The Minister of Trade and Industry Vincent Seretse and his wife are being accused of conflict of interest after selling a piece of land belonging to Tlhokomelo ya Bagodi Trust as Trustees┬á and┬á then going around to buy the land through Renaissance Property Holdings, a company they own jointly.
According to documents obtained by the Sunday Standard from the Registrar of Deeds, the minister started the Trust in 1996 and is its trustee and Chairman. Documents passed to the Sunday Standard also revealed that Minister Seretse has a 75% shareholding in Renaissance Property Holdings (PTY) Ltd, the company that bought the piece of land from Tlhokomelo ya Bagodi Trust.
Minister Seretse’s wife, Michelle who is also a trustee in Tlhokomelo ya Bagodi Trust owns the remaining 25% in Renaissance Property Holdings.
The piece of land, plot 36142 in Gaborone was sold by Seretse and Michelle as trustees of Thokomelo ya Bagodi to Renaissance Property Holdings (PTY) ltd in 2010 for P1┬á761┬á660.
It also emerged in the documents passed to the Sunday Standard that the piece of land was not valued to determine its market value and was sold at a price determined partly by Seretse and his wife as buyers and sellers.
According to Tlhokomelo ya Bagodi Notarial Deed of Trust, “Trustees shall be expected to protect the interest of the trust to the best of their abilities. They shall at all times disclose any interest whether it be pecuniary, financial, direct or indirect, which they may have in any company or juristic persona which may contract of otherwise deal with the Trust or with any company or other juristic persons owned, operated, or controlled by the Trust.”
Sources close to the controversial transaction argue that the minister and his wife violated┬á the Notarial Deed of Trust of Tlhokomelo ya Bagodi Trust┬á insisting that this was not an arm’s length transaction because “ Seretse was part of the people who made a resolution at the Trust and also at Renaissance Property Holdings (Propriety) Limited.”
Asked to explain the apparent conflict of interest, Minister Seretse engaged his lawyers MIMCHIN and KELLY who insisted that there was no conflict of interest in how Seretse handled the transaction.
Responding to Sunday Standard queries on behalf of Seretse, Terence Dambe of MINCHIN and KELLY (Botswana) law firm said “The property was sold in accordance with the powers granted to the trustees upon establishment of the trust. As the sale was duly approved in accordance with the governance rules of the Trust, there was no conflict of interest in the sale of the properties.”┬á
Documents obtained from the Registrar of Deeds also show that the Trust was established for the promotion of the welfare of the aged; persons who are over 60 years old.
Sunday Standard sought to establish if Seretse used the trust as a vehicle through which he is funding his personal businesses or to acquire property and how extensively he is using the Trust in his private and business dealings; and whether beneficiaries of the trust benefited from the sale of a plot owned by Tlhokomelo ya Bagodi Trust to Renaissance Property Holdings. On who the beneficiaries of the Trust are, Dambe said “we are advised that the beneficiaries of the Trust are members of our client’s immediate families.”┬á
Dambe further explained that “yes the beneficiaries of the Trust (immediate family members) benefited from the sale to Renaissance Property Holding.
He said the trust was intended to be created as a family trust, with the purpose of purchasing the land in question and developing a retirement home “which we are advised was to be run on a commercial basis.”
“In this regard, the client used his personal/family resources to purchase the property and create the trust. We are advised that as a result of the Trust not being able to get the necessary approval from authorities to operate a retirement home, the venture never came to fruition,”┬á said Dambe who is also a Managing Partner at MINCHIN and KELLY (Botswana) law firm.
According to the Notarial Deed of Trust of Tlhokomelo ya Bagodi, Seretse “contributed the sum of one hundred Pula (herein referred to as the capital and such contribution shall comprise the Trust fund together with any additions and accreditations thereto from other sources.”
Documents from the Registrar of Deeds also show that some of the objectives of the trust are to facilitate, provide and promote decent and dignified accommodation for the aged people in Botswana and to facilitate and provide recreational facilities for the aged people in Botswana and to own, run and operate old aged homes and facilities for the aged.
Part of the objectives of the Trust is also to cooperate with established government, municipal and statutory bodies devoted to the improvement of the welfare of the aged; and to cooperate with and assist any organisation currently or potentially involved in the welfare of the aged.
During the session of the just ended Parliament session Seretse was quoted as saying by Mmegi newspaper that the nation is divorced from reality pertaining to land ownership as many people harbour the thought that everyone has to own a piece of land.
Contrary to popular view, he said the reality on the ground is that some will own land with others forced to rent property.┬á
“When we discuss the land issue we approach it with the mindset that everybody has to own their piece of land while the reality worldwide proves that thinking wrong,” he is quoted as saying when debating in Parliament.
In addition, he said the land situation in the capital city is not as ugly as it is in other cities across the globe. According to Seretse, no one sleeps under trees here, and that suggests land and housing are better off relative to the global picture.
“That is why today in Gaborone you won’t find a situation where people sleep at bus stations,” he continued.
He further said history has shown that many people who apply for land in Gaborone and its vicinity are just taking advantage of the freely available opportunity because most end up selling the land.
He stated that this was an indication that residential purposes was not the main reason why thousands of land applications are forwarded whenever calls to apply for land are made, rather, sales is the sole purpose for land acquisition.