Wednesday, September 30, 2020

“Debswana Board beyond reproach”

In the recent past, your newspapers, the Sunday Standard and the Telegraph have carried stories which cast doubt on the abilities and/or integrity of the Debswana Board. Both papers have claimed that they were drawing inferences or quoting from confidential reports accessed by them unofficially. All the reports mentioned date back to 2004 covering the periods 2000-2004.

While Debswana would not want to comment on information obtained from unofficial sources, we wish to clarify for the information of the public that since its inception, Debswana shareholders have drawn nominees for the Board from amongst the best of their respective talent pool. In all the cases, these people had personally earned their positions in the public service or in the De Beers Group by rising through the ranks with proven track records of satisfactory delivery and achievement. Many of them have risen through their careers to hold positions of trust in Botswana.

The Botswana Government has consistently appointed its representatives on the Debswana Board from people who occupied no less than Deputy Permanent Secretary level positions. Similarly, De Beers representatives have come from senior members of that company’s executive committee some of them also directors of the then listed De Beers Centenary AG up to 2001.

Many of the Debswana Board members on both sides have served with distinction on other boards in international listed companies and organisations, and have leveraged these skills and experience in service to Debswana as well. This attests to the fact that the Company has always enjoyed leadership from high calibre men and women of honour and repute, who have excellently acquitted themselves in major assignments nationally and internationally. We can therefore, confidently clarify that the competence and integrity of the Company’s leadership, past and present has always been above reproach.

That Debswana has been such a success story by world standards is testimony to the leadership abilities of its Board members and Management team. From the 1970s to date, the Company has been the largest single source of income for Botswana and in forty years it has grown from a very small operation in the diamond industry to become the largest world producer of diamonds by value.

In some of their articles, the two newspapers have attempted to draw an apparent connection between the performances of the Board and alleged past incidents of impropriety and/or breach of governance/conduct which occurred in the Company during the period 2000-2004. We contend that the duty of the Board is not to guarantee against any acts of misconduct in the Company but to set a governance framework in the form of policies, structures and processes within which any such acts can be detected and dealt with. We confirm that the Debswana governance framework is robust and effective and is capable of adequately protecting Company assets and interests against the risk of improper manipulation. The Board must therefore be credited for accomplishing its fiduciary duty in this respect rather than being criticised.

The role of the Board in leading the Company through the current global recession is yet another demonstration of its resilience and its capabilities. When many global companies were taken over and some collapsed whilst others were refinanced by shareholders, the Debswana Board continued to steer the Company which enabled it to declare substantial dividends to shareholders and with minimum impact on its employees.

We find the Sunday Standard and Telegraph reports ill conceived, misleading to the public and unfair on Board members who have conscientiously ensured that Debswana remains a leading diamond producer globally and the main source of export earnings for Botswana.

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The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.