Saturday, July 24, 2021

Khwai community at odds with board of trustees

A concerned group of Khwai residents are angry with the Khwai Community Development Trust board with a claim that the trustees have introduced a somewhat hostile approach in handling issues. 

They accuse the board of failure to account for the use of millions of pula which are paid to the trust annually by Greg Butler of Soren Lindstrom Safaris (SLS), a joint venture partner who has been operating in their concession for the past twelve years. 

A member of the group Patrick Brown noted that the trust has to date not called a meeting to tell the community why the Annual General Meeting which was supposed to take place in September 2020 did not happen. This, he said, has resulted in them not being presented with the financial report as is norm. 

“Currently the board runs without a budget. They just splash money for own use and this does not sit well with us. The AGM was supposed to discuss and map a way forward especially with finances. What is even surprising is that whenever we approach the board about these anomalies, they threaten us with lawsuits because they know we cannot counter sue. The village chief is equally conflicted because his brother is the board chairman. We have run out of options of what steps to take. Our wish if for all chiefs to be removed from the boards because they are in the forefront of corruption and use their powers to mess things up,” said Brown. 

Brown also decried a growing culture of abuse of power at the Trust. He cited an incident in which one manager assaulted an employee but was never summoned for a hearing at least. 

Another finger points at area councilor Kebareeditse Ntshogotho of Khwai/Mbabane ward, an ex-officio member of the board, whom they accuse of having received a P20,000 bribe from Butler so that he may advocate for and influence the latter’ prolonged stay at the consession.Butler’s partnership with the community trust dates back from 2010 and is expected to end in 2025.The group says the have been pushing for a review of his partnership agreement which is made after every five years but nothing has happened as yet. On the other hand, they say they have resolved to fight tooth and nail to ensure that Butler’ operations are ceased as they believe he is conflicted and has become uncooperative.

Another member of the group Face Sango stated that they believe that as Basarwa of Khwai they can take over operations within their concession and do a better job since they will be operating in a community which understands their culture and morals better. “This is the feedback we get from our international clients. They always tell us that they would like to visit camps and other tourism establishments which are wholly -owned by Basarwa. Our intention is to fight until this happens,” said Sango.

Meanwhile Ntsogotho admitted receiving the sum of P20, 000 from the investor which he says was not a bribe as the group alleges. He said like any other community member, he had routed his plea asking for financial assistance to the pledge committee introduced by SLS and was approved. 

He said through this committee, residents are free to request for monetary assistance for personal use. There is also the labor committee which looks at employee relations and addresses their grievances as well as the conservation committee which overlooks the natural resources aspect in the area and also assist in the fight against poaching. 

“As a resident of Khwai, I am entitled to benefit from any form of assistance and that is not attached to anything. The same investor also provides food parcels to each member of the community and that also makes me one of the beneficiaries, just like all members of the concerned group. In fact, those are the people who benefit most from the investor as he has financed their projects right from his pocket. They must learn to give credit where it’s due and do away with unnecessary propaganda,” he said.

Ntsogotho further stated that it is a known fact that some members of the concerned group have business interests which they want to pursue and thereby tag along innocent people into brawls unaware, something which he says has brewed conflicts and divided the small community which was once close knit. But as a leader who stands for the interests of the people, he said he fully supports their aspirations and is more than willing to see them excel, which is why he wishes for anyone of them to pursue those goals in a manner which is acceptable. 

Soren Lindstrom Safaris with Haina Pan, Sable Alle, Tilodi, Elephant Pool and Skye lodges under its wing. 

They operate photographic and non conceptive tourism at NG 18 which includes Khwai settlement, mostly made up of people of Basarwa origin. He said in an interview with The Telegraph that despite the company’s financial position’ he will continue stretching a helping hand to the people of Khwai. 

“These are the hard times brought about by the emergence of Covid-19. The tourism sector has been hard hit globally and so is SLS. 

“It is however worth noting that whatever affects the people of Khwai affects me as well, which is the reason why I have pledged to work with them closely so that we turn negatives in to positives”. He could not be drawn into discussing the accusations leveled him such as him mobilizing a section of the community to vote in his favour. He said the he will continue to heed advise coming from Khwai residents, the Technical Advisory Committee as well as Botswana Tourism Organization as his main focus is to do it for the people.

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