The Debswana Deputy Managing Director, Len Makwinja, has been caught up in a tender controversy between citizen shareholders of Bateman Botswana, one of Debswana’s biggest contractors in the Debswana P 6 billion plant-rehabilitation project.
At the centre of the controversy are Monty Chiepe and Mokenti Raborokgwe, erstwhile partners at Geoflux Botswana, a shareholder in Bateman Botswana. The two have since fallen out: Chiepe has remained with Geoflux while Raborokgwe and some of his colleagues have broken away to form Bateman Projects, which is also a partner in Bateman Botswana, alongside Bothakga Barrow-Binnie.
Makwinja is being blamed by Bateman Botswana for a series of blunders that saw Debswana trampling its own procurement procedures. In one case, Debswana even diverted payment from Bateman Botswana, a Debswana contracted company, to the breakaway Bateman Projects, which entered the project through the back door.
Bateman Projects is headed by Raborokgwe. The controversy over the Debswana blunder is not helped by the close social and business ties between Makwinja and Raborokgwe. Makwinja is Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Board Chairman and Raborokgwe is his deputy.
Debswana senior officials this week owned up to the blunders that have touched off accusations of favoritism and unfairness.
At stake is the Debswana P6 billion plant rehabilitation project approved by government and De Beers last year. Makwinja has been appointed Debswana’s point man in the ambitious construction project. It is in his capacity as the Chief Operations Officer of the projects that he is linked to the suppliers’ dispute.
The feuding companies are offshoots of the Israeli heavy engineering company, Bateman International.
For a long time, Chiepe and Raborokgwe were senior partners at Geoflux, a citizen company whose name crops up frequently in the big yellow files at Debswana head office.
In what is a sign of a relationship gone irretrievably sour, Chiepe and Raborokgwe have been exchanging hostile letters, a good number of which have been copied to Debswana, some openly accusing Makwinja of favoritism and unfairness.
This week, Debswana senior officials admitted that they made “errors” by mixing up the names of companies owned by Raborokgwe and Chiepe.
Debswana Diamond Company says it broke its own rules by awarding the multi-million Pula Jwaneng Mine pre-feasibility project to Bateman Botswana.
According to Debswana Group Services Manager, Wilfred Mpai, it was later found out that Bateman Botswana had not registered with Debswana. Besides, the company did not have a shareholders agreement, a key requirement for all companies supplying Debswana.
In another twist, even though Debswana was contractually obliged to Bateman Botswana, a rival offshoot, Bateman Projects, got in through the back door and took up the project that had been awarded to Bateman Botswana.
Mpai says the mix up was not immediately a major issue. “But later on, it was to be. That was when we asked for a shareholders agreement and it never came forward and then the shareholders started fighting amongst themselves.”
To make matters worse, Debswana passed payment to a company with which they had no contractual agreement.
“Debswana made a mistake by allowing Bateman Projects to do the job. The biggest mistake was that we thought Bateman Botswana and Bateman Projects was one and the same thing. Later, we learnt that there were, in fact, wranglings between the two,” said Mpai.
Mpai’s statement is corroborated by another Debswana senior official, Group Secretary, Joe Matome, who said it was Bateman Botswana through Chiepe that drew Debswana’s attention to the mistake that Debswana was making by paying Bateman Projects when the tender had been awarded to Bateman Botswana.
“We have openly admitted our faults and have in fact gone as far as to demand Bateman Projects to pay us back,” said Matome. He said Debswana has been refunded P4.5 million.
While Matome said all blunders were now water under the bridge, the tone of Chiepe’s letters suggested otherwise.
In one of the letters, Chiepe said not only had Debswana Deputy Managing Director gone back on his promise to give the tender to Chiepe’s company, the mix up was deliberate because Makwinja and Raborokgwe are friends.
“There has been sufficient confusion on both sides,” said Matome, adding that Debswana has been given indemnity for its mistakes by the concerned parties.
“The feeling that we are cheating Chiepe is wrong. The important thing to realize is that there is a limit as to how far Debswana can go in this dispute because we are not a shareholder in the feuding companies,” said Matome.
“They have to resolve the differences amongst themselves.”