuing EU Export Certificates in which DVS falsely attested to full EU compliance knowing that neither the BMC nor DVS were in compliance.
For many BMC watchers, it did not come as a surprise when Falepau was forced to resign behind the back of many board members. Some board members only heard the news on the street that their CEO had been forced to resign.