Saturday, September 26, 2020

Legal battle opens BTC can of worms

A High Court dispute over the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) Trans-Kalahari Fiber Optic project is expected to provide a peep show into behind the scenes goings-on during the award of tenders for the P200 million project.

Minister Pelonomi Venson, BTC board chairman, Leonard Makwinja, former BTC Chief Executive Officer, Vincent Seretse, and scores of BTC managers have been subpoenaed to testify in the legal dispute at the High Court in Lobatse.

Gaoboi Attorneys, who are acting for Mmila Investment (plaintiffs), are also demanding that BTC produces “all documents, minutes and resolutions” of the BTC tender Committee relating to the controversial tender.

The dispute arose after Mmila Investments that had won a P35 million (labour only) tender had the contract taken away from them and given to another company under mysterious circumstances.

It is feared that the Mmila Investments’ case may open gates for other companies whose tenders were also cancelled.

Sunday Standard can reveal that at least two other companies that had won part of the multi-million pula project had their contracts cancelled under similar circumstances.

According to records before the High Court, Mmila Investments, which had won part of the tender to the tune of P 35 million, had already been notified, gone through the negotiation process and had responded in writing that they were accepting the tender offer.

According to the particulars of claim by Mmila Investment, the understanding was that their successful post-award negotiations with BTC would be reduced to a written agreement to be signed on 12th August 2004.

BTC “however, failed or omitted to avail the contract for signing by the parties.”

Four months later, BTC wrote to Mmila Investments notifying them of their decision to cancel the agreement. The BTC letter, dated 15th December 2004, does not give any reasons for the termination of the contract.

“The letter of termination aforesaid amounts to an unlawful repudiation of the contract existing between the parties hereto (which the plaintiff has not accepted previously and persists now in its refusal to accept the same), alternatively, the letter constitutes a material breach of contract subsisting between the parties hereto,” stated Mmila Investment’s particulars of claim.
Mmila Investments claims that as a result of the breach, it has suffered a P5, 3 million loss of profits and P500 000 being “the fair and reasonable costs of preparing the tender documents, carrying out site visits and related costs and expenses.”

The matter is set for trial from the 14th to the 16th of July 2009 before Justice Unity Dow.

Covering approximately 2000 km, the multi million Pula Trans-Kalahari fiber optic project is expected to act as a catalyst to the growing ICT industry in the country. Despite the controversy, the project was completed last year on time and within budget. A fiber optic cable is a technology that transforms the transportation of voice and data from the microwave radio to that of a much higher capacity which uses optical fiber.

Before the installation of this system, telecommunications service providers in Botswana relied on limited connectivity via expensive leased bandwidth on satellite systems.

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