Saturday, July 4, 2020

Segokgo re-appoints member of board Mokaila fired

The same office that made a decision to fire the entire Botswana Railways Board of Management in 2017 has reversed one part of that decision by re-appointing someone who was a member in that same board. The decision was made by the office of the Minister of Transport and Communications which, in 2017, was occupied by Kitso Mokaila – who has been replaced by Thulaganyo Segokgo. The board that Mokaila fired had, as one of its members, Oreeditse Molebatsi, himself a former BR manager who served a stint in parliament between 2009 and 2014. Officially, the board was dissolved because it was one member short of the statutorily required number. That happened after one of the members, Lesedi Moakofhi, resigned from the board member to take up a Managing Director post at a BR subsidiary, the Gaborone Container Terminal, which is more commonly known as Gabcon.“Dissolved” was just the sort of euphemism that officialdom would use to describe an oversight body that was dysfunctional on many levels. Good sources say that the board couldn’t provide guidance to management and that the two parties were feuding badly.

Moakofhi’s own appointment to the Gabcon post was shot through with controversy because such appointment had been made by her fellow board members. It would later emerge that while all Gaborone-resident members drove to Mahalapye in the morning and back in the afternoon when the board sat, she chose to go to Mahalapye a day before and stay at the P3418-a-night Merafhe Presidential Suite at Cresta Mahalapye. The suite is named the former (and now deceased) Vice President, Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe, who was also Mahalapye West MP.Contrary to what the Botswana Railways Act states in explicit terms, sub-committees of the board continued to meet even when the board didn’t legally exist because it was a member short. In a confidential letter to Mokaila, then Botswana Railways CEO, Dominic Ntwaagae alleged that two male board members had told him that the executive management team he led was staffed with people from the wrong tribes. The bullet point of a section headlined “insults and verbal abuse from [names withheld]”, read: “Insinuations along tribal lines to the effect that because of the absence of a Mokalaka and/or Motswapong on the current Executive Team, things will never go right at Botswana Railways.”

The two board members, whose names form part of the sub-heading, are said to have been in the habit of hurling “accusations, insults and verbal abuse” at Ntwaagae and his executive team. The letter says that during one meeting, the two board members in question said to the BR Executive Management Team: “Le boroletse.” In his letter to Mokaila, Ntwaagae explained the phrase as a “Setswana expression used to describe the posture of sheep.” The former CEO also claimed that at a meet-and-greet session featuring some board members and staff at the BR headquarters in Mahalapye, he was “called to order in front of the staff” by a chairperson of a board sub-committee. The roving microphone was then taken away from him, “embarrassing me in front of my staff in the process.” During a protracted stand-off period, the board would lock him out of important meetings which he was qualified to attend as an ex-officio member of the board.

While he had the option of appointing somebody else to replace Moakofhi, Mokaila chose to get rid of this board. Soon after dissolving the BR board, Mokaila appointed a new one, in which only one member from the old board returned – Adolf Hirschfeld. Molebatsi, who had been a cabinet colleague of Mokaila when he served as Assistant Minister of Agriculture in the government of President Ian Khama, was not re-appointed. Following the 2019 general election, in which Mokaila was not contesting, President Mokgweetsi Masisi appointed Segokgo as Minister of Transport and Communications.It is the minister who appoints board members and in exercise of his powers, Segokgo has re-appointed Molebatsi to the BR board. Sunday Standard learns that Molebatsi was a second choice because Segokgo had initially wanted to re-appoint Barulaganyi Gakelebotse – who was part of the replacement board Mokaila appointed in 2017.

When Gakelebotse turned down this offer, it is only then that Segokgo settled for Molebatsi.As a board member, Molebatsi did business with BR and it was only 11 months later that he made a formal declaration. This he did by writing a letter to the BR Board Secretary in which he said that on being appointed to the board “I did declare that I have two hotels i.e. Maeto Hotel and Maeto Lodge. I also have Maeto Travel & Tours and Maeto Bureau du Change. The above-mentioned hotels and Travel & Tours minibuses and Quantums have been used by BR staff before and they continue to use our services. The directors of these companies are myself, O. S. Molebatsi and my wife, B.B. Molebatsi.” The problem with this letter was that it sought to equate declaring one business interests with declaring that one has business interest in an organisation that they are a board member of.

As the letter shows, when Molebatsi joined BR he declared his business interests but didn’t tell the board that his companies were doing business with BR until after the fact.From a corporate-governance standpoint and under any circumstances, there is a huge problem with board members doing business with organisations that they are supposed to maintain oversight over. The standard procedure is for the member to recuse himself when the bids of companies that they have an interest in are evaluated because their interests are conflicted. The fact of the matter though is that even those other members that don’t have commercial interest in the company and who don’t recuse themselves, are also conflicted and should recuse themselves because they are evaluating a bid put in by a colleague. The one real solution is to completely outsource this function to third parties with absolutely no connections to the board member – which would come at a cost to the organisation and create an unnecessary administrative burden.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.