Thursday, July 2, 2020

Owner of cars seized from Phakalane home superficially linked to NPF

When the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) seized four luxury cars from a Phakalane home, there should have been mention of the National Petroleum Fund (NPF) but there wasn’t. Not that the cars were bought with money looted from the NPF as has been alleged with regard to some suspects who have already been charged in the case.

The cars belong to Mxolisi Sibanda who is the director of a company called Ki-Tech Group. The company was established in 2007, is based in Gaborone and specialises “in the complete software solutions, supplies and installation of information technology products and services to commercial, industrial and public developments.” It also happens to have been in the good books of the pre-April 2018 Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS).

The NPF case begins when the spy agency sought permission from the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) to directly appoint Ki-Tech Group to build strategic fuel storage facilities across the country. Public procurement law allows direct appointment of a supplier but smelling a rat and given the amount of money involved (hundreds of millions of pula), PPADB rejected this request, insisting that a supplier be identified through open tendering. According to a source, the dark forces behind this project feared that open tendering, which gives PPADB the final say, eliminated the certainty of their having to select a bidder of their choice. Money for this project would have come from the consolidated fund.

Around the time that the NPF scandal broke, Sunday Standard visited the company’s website and noted some oddities. The website listed 10 subsidiaries. However, only two (Petrocoms and Thulisizwe Group) were hyper-linked. Likewise, a drop-down menu on the home page listed eight countries in which the company said it did business. Oddly though, no contact details were listed for all other countries except Botswana. Ordinarily, a company that is “a leader in the construction industry in Botswana & South Africa” would have contact details for its operations in both countries but there were none for the latter country.

The DIS job would apparently have been carried out by Petrocoms which, on its own website, listed “tank fabrication and construction”, “pipe laying”, “tank foundations” and “petrol stations” among things that it does.

“We have worked throughout South Africa & Botswana installing numerous tanks, tank farms, fuel depots, filling stations etc. We have the ability to work locally, adapting to local conditions, enabling us to positively perform in the vast array of remote and challenging areas of Southern Africa,” said the company’s website, never once revealing projects it has handled or the names of the challenging areas of Southern Africa where it has worked.

The “Services List” was divided into three categories: mechanical construction, tank farm and civil construction. The first and third categories had four items each and the second five. However, if you clicked on any one of those items, no information came up. Clicking on “Corporate” in the menu bar yielded a page that highlighted the company’s social corporate responsibility in unpolished language. The last two sentences read: “Petrocoms has been priviledged and satisified to work in different communities. It is with great pleasure and enthusiasim that Petrocoms prides itself in initiatives that give back to the community. Perenial donations to schools including ICT equipment, clothes and blankets for Non-profit groups may apply for assistance.” The communities in which the company had done work as well as the schools it had donated to were not mentioned by name. While the company said that it could “boast a long list of past and present satisfied customers”, it didn’t name a single one and the pictures that illustrated the editorial content appeared to have been harvested off the Internet.

Having failed to draw funds from the consolidated fund, DIS turned to the Department of Energy which manages the NPF and would later controversially source P250 million.

In a back issue, Sunday Standard carried an impeccably-sourced story that asserted that, contrary to what had been placed in the public record, the P250 million never bought any armaments but “ended up in the pockets of some people.” An extension of this assertion was that, until their transfer to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, special funds like the NPF had become soft targets for thieving government officials.

“Actually, it is a lot easier to steal money from special funds than from the consolidated fund,” said a source who illustrated this point with the NPF saga. “The fuel storage facilities would have been built with money from the consolidated fund. However, it was extremely difficult to get the money because the process involves a lot of oversight, including that of PPADB. That is not the case with special funds which are not strictly controlled. That is why it was easier to get the P250 million from the Petroleum Fund.”

Only 30 years, Sibanda was a close associate of Colonel Isaac Kgosi, the former DIS Director General whom President Mokgweetsi Masisi fired on May 2 last year. That relationship resulted in Sibanda getting multi-million pula tenders whose legality is now the subject of a wide-ranging investigation into how the spy agency used public funds between 2008 and 2018. The world that the once all-powerful Kgosi created started tumbling down around the time that he lost his position. One result has been continual visits to property that he owns by BURS officials. Both Kgosi and Sibanda have reportedly not been paying tax, which was the reason BURS dramatically seized the luxury cars ÔÇô the seizure was livestreamed on Facebook by some media agencies.

When one thinks of it, had PPADB agreed to DIS’ request to directly appoint Ki-Tech been approved, there would probably never have been need to dip into the NPF. Resultantly, some people would probably still not know of this fund. Some of the money (hundreds of millions) that the company would have been paid would have likely have gone towards luxury cars.


Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.