In a dramatic turn of events, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Ken Matambo, has fired Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) board members who have been pushing for disciplinary action against corporation managers implicated in corruption claims surrounding the controversial glass manufacturing plant in Palapye.
Matambo on Tuesday dropped Nightingale Kwele and Thuso Dikgaka who were leading the campaign for disciplinary action a day before the board was to commence disciplinary hearings against three BDC managers. Odirile Merafhe has also been dropped.
Former Debswana Managing Director, Blackie Marole has been brought in as Board Chairman, while retired Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning Serwalo Tumelo has been brought in as board member. Tumelo was Chairperson of the BDC board during Matambo’s tenure as the corporation’s Managing Director.
Board Chairman, Solomon Sekwakwa has been demoted to become an ordinary board member.
Interestingly Sekwakwa is also Matambo’s Permanent Secretary while government is the sole shareholder of BDC. Matambo’s decision to drop the three directors comes a few days after the minister wrote a letter to the BDC Board, through their then Chairman, advising them that the government expects the glass manufacturing plant in Palapye not only to go ahead but also to be completed on time.
The glass manufacturing plant is embroiled in a controversy following an audit report that uncovered gross acts of corruption by BDC executives.
The audit has found that contractors were overpaid and, in some instances, paid for supplies not delivered.
Matambo said BDC is working in partnership with a Chinese partner who is concerned at the latest reports, which indicate that the project could be terminated.
“I have given the BDC the guidance that the project should go ahead. To Botswana Government this project is very important,” emphasized Matambo. The Minister said he would not want to say much lest he be perceived to be the same as the BDC Board, which he accused of leaking all the confidential information to the media.
“I don’t want to behave like a board which runs a big corporation like BDC through the media,” he said when pressed harder.
“Honestly, I don’t want to behave like them. All I want to say is that on behalf of the shareholder,
I am deeply concerned at BDC’s integrity and also at the future of the glass plant.”
He said the Government is adamant in its resolve to have the glass plant completed as envisaged.
Does the minister then not expect to collide with the Board which commissioned an audit that came with a report blaming the management?
“I am looking for cooperation from the board. If they have objectives different from mine we are bound to collide,” said Matambo.
In the interview, Matambo said he has reiterated to the BDC Board what the BDC objectives are.
Matambo is the immediate past Managing Director of BDC.
He said, among other things, the BDC is involved in economic development and economic diversification.
“BDC is not just about Palapye. BDC is a national company that aims at economic diversification,” said Matambo.
The Minister would not want to talk about the imminent suspension of some BDC executives, preferring to say that would “be too internal for me to discuss with you. The issue of suspensions has been mentioned to me by one director, but others have since said it is not official. Otherwise it becomes too internal,” said Matambo.
After establishing that some executives had received millions of Pula into their bank accounts the auditors then recommended that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime should be roped in to investigate possible acts of criminality. Matambo is however reported to be opposed to plans by BDC to suspend the top executives.
Meanwhile, plans by government to transfer BDC from the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to the Ministry of Trade and Industry seem to be stalling. Cabinet has issued a directive that the corporation, currently run from the ministry of Finance and Development Planning, be relocated to the ministry of Trade and Industry.
According to insiders at government enclave, President Khama has lost faith in officials at the Ministry of Finance to continue coordinating things at BDC.
Observers would be asking questions as to whether Matambo acted in the best interests of governance to have disbanded the Board only two days before disciplinary proceedings actions of his former juniors he left behind at BDC started.