Friday, September 25, 2020

Outgoing NBFIRA Chief Executive should never have been employed in the first place

It was interesting to read a front page interview given The Guardian by outgoing Chief Executive of NBFIRA, (Non Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority) Richard Hobart.

For the record, NBFIRA is a statutory parastatal, wholly owned and financed by the Government of Botswana.

The organization was formed to regulate such businesses like insurance companies, brokers, pension funds and the like.

A Canadian, we learn from the interview, Hobart leaves his contract midway through a lucrative job because, as he puts it, he has been perennially frustrated by people who were supposed to help him.

The NBFIRA Board is singled out for venomous scorn.

This should be a lesson for the future.
It is unfortunate that, beyond saying that the Board that was meant to supervise him and give the Institution a kind of strategic direction was not well qualified, Hobart does not go far enough to say in clearer terms just what it is that frustrated him during his stay at NBFIRA.

He also does not say just what steps he took against the meddling and trivial interference by the Board.
Did he at any time complain to the line Minister?

If the Minister did not take any steps to protect the professional integrity and independence of NBFIRA as is expected, did Hobart make any attempts to approach the President, on whose custody all ministers are supposed to be holding their positions?

We say the Minster (and not the Permanent Secretary) because at all the material time, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance was always a Board Member at NBFIRA.

That said, it is perhaps most insightful of the man’s character that in his interview, Hobart chooses to say nothing about some of the most glaring mishaps that happened under his watch at NBFIRA.

Far from being a near angel he paints himself to be in The Guardian interview, the NBFIRA executive leadership, of which he was the epitome, has been found wanting in many key areas.

In contrast, the very board which Hobart accuses of lack of qualification has on at one occasion come to the rescue of the organization, when NBFIRA’s integrity as a regulator was at risk.

Lest we forget, NBFIRA is the same parastatal; wholly financed and owned by government, that under Hobart employed people without proper screening, thereby risking the very integrity of the institution itself, as it later turned out that some of them had dubious backgrounds.

In the interview Hobart speaks highly of some of these individuals.
As a regulatory body, NBFIRA’s stock in trade is integrity, transparency and honesty.

Once these become suspect or are endangered, as indeed they so often were during Hobart’s tenure as CEO, then the operational existence of the regulatory body becomes tenuous.
The same Hobart who blames everyone but himself in the said The Guardian interview is the same man who during his time as Chief Executive of NBFRIA, found nothing wrong with employing the son of one of the Board Members even as no advert had been flighted to give everybody else a chance.

In his ravings in The Guardian, Hobart does not mention this matter.

He does not say the two members of staff he fired were accused of having leaked this information to the media.
Perhaps the only honest thing he mentions in his interview is that he sacked two managers he inherited from the Ministry of Finance because they resisted his footloose cowboy etiquette and management style.

While we have no wish to underplay the fact that the two managers he is referring to have suffered a lot of prejudice at the hands of Hobart, we want to underline that it was out of principle, rather than a yearning for some whimsical patronage from the CEO, that they had to paid such heavy prices by way of losing their jobs.

In that respect, while we mourn and lament their loss of employment, we console ourselves with the knowledge that there are still Batswana who are willing to stand up to any kind of bullying and insist on what is right.
Many of Hobart’s complaints are empty.
For example he says the NBIRA Board (or at least some of them) is less qualified.

For the record this is the same board that for the greater part of the time included some of Botswana’s best administrative brains like Serwalo Tumelo, Kenneth Matambo, and Linah Mohohlo. These are luminaries of international stature.

Tumelo has been Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance for many years as has been Ken Matambo.

Before he became Minister of Finance, Matambo had been Managing Director of Botswana Development Corporation for ten years, where his tenure will forever be remembered for the skill with which he turned around of that corporation by way of coming up with a strategic vision that still directs BDC to this day. An accomplished and distinguished civil servant, Tumelo has been Chairman of BDC for as many years as anybody would care to remember.

Ms Mohohlo does not need an introduction in the world of finance, economics and regulation.

Thus, much of what the outgoing Chief Executive said in his interview with The Guardian is not only utter rubbish but also untrue and patently demeaning of the very people who employed him in the first place, after overlooking well deserving Batswana who could have faithfully served this country.

Hobart’s offence is not that he fired people he disagreed with, but rather that he brought about a culture of terrible corporate governance that allowed Board members’ children to find their way into NBFIRA under what are so clearly undesirable circumstances.

Evidently from what goes above we are in no way sad that Hobart is leaving NBFIRA.

To the contrary, we celebrate his departure, not least because it has provided a chance to one of this country’s best brains in the field of finance, Oaitse Ramasedi to take over NBFIRA.

That said we hope Hobart’s departure has left us all the wiser.

In a way it is good that for most of the interview it is the Board that is taking Hobart’s flack.

These are the same people who employed him in the first place, overlooking more qualified Batswana for no apparent reason other than a deep-seated lack of faith in their own people.

It would be interesting to know what Hobart’s achievements at NBFIRA have been other than that before he left he sacked Batswana managers who would not give in to his cowboy management style.
It would be interesting to know what he achieved beyond hiring children of some board members without following proper channels.

It would be interesting to know what the Canadian achieved beyond employing some people with dubious track records!
With particular reference to the NBFIRA Board, which Mr. Hobart has such a low opinion of, we can only say “please have more faith in your people.”

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