Sunday, January 29, 2023

Row over BTC multi-million Pula advertising tender

The Botswana Telecommunications Corporation advertising, marketing, communications and public relations contract, which has been awarded to a South African firm, Inter-Brand-Sampson, has become a lightning rod of controversy.

Local companies that had been shortlisted for the lucrative tender have approached Nonofo Molefi, the Minister of Communications under whose ministry the BTC falls, to intervene.

Among other things, local companies allege that Inter-Brand-Sampson has no office in Botswana, employs no Batswana and has no knowledge of the Botswana market terrain.

They further argue that BTC argument that local agencies do not have capacity cannot be true because the corporation competitors use local talent and expertise for their marketing, communications and advertising services.

It has since emerged that immediately after being awarded the contract, Inter-Brand-Sampson approached Hotwire, a local company that had lost the contract to help in delivering the BTC contractual obligations. Hotwire has turned down the offer from the South Africans.

The Managing Director of Hot Wire, Kabelo Binns, has written a letter to BTC Board Chairman, Leonard Makwinja, airing his disgust at BTC decision to award the contract to a South African company.

Hot Wire, together with another local advertising agency, Leap Frog, has been joint service providers for BTC and its mobile arm, Be Mobile offering adverting design and public relations.
In his letter to Makwinja, Binns says he “smells a rat”.

“This is a mail from the agency BTC has appointed to do its work here in Botswana. They would like to ‘work together’ with Hotwire. Hotwire being the company that did not qualify to work with BTC directly… I am not comfortable. I feel that at the very least, BTC should give Hotwire and Leap Frog feedback as to why they did not match up. What are our shortcomings so that we can improve and better the plight of our local economy? This is what we understand as citizen empowerment, actively seeking to nurture local enterprises,” said Binns’ letter.

He went further to say that the South African company is turning around to invite him because they feel challenged to deliver the BTC mandate from Johannesburg.

“Their man on the ground, Booster, who as far as I recall has never worked in an agency environment will be hard pressed to deliver this one. We look up to you to guard the interests of us the hard working, taxpaying, young entrepreneurs that employ other Batswana. This situation we see here would never happen in South Africa; a company from Botswana taking a Telkom Account? Never!” continues Binns letter.

In an interview with Sunday Standard, the Managing Director of Leap Frog, Thapelo Pabalinga, said he had been dismayed by BTC decision.

He said over the last three years that he has done work for BTC all he has received has been accolades from the state owned corporation.

“And now they turn around to say a South African company that has no office in Botswana is best suited to do their job. That is demeaning to Botswana-based companies that employ Batswana and look up for support from such organizations like BTC that are state-owned and supported by tax money. The question that we should ask ourselves is whether it could ever happen in South Africa that a Botswana advertising agency with no representation in South Africa could win such a big tender in that country?” asked Pabalinga.

Minutes of a BTC Management Sub Tender Committee Meeting held on October 23rd, 2011 indicate that it was mandatory for bidding companies to have a point of presence in Botswana.
Sunday Standard can confirm that when the award was made, Inter-Brand-Sampson had no point of presence in Botswana.

Pabalinga said because Inter-Brand-Sampson does not have offices in Botswana, it is unlikely that they fulfilled all the bidding requirements.

“BTC came to my office as part of the evaluation process. Where did they go for Inter-Brand-Sampson when that company does not have a presence in the country? It is possible that the contract was also signed not in Botswana but also in South Africa, which takes away the jurisdiction from Botswana. That cannot be right when you consider that BTC is a government-owned company,” said Pabalinga.

Asked on whether they had an office in Botswana and when it was opened, the Director of Inter-brand-Sampson, Amanda Murray told The Sunday Standard that she could only answer such questions with authority from BTC.

For his part, the BTC Group Communications Manager, Golekanye Molapisi, said Inter-Brand-Sampson has consulted with citizen companies in an attempt to so far as possible utilize local suppliers. In that regard they contacted new and previous BTC suppliers to assess what services could be sourced from them and the quality of those services.

“This is standard practice to ensure that when the need arises they source or have secured the appropriate local supplier. It is important to note that the services being assessed are those that fall outside of the scope of the contract,” said Molapisi.

He added that this was in line with the Government Economic Diversification Drive and the Corporation’s support for local procurement.

“The contract with Inter-Brand-Sampson includes provisions to the effect that┬á┬á where goods and services are supplied┬áto BTC under the┬ámarketing and communications contract, priority┬áshall be given to sourcing supply from Botswana and┬áwhere goods or services are to be imported justifications shall have to be provided for not sourcing locally,” added Molapisi.

While Binns is adamant that the Inter-Brand-Sampson point man in Botswana is a photographer with no advertising background, Molapisi says “the company has engaged a local representation who has experience in marketing and communications. That will help bridge the geographical divide and address any logistical challenges that might arise.”

The minutes of the BTC Management Sub Tender Committee Meeting, of which Sunday Standard is in possession, indicate that some senior members of the BTC management had serious reservations about appointing a South African company.

The minutes quote one senior executive wondering how it could be that “existing BTC Agencies were scored very low and assuming that they had been doing work for BTC for 2 to 3 years they could be having experience working in the telecommunications market. The Chairperson further observed how a supplier placed in South Africa could score higher than the local agencies, and he wanted to know how they would know the Botswana market.”

“…The meeting felt that in terms of value, the bidder Inter-Brand-Sampson may not be the right company because there were also issues of scope…The Chairperson felt that the names of the suppliers [Inter-Brand-Sampson] sounded like brand consultancy and wondered how the scope was.”
As one of the biggest companies in Botswana, operating a fixed line as well as a mobile wing, BTC budget for advertising, public relations, communications and public relations is easily among the biggest in the country.

According to Molapisi, the contract given to Inter-Brand-Sampson is expected to run for two years.

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