Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Inside the BMC gravy train

Former Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) directors fleeced cattle farmers of millions of pula through expenses claims.

The board members, who come across as feather-bedded fat cats, double dipped the BMC coffers for generous fees and allowances and spent the rest of the money on business class air fares, five star hotels, and entertainment while holding board meetings at exotic destinations.

Documents passed to the Sunday Standard reveal that the BMC bosses gilded lifestyle continued even after a report by an Irish consultancy firm revealed that farmers were underpaid for their cattle while an inordinate amount of money was splashed of bosses travel expenses. That was until expelled former Chief Executive Officer David Falepau decided to put a stop to the gravy train.

With an estimated 13 subsidiaries all over the world, former BMC Chief Executive Officer, (name withheld because we could not reach him for comments) and his board comprising Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Marcus Chimbombi, were literally living in their suitcases and making a lot of money in directors’ fees and travel allowances which were paid in Pounds.

According to documents passed to the Sunday Standard, the former BMC Chief Executive Officer cost the commission GB £32, 458,00 (about P400 000) to attend four UK holdings meetings between March and November. From the P400 000, more than P 200 000 went into his pocket as fees and allowances for attending the four board meetings in London. In the same year he is also believed to have pocketed more than P220 000 in fees and allowances for attending six BMC importers (Guernsey) board meetings between March and December also held in the UK.

Some of the dates for the BMC importers board meetings coincided with those of the UK holdings meetings. Documents passed to the Sunday Standard revealed that fees and allowances were paid separately for the meetings held on the same day apparently at the same venue. The Sunday Standard was, however, not able to ascertain that the former BMC Chief Executive Officer double dipped because the accounts from BMC Importers in Guernsey does not detail names to which the allowances were paid as the company is not public and Guernsey is a tax haven with strict confidentiality laws.

The Sunday Standard was also able to establish that the former BMC Chief Executive Officer pocketed more than P50 000 for a meeting of another BMC subsidiary, Ami Insurance, at Caymans Islands in February of the same year. The former Chief Executive Officer made about P500 000 (half a million Pula) in one year from fees and allowances of attending board meetings of three BMC subsidiaries. The amount is believed to be much higher, the Sunday Standard, however, could not get figures of fees and allowances paid to attend board meetings of 10 other BMC subsidiaries.

The trend continued for years. In fact, the documents passed to Sunday Standard reveals that the following year, the former Chief Executive Officer made more than P600 000 in fees and allowances for attending meetings of the three BMC subsidiaries. While in the Cayman Islands, the former BMC Chief Executive Officer stayed at the Meridian Hotel, which is frequented by celebrities and international TV stars. In the UK he booked in a GB £2, 435, 55 a night hotel, (about P29 000 a night). The total cost including business class air fares, hotel accommodation and entertainment allowances for the former CEO and a contingent of his seven board members ran into millions of Pula. For example, BMC UK Holdings spent GBP £155, 696, 22 (about P1, 9 million) in one year on board meetings.

Contacted for comments, Chimbombi, who was part of the BMC gravy train, maintained that the fees and allowances paid to directors were not excessive. “How they were paid is not an issue. You are paid because there is work to do.”

He further said, “there were companies there and they were trading each year. So the directors had to meet to see to it that the operations were done properly. I was not party to every meeting but they had to meet every year. How would it be if we were to skip a year without monitoring the operations of these subsidiaries; they cannot run for a year without approval,” he said.

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