Thursday, October 1, 2020

Mayor detects fraud among his staff

Gaborone mayor Harry Mothei says that a city council employee has teamed up with three councillors from his party to fabricate a case against Frenic, a waste management company whose claim has been pending for close to a year. He identifies the officer in question as the principal environmental health officer Gregar Lepang and the councillors as former mayor Nelson Ramaotwana, former deputy mayor Ezekiel Dube and Lemme Kgopa of Sebele ward.
The mayor claims that Lepang is biased against Frenic and that on one too many occasions, he has had to intervene on behalf of Frenic when Lepang delayed payment due to the company.
“I’m fed up with the whole thing and when the company’s directors have reported to me I have taken the matter up with the Town Clerk to help them get their money,” Mothei says.

Although the Town Clerk Kutlwano Matenge would not discuss this issue, the Sunday Standard is in possession of a report written by Lepang in which he explicitly says that Frenic has been “defrauding” the city council. He alleges that Frenic started making fraudulent claims only a month after it was awarded the tender and in the process was overpaid by P347 666.56.

In terms of the contract, Frenic was entitled to 5 percent escalation but there were instances, such as in 2006, when, as Lepang claims, it would make claim twice on the same item. In other instances, Frenic is alleged to have cooked the books to claim more than it should have. When on January 18, 2007, the company was supposed to claim P5 726.88, the figures were allegedly fiddled with (by substituting ‘5′ with ‘8′) and the payment came to P8 726.88. In another instance P367.50 became P5 367.50 through similar method. Lepang made the following conclusion in his investigative report: “In my view this could not be a calculation error but a deliberate misinformation calculated to defraud Gaborone City Council.”

Mothei says that the whole matter is much ado about nothing as the allegations being made against Frenic have no basis in fact. His counter allegation is that this saga is merely an extension of Botswana National Front factionalism. He suggests that Ramaotwana & Co. are sponsoring allegations that the Frenic deal was corrupt as they suspect that he (Mothei) has personal dealings with it. The three councillors have been associated with a faction led by party leader Otsweletse Moupo while Mothei is in Dr. Kathleen Letshabo’s camp.

All three councillors deny pursuing any personal agenda. Ramaotwana says that Mothei has not been transparent in his handling of the case as he has always disallowed debate on the Frenic case. When he tabled a motion through which he sought the transfer of Matenge, Ramaotwana brought up the Frenic issue but Mothei disallowed that point on grounds that issue was still being handled by a council committee.

“What is he hiding? We are not fabricating any case against Frenic and surely he can do better than drag Lepang into this because he has done nothing wrong. Facts are there and they speak for themselves. And this matter is not related to BNF politics in any way; that is pure distortion,” he says.

Dube says that all they are asking is that the council should follow its own rules. “The allegation that we are pursuing some political agenda is false. This has nothing to do with BNF factionalism,” the former mayor says.
For his part, Kgopa says that BNF tussles are fought in-house and not at City Hall. He reiterates Dube’s point about the matter being about following due process.

“We say that the city council has no money but want to make unlawful payments to private companies. I’m opposed to that the council paying out that money because it would amount to stealing public funds,” Kgopa says.
Conveying his message through his secretary, Lepang declined to comment and referred all queries to Matenge.
The DCEC spokesperson, Lentswe Motshoganyetsi says they have received a report “with regard to a certain company that deals with GCC and we are looking into the matter.”

Frenic has slapped the GCC with a claim for over half a million pula, part of it being for work that was never authorised. Matenge would not discuss specific details about this matter but did indicate that Frenic has not been paid. Asked whether there was any problem with the processing of this claim he answered in the negative and added that he could not disclose any more information as this was still an internal matter being handled by the council management. The company put in its claim in April last year.

Frenic won a tender in August 24, 2004 for refuse collection and disposal services in August 2004. In terms of the contract if rates were to be revised they had to be negotiated and agreed in writing before instruction to carry out the work is given. Although the company agreed to this condition, it carried out and claimed for work outside what was specified in the contract. This included cutting grass and cleaning behind shops at a shopping mall “to maintain the area very clean. Please note that [this] is a commercial area, which also attracts even tourists, is our responsibility as citizens to ensure that our country is clean.”

However, Lepang took the view that by doing the latter, Frenic “was volunteering its services to the residents of Gaborone as they found that they were obligated by their social responsibility to ensure a clean environment even on areas that they were not contracted to do. To turn around and claim for something that you know you were not at any time contracted to do is mischievous and unprofessional. The claim in my view is not justifiable and must fail.”

The environmental health committee, which Ramaotwana, Dube and Kgopa are members of, reached the same conclusion and its decision was adopted by the full council last year. Conversely, the finance and general purpose committee overruled the health committee and recommended that the company should be paid. Although Matenge said that he was not aware of these diametrically opposed positions having been adopted by the committees, the Sunday Standard has it on good authority that in May last year, the health committee adopted a resolution that Frenic should not be paid and that in November 2007, the finance committee reached a different conclusion. Among those attending the former committee’s meeting was the deputy town clerk.

The impasse prompted the appointment of a taskforce made up of seven officers to investigate the matter. This taskforce also recommended that the company “must be paid subject to negotiations of the amount payable with a view to reducing the amount as both parties are blamable in this matter.”

This conclusion is preceded by reasoning that quotes a number of legal authorities. Apparently, the city council took too long to respond to the letter through which Frenic notified it that it was carrying out work outside what the contract stipulated. The taskforce’s report invokes a principle argued in the following way by one legal scholar: “Where… the relation of the parties, their previous business dealings, or other circumstances are such as to impose an obvious duty to speak, the offeree’s failure to do resulting in harm to the other party can preclude him from later arguing that he never intended by silence as acquiescence.” The report also raises the question of what the exact lexical meaning of “cleaning” (as used in correspondence between the contracting parties) is.

The taskforce’s assignment was to investigate issues around the company’s controversial claim and for that reason, it never got to addressing the more explosive allegations against Frenic which are now being examined by the DCEC.

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