The front runner in the race for Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) top post Wilfred Mpai’s past relationship with Choppies may have come back to haunt him. Sunday Standard has been informed that a third party with connections to the Executive has expressed personal reservations about Mpai’s possible appointment, leading to the delayed appointment of a new BURS Commissioner. The former Barclays Managing Director and ex Choppies Board Member’s fate as the new BURS Commissioner was, otherwise, all but a foregone conclusion.
All recruitment processes had been followed. He ticked all the right boxes. He emerged top on the list of suitable candidates. The BURS Board recommended him to the Minister of Finance as their first choice. The Minister submitted the list of preferred candidates to cabinet.Mpai’s seemingly soured relations with Choppies Limited where he served as a non-executive board member under former President Festus Mogae’s Chairmanship have been cited as the reasons behind the Executive decision not to endorse him for the BURS job, Sunday Standard has been informed. Some within Executive circles claim that concerns were raised that Mpai’s appointment as Tax Man would not be in the best interest of the Choppies group given his past relationship with the company.
Mpai was part of a group of Directors (Dorcas Kgosietsile, Ronald Tamale and Heinrich Stander) ousted by Choppies CEO Ramachandran Ottapathu’s handpicked team that included Tom Pritchard and Carol Jean Howard at a heated extraordinary meeting in September 2019 at Grand Aria Hotel. Mogae also quit the board at the explosive meeting where he accused Ram of running a one man show, saying the structure of Choppies was built around the CEO’s personality.
Now sources tell Sunday Standard the decision not to appoint Mpai as BURS Commissioner was influenced by his past ties with the top retailer.It is understood that the Minister of Finance wanted to go ahead and appoint Mpai in accordance with the BURS Board recommendations had it not been for third party interference.While it remains the ministers’ responsibility to bring names to cabinet for consideration, ultimately, the final decision in relation to appointments lies with the president. Sunday Standard recently reported that Mpai has passed a mandatory security vetting, which would have automatically disqualified him for the job.
While some members of cabinet had reportedly asked questions about Mpai’s unceremonious exit from his position as Barclays Bank Botswana Managing Director, the main reason behind the Executive decision to hold off his appointment is understood to emanate from his short history with Choppies. Contacted for comment Mpai refused to answer questions from this publication saying he was not the right person to speak on the matter.
Choppies CEO Ram pleaded ignorance of activities surrounding the impending appointment of BURS Commisioner. “I don’t know anything about any impending appointment at BURS,” Ram said.Segolo Lekau has been Acting Commissioner General for over two years now, and it has remained a mystery why he has not been appointed. The post of Commissioner General, one of the most important and powerful ones in the economy of Botswana has had to be re-advertised several times. BURS collects billions in taxes and customs revenue on behalf of government, ultimately being the second most important revenue authority after Debswana that mines most of Botswana’s diamonds.
A chartered accountant by training Mpai has previously worked at Debswana. He was also Managing Director at Barclays Bank Botswana before joining Choppies Limited as Board member where he also shortly took over the chairmanship of the Audit and Risk Committee. Choppies have only recently been readmitted into the Botswana Stock Exchange following suspension in 2018.