The Minister of Agriculture, Christiaan De Graaff, and scores of senior officials bent Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) laws to benefit private companies they had set up, the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Decline of the Beef Industry and BMC maladministration┬áhas been told.
A local cattle farmer spilled the beans this week on how BMC Livestock Procurement Manager, Clive Marshall, and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment Wildlife and Tourism, Neil Fitt, tried to seduce him into a “dirty deal” that was aimed at milking the BMC.
Commercial farmer, Haggie Isaacs, told the committee that Marshall and Fitt tried to convince him to set up a feedlot with a South African farmer resident in Botswana, Werner Faber, who is also owner of Tholo Holdings and two Caucasian South African farmers promising him that he would cash in from BMC.
The committee heard that Marshall stated that he would be a silent partner to avoid being accused of conflict of interest. Marshall is reported to be a partner in Tholo Holdings. Isaacs said Fitt was also going to be a partner in the feedloting company.
Isaacs told the committee that he was promised that once in partnership with the trio he would benefit immensely, including being given calves born in the feedlot and a tender to supply feedlots with animal feed.?Isaacs informed the committee when giving evidence that Marshal had tried to convince him to lease a farm to set up a feedlot in partnership with the three partners. Isaacs noted that since he had identified a farm belonging to another farmer, he informed Marshall who came with the two investors from SA. He said that after he met Marshall, the two South African white investors and Tholo Holdings owner, he was informed by Marshal that all of them should go and see another partner who was in Gaborone.┬áThe partner happened to be Neil Fitt, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism.
Isaacs told the committee that Fitt also tried to persuade him to partner with Tholo Holdings and the two South African investors.┬áIn his presentation, he stated that Fitt indicated that no one would suspect anything fishy with the deal since the government was encouraging citizens to go into partnership with foreigners. Isaacs told the committee that he would not be part of the dirty deal. ?┬áHe said that it was after the meeting that Fitt warned that no one should ever state that the meeting was ever held in his office. Isaacs said that Marshal had indicated that he would be a silent partner in the feedlot since there was a likelihood that a conflict of interest might arise if his names are listed in partnership.
Minister of Agriculture, Christiaan De Graaff, has also been accused of illegally issuing export permits to Pedally Holdings, a company he allegedly has an interest in.
Section 21 says that only the BMC can export cattle or meat unless a person has been issued with an export permit by the Minister with the approval of the BMC. If the BMC does not approve, the Minister can still issue the export permit but only under exceptional circumstances and by declaring by order published in the Gazette that it’s in the public interest to issue the export permit without the BMC’s approval.
De Graaff, however, issued Pedally Holdings with a permit to export 30,000 live heifers and steers from Zone 2 in Ngamiland to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on 16 April 2012 under questionable circumstances.
Pedally Holdings is a Botswana registered company controlled by the Page family of South Africa. The MP for Kanye North, Kentse Rammidi, told the Committee that De Graaff has an interest in Pedally Holdings.
Coincidentally, the Minister recently approved the allocation of one of the Banyana leasehold farms to the Pages. The Pages ÔÇô father John and sons Glen and Bruce – own a company called Claremont Farming located in Cambridge, East London, South Africa, which operates three abattoirs, a feedlot and a livestock export business that was recently featured for the second time on the SABC Carte Blanche expose television program for their inhumane treatment of the live cattle they export by ship to Mauritius.
By issuing only one permit to the Pages, the Minister in effect has granted Pedally Holdings a monopoly on live cattle exports from Ngamiland, which will prevent farmers from obtaining better prices for their cattle due to the lack of open market competition from multiple buyers/exporters.
Though Dr. David Falepau, the fired BMC CEO, declined comment, another source close to the transaction has confirmed that the Minister introduced the Page family to the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) and to Falepau with a proposal to export live heifers and steers to the DRC.
The Pages’ proposal, which apparently was actively supported by the Minister, called for the BMC to buy live heifers and steers from Ngamiland farmers in Zone 2 on behalf of the Pages who would then buy them back from the BMC at P8.00/kg live weight even though the going price was up to P13/kg live weight. Falepau resisted pressure to do the deal because it would have resulted in a P40 million loss for Ngamiland farmers, for the BMC and for all cattle producers in Botswana who indirectly would have subsidized the Page’s purchase of BMC cattle at below BMC’s cost.
In their subsequent application to the Minister for a live export permit, the Pages offered to buy Ngamiland cattle directly from farmers and to pay the higher prices recommended by Falepau of P11/kg live weight for steers and P12/kg for heifers. However, as no pricing conditions were included in the Pages’ export permit, there is no requirement for the Pages to stick to the prices they have offered to pay.
In another curious twist, in 2011 the Minister forced the BMC to pay the cost of upgrading cattle handling facilities and of DVS’ services which were necessary to support BMC’s export of live cattle to Zimbabwe.
In contrast, to support the Pages’ export of live cattle to the DRC, the Minister has allocated P5 million to provide the Pages with DVS’ services and to upgrade the Makalamabedi Quarantine camp as a cattle handling facility for the Page’s use at no cost to the Pages.