Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Safari tour operator accused land board of sabotage

A Maun businessman has accused the Tawana Landboard of waging a sustained and systematic campaign to sabotage his businesses. The alleged plot is outlined in a court case in which the managing director of a safari tour operator, Peter Sandenbergh, is appealing a decision by the Landboard to disqualify a bid that his company, Lodges of Botswana (LoB), put in for a lucrative concession area in the Okavango Delta.

It turns out that Sadenbergh is involved in another legal battle with the Landboard in his capacity as a director of a company called Wutuka Takwenda Adventure Safaris. The court papers say that the Landboard is in breach of a 2011 High Court order which set aside the allocation of land it made to a third party. In terms of this particular order, the court directed the Landboard to allocate to Wutuka Takwenda, leasehold rights over a plot, measuring approximately 6.3 hectares on Etsatsa Island within 45 days from the date of the judgement. Sandenbergh was a key witness at the hearing before the Land Tribunal and gave evidence on behalf of Wutuka Takwenda against the Landboard. The court papers say that the Landboard remains in default of this order and that Wutuka Takwenda is contemplating further proceedings.

In another matter, the Landboard instituted legal proceedings against The Plant Aunt, another Sandenbergh company, “without reasonable grounds or justification.” The company opposed the application, with Sandenbergh deposing to an affidavit on its behalf and the Landboard ended up withdrawing the application and tendering costs.

“The [Landboard] has also been involved in further and unjustified litigation against corporate entities in which Mr. Sadenbergh has a material interest,” the court papers say.

In his court papers, Sadenbergh describes himself as “a leader in so far as the employment of local citizens is concerned and is developing skills and appointing citizens to staff, service and manage its camps.”

By his account, LoB has a low staff turnover with a significant number of having been employed for upwards of 10 or more years. The company employs “at least 60 permanent employees and a number of free-lance guides” and in just one month last year paid a total of P171┬á441 in respect of wages. When the employees learnt of the Landboard’s plans, they are said to have delivered a letter to its offices objecting to its decision to require the applicant to vacate the camps “without any prompting or instigation” from LoB. Sandenbergh’s estimation is that in the event that the company has to shut down, some 600 people who depend on his employees for their livelihood would be affected.

Most of the company’s employees are from a place called Xaxaba, which has some 300 residents, and his contention is that the very existence of this community would be jeopardised by the closure of the camps which he says have “gained industry recognition for low environmental impact tourism.”

Sandenbergh’s main worry about the camps closing is that “enormous damage will be caused to my reputation and the reputation of [LoB] and indeed the goodwill attaching to Delta Camp and Oddballs Camp” which he says are “widely known and highly regarded in the tourism industry.” Should this eventuality come about, he also believes that “the reputation of the tourism industry in Botswana will suffer as a result of the serious disruption and uncertainties created by the [Landboard’s] conduct.”

He also states that he pays a substantial amount to government authorities in respect of licence fees, bed levies, park fees, VAT, PAYE, corporation tax, resource royalties and land rentals.

In an affidavit, argues that the Landboard’s decision constitutes unlawful administrative action, that it acted with “an ulterior motive” intended to bring about the partial or total destruction of his business. The Botswana Tourism organisation is party to this decision and in another part of this affidavit he contends that these two organisations have “formed an intention” and have a desire to attract a third party investor to take over from LoB.


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