Friday, September 25, 2020

There is need for state intervention at Bona Life

As seen elsewhere in this edition, and other stories that we been carrying over the past several months about Bona Life, the life insurance company is in need of help of some sort.

On Thursday the troubled company temporarily shut down its doors following an impasse between its shareholders. As we speak about 20 of its former workers are at home.

We strongly feel and believe that at this stage there is need for the state, acting on behalf of the public to make a move that will save the company from prospective “vultures”.

Dear reader, as you might be aware Bona Life is a Batswana company founded by Regina Vaka who holds a minority stake standing 25 percent. The large shareholding is largely in the hands of Batswana through a stake owned by Botswana Opportunities Partnerships (BOP) partially owned by Capital Management Botswana (CMB) and the Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF).

In our view, a recent attempt by some of the directors of CMB and BOP to topple the founding Chief Executive Regina Vaka is an indication that they intend to amass returns on investments that they did not even make. This sort of behaviour is only found amongst vultures. This sort of behaviour should be a good reason enough for anyone who believes in citizen economic empowerment to raise their voice and stop this imminent day light robbery that is about to happen with the money belonging to Batswana.

Dear reader, in case you wonder how Bona Life became a Batswana company, you would remember that not more than four years back BPOPF invested some millions of Pulas in BOP which later bought a stake in Bona Life. This means combining the shareholding of the Bona Life staff, BOP as well as that of Vaka, Bona Life should ideally be an indigenous financial entity. This is why the success f this company under the current ownership structure is important. This is also important why the state should consider using its muscles to block any hostile takeover attempts by some of the directors or whoever they are working for. At our last check, Bona Life held about P800 million in annuities from nearly 1,000 clients. This is huge amounts of money belonging to Batswana that cannot be let down the drain. It is our view that if Bona Life was to collapse, the attempts to set up indigenous financial institutions will suffer a blow. Vaka has possibly inspired other young professionals within the capital markets industry to set up their own, should she not get the support that she needs ÔÇô which subsequently mean the permanent closure of Bona Life, then we stand a chance of demoralising whoever is looking up to her.

While the battle for the soul of Bona Life has been going on for several months now following irreconcilable differences amongst the company shareholders, in our interaction with her Vaka did not shy away from stating that her main interest is proving to the nation that a Motswana can build a sound financial company.

While she admits that the outcome of the arbitration between BPOPF and CMB over BOP could go either way, Vaka believes that if she was to lose the battle, chances are that the nation will be taken ten years back in terms of indigenous financial sector development. We share her sentiments. It would take a lot of courage for any other Motswana to make an attempt to set up an indigenous insurance company should Bona Life reach its grave prematurely.

While we do not encourage that the state do anything that is out of the law, we believe that there is some sort of intervention that it can do to help the company get back on its feet. The dismemberment of the British American Investment (BAI) Company, one of the largest conglomerates in Mauritius could serve as a reference point or case study for us here. The government took over the company in April 2015 after discovering that it ran a Ponzi scheme that paid investors from the money of other investors rather than from its profits. After discovering the fraud, the Bank of Mauritius revoked Bramer Bank’s licence. Back here home, the same could be done about the “brief case” companies that have been set up solely defraud. The regulator should consider revoking license issued to such kind companies and black listing some of its directors whose track record has been nothing but deceit. The #Bottomline is that we need to grow our economy and one way of doing it is through ensuring that indigenous companies set up prosper.

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