Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Vaka stay put as the battle for Bona Life continues…

The founding chief executive of Bona Life, Regina Vaka has disputed claims that her contract with the country’s first citizen-owned life insurance company has been terminated.

While she admits that an attempt was recently made by one of the Bona Life shareholders ÔÇô Capital Management Botswana (CMB) to oust her, Vaka says she is still in employed by the company which she partially owns with Botswana Opportunity Partnership CMB and Bona Life staff.

Botswana Opportunity Partnership was formed in 2014 by the Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF) as a limited partner and Capital Management Botswana as general partner. CMB is owned by Rapula Okaile and Tim Marsland who recently made an attempt to fire Vaka from the company she founded.

This week, Vaka described the CBM attempt as unlawful.

“I have not been fired from Bona Life, the party that is attempting to do so has no right”, Vaka calmly said in an interview from her office located in the Central Business District (CBD) of the capital Gaborone Thursday mid-day.

She explained that the concerned CMB directors made an attempt to send her packing with an assumption that their company has control of Bona Life.

“The reality is that right now they do not control anything”.

CMB is currently embroiled in a dispute with BPOPF over BOP following the company’s attempt to liquidate CBM Fund 1 which holds assets in which Bona Life has interest in. The matter which was brought before the High Court in December 2017 has since been slated for arbitration.

Why Vaka will not give up

While the battle for the soul of Bona Life has been going on for several months now following irreconcilable differences amongst the company shareholders, Vaka says 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.

“It would take courage for yet another Motswana to make an attempt to set up an indigenous insurance company”, says Vaka adding that should the CMB directors become successful in wrestling Bona Life from her, “this would appear as a failure story for a Motswana”.

Vaka, the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the country’s biggest insurance group, Botswana Insurance Holdings Limited (BIHL) made a dramatic return to the insurance industry in June 2014 when she was unveiled as the owner and CEO of the then Bramer Life Botswana.

The dream was however shrivelled into a horrific nightmare almost a year later following the crippling scandal involving Bramer Life Botswana’s mother company in Mauritius. Labelled by the then Mauritian Prime Minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth as an “unprecedented financial scandal,” the matter hit Bramer Life Botswana hard and compelled the Non Banking Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA) to place the local firm under statutory management in April 2015.

Vaka then fought tooth and nail to reclaim her company, and it was three months later (July 2015) that she stood on the podium alongside the then statutory manager, Nigel Dixon-Warren to announce a transaction that would rebrand Bramer Life to Bona Life and guarantee her a 25 percent stake in the new entity.

The appointment of Dixon-Warren as Statutory Manager was then terminated in terms of Section 75(a) of the Non- Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority Act towards the end of August 2015.

At the time NBFIRA, though its Chief Executive, by the Chief Executive Oaitse Ramasedi said that it was satisfied that the grounds for the continued provision of statutory management services no longer existed.

Apart from lifting the statutory management and endorsing change of names from Bramer Life to Bona Life, the authority also approved a short list of companies that could buy stake in Bona Life following the fall out of the Mauritians.

The new shareholders structure which was made public in August 2015 saw BOP now holding a 40 percent stake while CMB had 25 percent, Bramer Life Staff (10%) and Vaka retained the remaining 25 percent which was formerly allocated in Bramer Life.

However because of the ongoing BPOPF-CMB dispute, Vaka says the 40 percent allocated to BOP now “hangs in the air”.

At the same time, whilst she waits for the arbitration outcome, Vaka vows to stay put at Bona Life, “to navigate the current challenges and oversee the client funds”. She will not allow CMB directors to push her out as either CEO or shareholder.

“My vision is to prove that even in our country, it is possible to start and operate a citizen owned financial services company that thrives”.

[Bona Life shareholders structure]

BOP ÔÇô 40%

CMB ÔÇô 25%

Bona Life Staff ÔÇô 10%

Regina Vaka ÔÇô 25%

[Time Line]

2013: Registered as Bramer Life Insurance with Mauritanian majority shareholder

July 2015: CMB, BOP replaces Mauritanian shareholders

Sept 2015: Rebrands to Bona Life

March 2017: P133 million annuity funds invested through CMB

Oct 2017: BPOPF-CMB dispute ownership of BOP

Dec 2017: BPOPF-CMB fight over ownership of BOP reaches High Court

Jan 2018: DCEC investigate CMB, placed under statutory management

April 2018: High Court dismisses CMB Statutory manager appointed by NBFIRA

May 2018: CMB makes attempt to oust Vaka, fails.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard August 2 – 8

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of August 2 - 8, 2020.