Saturday, August 13, 2022

Sebonego leaving BR end of September

After a turbulent two-and-half years at the helm of the embattled Botswana Railways (BR) as general manager, Taolo Sebonego, is leaving the hot seat at the end of this month (September).

His departure was confirmed to Sunday Standard by BR spokesperson, Onkgopotse Moreri, although she could not be drawn into discussing the main reasons for Sebonego’s pending exit.

Sebonego was appointed to the plum post in February 2009 after an acting stint following the departure of Andrew Lunga.

A transport logistics specialist, Sebonego’s stint at the helm of the BR was mired with controversies, ranging from the stoppage of the passenger train service to issues of corruption and maladministration, which at some point attracted the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC).

Even the Minister of Transport and Communications, Frank Ramsden, was forced to fend off potential clashes between Sebonego’s executive management and junior employees who felt that their grievances and despicable working conditions issues were not being adequately addressed.

The staff grievances, dating back to 2003 and beyond, concerned mainly artisans, train crew and other departments, which felt that management was not doing enough to address their working conditions. The issues had been escalated to BR board of directors and the Office of the President after several attempts of resolving the matters failed.

At some point, the workers threatened to go on strike although the threat was never actioned.
When the DCEC pounced on BR, it questioned some employees concerning allegations of failure to salvage damaged spare parts from trains’ accidents and cited examples, including the Dibete derailment which took place a long time ago and in which the spare parts were never salvaged.

Instead, a trench was dug and the damaged spare parts allegedly dumped in it and covered with soil.
In another case, a soda ash train pulling 28 wagons was derailed some 30 kilometres outside Francistown with the result that 13 of the wagons were written off and the spare parts buried in a ditch dug by front loaders at the scene together with the soda ash spill.

Questions were also raised about management’s decision to engage a middleman in the procurement of spare parts for locomotives from manufacturers with allegations that the middleman was milking the cash strapped corporation of huge amounts while supplying substandard parts at exorbitant prices.
In yet another incident, the BR tender committee was blamed for its decision to sell five locomotives to Alman metals as scrap metals although their value was much higher due to valuable components which should otherwise have been salvaged.

A committee was appointed to investigate the sale and recommended that Alma be reimbursed and the locomotives revert to the corporation as they were viewed as valuable government assets.

The report was handed to Ramsden although it is not clear what the minister did with it afterwards.
Efforts to solicit a comment from Sebonego regarding his pending departure drew a blank at the time of going to press as he was reportedly locked up in meetings and did not return calls from this newspaper.

However, employees at the corporation are happy that Sebonego is leaving, accusing him of having failed to address issues concerning their working conditions and low salaries.

Others alleged that they have gone for more than 10 years without a cost of living adjustment and that the board had equally done nothing to rescue their situation.

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