It is not usual for an executive perceived to be in “big financial trouble” to openly face the members of the fourth estate. Yet Regina Vaka, the founding Chief Executive at Bona Life ÔÇô the country’s first citizen owned Life Insurance Company did just that this past week. On Thursday, Vaka hosted a group of journalists at Bona Life’s office located in the Central Business District (CBD) of the capital Gaborone.
Her story is long yet short ÔÇô shareholders at Bona Life have irreconcilable differences which have resulted in negative publicity towards the company that is not new to scandals.
Vaka, the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the country’s biggest insurance group, Botswana Insurance Holdings Limited (BIHL) made a dramatic return to the insurance industry in June 2014 when she was unveiled as the owner and CEO of the then Bramer Life Botswana.
The dream was however shrivelled into a horrific nightmare almost a year later following the crippling scandal involving Bramer Life Botswana’s mother company in Mauritius. Labelled by the then Mauritian Prime Minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth as an “unprecedented financial scandal,” the matter hit Bramer Life Botswana hard and compelled the Non Banking Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA) to place the local firm under statutory management in April 2015.
Vaka then fought tooth and nail to reclaim her company, and it was three months later (July 2015) that she stood on the podium alongside the then statutory manager, Nigel Dixon-Warren to announce a transaction that would rebrand Bramer Life to Bona Life and guarantee her a 25 percent stake in the new entity.
The appointment of Dixon-Warren as Statutory Manager was then terminated in terms of Section 75(a) of the Non- Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority Act towards the end of August 2015.
At the time NBFIRA, though its Chief Executive, by the Chief Executive Oaitse Ramasedi said that it was satisfied that the grounds for the continued provision of statutory management services no longer existed.
Apart from lifting the statutory management and endorsing change of names from Bramer Life to Bona Life, the authority also approved a short list of companies that could buy stake in Bona Life following the fall out of the Mauritians.
The new shareholders structure which was made public in August 2015 saw Botswana Opportunity Partnership (BOP) ÔÇô a partnership between Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF) and CMB Capital now holding a 40 percent stake while CMB Capital, owned by Rapula Okaile and Tim Marsland had 25 percent, Bramer Life Staff (10%) and Vaka retained the remaining 25 percent which was formerly allocated in Bramer Life.
“The due diligence on these new partners was done by the statutory manager and approved by the regulator”, Vaka said while responding to a question on whether she had done a cross check of her new business partners following the departure of the Mauritians.
The battle for the soul of Bona Life
While Vaka could not shed much light on the initial cause of the irreconcilable differences between her and other shareholders at Bona Life, she however reminded journalists that the bad blood forced Bona Life to report CBM to the regulator.
Vaka said that at some point, Bona Life was receiving inconsistent reports on its investments with CMB.
“Furthermore we became our aware of a petition to liquidate CMB Fund 1, a subsidiary of CMB which holds assets which Bona Life has an interest and that CMB was under investigation by the DCEC for possible criminal offences. This matter was reported to NBFIRA because its role is to protect the clients of non banking financial institutions”, Vaka said on Thursday.
Following Bona Life’s decision to report CMB to the regulator, the bad blood between some of the directors then reached a boiling point. It battle pitted Vaka on one side and Tim Marsland, a director at both Bona Life and CMB on the other side of the ring.
At some point, Marsland is said to have even threatened to end the business relationship that his company has with Bona Life.
In one of the letters that is alleged to have been written to Vaka by Marsland and seen by Sunday Standard, the CMB boss accused the Bona Life boss lady of “placing obstacle after obstacle in the way of closing some transactions”.
“Bona cannot sell a long date liability at six (6) percent and offset it with cash earning one (1) percent. That is a business model that leads to insolvency and to be blunt is reckless”, reads part of the Marsland to Vaka letter written on 17 May 2017.
On the other hand, Vaka is alleged to have accused Marsland to have attempted to push her out and appoint a new Chief Executive at Bona Life, “who will give you full control over the Bona Life monies so that you may invest them as you please and ultimately transfer them to CMA as you have tried to do with the BPOPF equity fund”.
“I advised you not to fight with BPOPF because it is an essential partner in Bona Life. Instead, you took the BPOPF head-on in order to ‘teach BJ’ and to get her fired so that you could appoint someone who was more aligned to the Chairman and yourselves, thus losing sight of all your obligations to Bona Life and the public with whose funds you have been entrusted,” Vaka stated to Marsland in one of the letters.
While on Thursday Vaka could not speak much about the exchange between her and Marsland, she told journalists that at some point, the BPOPF released approximately P477 million pensioner funds to be managed by CMB which cannot be fully accounted for.
“After making some investments in different companies including Bona Life, CMB sold BOP to its holding company CMA for P50 million and dismissed the BPOPF from BOP”, Vaka said.
She also accused Marsland of causing his attorneys to write a scurrilous letter addressed to the CEO of Bona Life which leaked to the media, “and was widely publicised thus escalating the negative publicity”.
The letter, Vaka said, is defamatory and intended to cause permanent damage to the reputation of the Bona Life CEO and the brand of the company.
“The claim for P650 million is invalid, made in bad faith and cannot be sustained in any court of law. The authors of the letter does not have an authority to represent CMB which is under statutory management and can only be represented by the Statutory Manager”, Vaka said.
Whilst she waits for the court to rule on some of the matters affecting her company, Vaka vows to go down the drain with Bona Life. She will not allow CMB to push her out as either CEO or shareholder.
“My vision is to prove that even in our country, it is possible to start and operate a citizen owned financial services company that thrives”.
[Bona Life shareholders structure]
BOP ÔÇô 40%
CMB ÔÇô 25%
Bona Life Staff ÔÇô 10%
Regina Vaka ÔÇô 25%
June 2014 – British American Investment Co (Mauritius) and Regina Vaka found Bramer Life
April 2015 ÔÇô BAI get caught with its pants below the knees in a financial scandal back in Mauritius. Bramer Life Botswana subsidiary placed under statutory management.
August 2015 ÔÇô NBIFIRA makes a public notice that Nigel Dixon-Warren’s appointment as Statutory Manager of Bramer Life Insurance (Pty) Ltd has been terminated. The regulator also approved change of names from Bramer Life to Bona Life.
May 2017 ÔÇô Bona Life directors continue with their bitter exchange of words as company’s solvency problem persists.
January 2018 – BPOPF cut ties Bona Life as the life and annuities investment financial partner.
March 2018 ÔÇô Bona Life CEO faces the press, announces that address the solvency challenges, Bona Life has suspended the sale of annuity business.