Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Private company said to have ‘captured’ govt-funded swimming association

Across the border in South Africa, a brotherhood triumvirate of Indian origin is supposed to have “captured” the state, blithely hiring and firing cabinet ministers on President Jacob Zuma’s behalf. Here at home, a group of concerned citizens worry that a company known as Darrell Morton Swimming School (DMSS) has captured the Botswana Swimming Sports Association (BSSA) which the government sponsors to the tune of P650 000 annually.

In terms of the Societies Act, only a society can affiliate with BSSA. The Act defines a society as “any club, company, partnership or association of 10 or more persons, whatever its nature or objects, but does not include any company as defined by the Companies Act.” Therein lies the problem because DMSS is registered as a company under the Companies Act. That notwithstanding and against what the law states in explicit terms, it has been able to affiliate with BSSA. What this means is that on account of its BSSA membership, DMSS benefits from a government subsidy that is meant for societies.

When Sunday Standard sought clarification from the current BSSA president, Ruth van der Merwe about the affiliation status of the school, she referred it to the owner, Darrell Morton. What she would say was that like other clubs in Gaborone, DMSS is a Botswana Qualifications Authority-accredited swim school.

“BSSA does not have a single facility in Botswana, such entities have been instrumental in developing our sport in Botswana. All our clubs charge a fee for training swimmers and these are usually for covering costs such as pool hire and maintenance,” Van Der Merwe said.

We did indeed make effort to get DMSS’s side of the story on this and related issues through an email message, text message and phone call but to no avail. However, we were able to independently establish that DMSS is the business name of Splish Splash Swim School (Pty) Limited. The latter is a private sector company which is registered at the Copyright and Intellectual Property Authority which some still refer to by its shortened old name, Registrar of Companies.

For some time now, the Association has been experiencing an internal wrangle between citizens and non-citizens which overflowed into the public arena not too long ago. The citizens are parents of children who belong to various clubs and have constituted themselves into a loose federation that they call Concerned Citizens.

The latter contend that BSSA is bruised with maladministration that chiefly manifests itself in bias towards non-citizen swimmers, something Van Der Merwe pushes back against with the qualified denial that no such thing happened during her presidency. Upon conviction that the Botswana National Sports Council (BNSC) has persistently displayed a cavalier bureaucratic attitude, this group appealed to the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Thapelo Olopeng. One of the issues it raises is that some profit-making organisations are registered as societies. Elsewhere, the only such club they name is DMSS.

At BSSA’s controversial annual general meeting last year, DMSS swept the boards, something that doesn’t sit too well with Concerned Citizens. In their letter to Olopeng, they say that the Association’s Committee is composed of and managed by parents of swimmers from a single swimming club: “This has resulted in the BSSA and the said club operating as a single entity (institution). The oversight role that the BSSA should be charged with is blurred as decisions seem to be coming from one swimming club.”

This sentiment echoed one expressed at the AGM itself when the Gaborone Acquatic Club tabled a motion that no more than 30 percent of executive committee members should come from one club. The motion was defeated with the result that all executive committee members came from DMSS.

 Concerned Citizens have also expressed concern that beyond dominating the Association’s Executive Committee, DMSS’ swimmers dominate national teams per capita, something they tie to the club’s domination of the selection committee.

“There is also a serious concern as the national coach is alleged to be an employee of Darrell Morton School of Swimming (DMSS). The national coach does not coach the national team once the swimmers have been selected and only coaches those who are members of DMSS. The national coach does not even provide a training programme for the athletes on an annual basis. There should be a national coach not affiliated to any club,” the letter to Olopeng says.

Van Der Merwe sharply disagrees with that assertion, countering in her own letter of response to BNSC that she doesn’t know of any DMSS employee who is a national coach and challenging the Concerned Citizens to produce evidence.

In at least one provable instance, DMSS is said to have parlayed its dominance of the BSSA to directly benefit from government money. Ahead of the Africa Youth Games in 2014, the Association made plans to enroll its swimmers in a rigorous training programme at the High Performance Centre (HPC) in Pretoria, South Africa. DMSS, whose swimmers are said to have constituted a majority (75 percent) of the national team, cut a deal with BSSA to train all but two of its swimmers. HPC provided full accommodations and while it didn’t do likewise, DMSS charged more. The two DMSS swimmers who trained at the HPC were the only ones who ended up winning medals ÔÇô an irksome development that prompted some to make a connect-the-dots conclusion that doesn’t favour DMSS ability to compete with the HPC. Concerned Citizens also point out that the BSSA-DMSS deal flouted public procurement rules because other entities were not invited to submit bids.

The very legitimacy of the current BSSA committee is itself being questioned. At its annual general meeting last year and in contravention of the Societies Act, the Association used an amended constitution that has not been approved by the Registrar of Societies. The Concerned Citizens took this and related contentious issues with the Registrar of Societies. In terms of the amended constitution, the term of office has been doubled from one year to two years. The extent of the Registrar of Societies’ intervention has been to direct the current committee to call a special general meeting and conduct elections, a decision the Concerned Citizens are not too happy about. They have appealed to the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Edwin Batshu, to overturn the Registrar’s decision and consider dissolving the committee. 

The tumult between BSSA and Concerned Citizens has forced some even more embarrassing details relating to DMSS to float up to the surface – and “embarrassing” is a mild term considering what happened. To date, the Association has not submitted returns for 2008/9 which happens to have been the year that Morton was president. The treasurer for this period was also from DMSS. Van Der Merwe, who is herself a member of DMSS, acknowledges this.

“We have engaged the office of the Registrar of Societies to waive the requirement to submit returns for 2008/9 as there are no traceable records,” she writes in her letter to BNSC.

Basically that means is that BSSA cannot account for the P650 000 that BNSC gave it for the financial year in question. Our information is that the executive could not provide receipts of expenditure when Deloitte auditors asked for them.


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