- Maele, Tawana Landboard Clash Over Branson
- Board Members defy Maele’s order
- Board members called for disciplinary hearing
- Maele was accompanied by Tshekedi Khama
- Maele wants allocation done before Masisi becomes President
- Vincent Seretse facilitated for Branson?
Four Board members at the Tawana Land Board are facing adverse repercussions for refusing an order from Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services Prince Maele. The Minister had instructed the Board to allocate prime land in the Moremi Game Reserve to British billionaire Sir Richard Branson.
According to documents gathered by the Botswana Gazette, the conflict between the minister and the four Board members, Tebogo Boalotswe, Mpho Mothoka, Selina Phorano and Onkgomoditse Gabakakanngwe started late last year when they were called for a special Board meeting on the 22nd December to discuss land allocation to Branson, a month after his visit to Botswana. The Board members, who had already closed for the festive break, are said to have advised the Minister that they were unable to return to convene the Board as they were on vacation as from the 18th. The Minister arranged for another meeting on December 28th but Board members insisted that official business was only scheduled to resume in January 2018.
Having failed to convene the desired meeting in December, Minister Maele, accompanied by Tourism Minister Tshekedi Khama, only managed to address the Board of the Tawana Landboard at Maun Lodge on the 19th of February this year. The agenda for the meeting was ‘consultations on land required for tourism development in North West District,’ however at the meeting Maele implored Board members to allocate land to Branson, no other tourism development was discussed.
According to The Botswana Gazette sources, various Board members vocally expressed their disagreement to the proposed allocation and meeting became increasingly confrontational as the Board insisted that the minister should first consult the community (morafe) through traditional leadership (Bogosi ). ‘‘The meeting became so heated to a point where Maele ended up telling us that Botswana needed Branson more than he needs our country because he is a wealthy man with more than 400 companies,’’ a source who attended the meeting alleged.
The following day, on the 20th of February, the Tawana Landboard Board Chairman Emmanuel Dube turned on his colleagues and wrote a letter to Maele accusing them of misconduct. Dube wrote that his colleague’s ‘‘unprofessional conduct and inappropriate behaviour’’ made the Board ungovernable. Following from the Chairman’s complaint, Maele wrote to the four Board members informing them that they face ‘‘serious allegations of unprofessional conduct on your part as a Land Board Member’’. The minister also informed the quartet that he had forthwith instituted a Committee of Enquiry to investigate the allegations. ‘‘Once the investigations are concluded, you shall be notified and advised of any further action’’, Maele wrote.
Maele’s committee of Enquiry convened immediately to carry out their investigations, interviewing 23 individuals at the Tawana Land Board comprising the complainant (Board Chairman), Board Secretary, seven Board members and the Principal Board Clerk, among others. In their Executive Summary to the Minister, the Committee of Enquiry found the four Board members guilty as charged. ‘‘Among the four, Board member Boalotswe is considered to be exceedingly vocal, argumentative, opinionated and occasionally agitates for disruption or disorder,’’ the report states.
The report noted that despite Boalotswe’s ‘‘would be positive contribution, he was seen as a key person with great influence against established hierarchy.’’ Boalotswe, together with Mothoka and Gabokakanngwe were labelled as individuals who were prone to violating the rules and codes that govern Board procedure.
Boalotswe, according to the report was described as being ‘‘ at the forefront of the defiance’’ while Gabokakanngwe was described as ‘‘a quiet follower and supporter of motions raised by Boalotswe and Mothoka who are described in the report as ‘‘activists’’. Their partner in crime, Ms Phorano was however ‘‘perceived as a subtle and keen follower who ignites antagonistic arguments behind the shadows’’.
On 22 March, Boalotswe and his co-accused received letters from Acting Minister Itumeleng Moipisi, acting on behalf of Minister Maele. The letters, in the possession of this publication, state that ‘‘The investigations have established that you have exhibited unprofessional conduct by boycotting Board activities, (sic) colluding with other Board members to influence decisions. The investigations have also established that you absented yourself from a Special Board Meeting of the 22 and 28 December without any reasonable excuse.” The Board members were given seven days to show cause why the Minister should not require them to vacate office.
In addition to the findings against the four members, the report recommended that the Minister ought to dissolve the Board, as it was the opinion of the authors that only the Chairman can be trusted going forward. ‘‘Although only four board members’ conduct is unbecoming, it was established that in more cases than not, they form the majority of the Board in the absence of the Board Chairman,’’ the investigators advised the minister. They further highlighted the disadvantages of dissolving the Board indicating that there are new members in the Board who are not aligned and that the Chairman and his Deputy would be perceived to be compromised if only others were dismissed.
The Botswana Gazette is in possession of confidential documents from Maele addressed to Kgosi Kgolo, Batawana Tribal Administration dated 23 February 2018 detailing government’s intentions to allocate three sites within Moremi Game Reserve. ‘‘Government is desirous to lease one of these identified sites to an investor who has been identified by the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry’’, reads part of Maele’s letter.
According to information obtained by this publication, the investor was Branson. Branson was recommended by Vincent Seretse who spent some private time with Branson in the Okavango delta during the English business magnate’s visit to Botswana in November last year.
In the same letter, Maele informs Batawana Kgosi Kgolo that even though the community has shown interest in one of the identified sites in Moremi Game Reserve, their interest had not been processed because the community is yet to constitute a trust or an entity that can apply for the plot. The Minister sought to further ‘sweet-talk’ Kgosi Kgolo by indicating that ‘‘Government confirms that the request by the community would be favourably considered as part of promoting participation in tourism development’’. Maele’s offer to Kgosi Kgolo of Batawana is perceived by members of the community as an underhanded strategy to soften the tribal leadership’s attitude towards his request for land earmarked for Branson.
Reached for comment, Minister Maele denied that the four accused are being victimized for frustrating land allocation to the British billionaire. He said he only received a report that the Board was dysfunctional and instituted an investigation. ‘‘The guys now want to politicize it and link it to Richard Branson’’, Maele said. He confirmed that he has received the report from the Committee of Enquiry and he was still studying it to determine way forward. He said the Board members want to cloud the issue of their conduct just to attract sympathy. Attempts to talk to the concerned members were futile as those who were contacted said they have been informed the matter was confidential.
No imputation is made against Mr. Branson, who, investigations reveal, is unaware of the events unfolding in Botswana.