Collins Newman slaps Botswana Railways with P8m legal bill

The issue is said to be so delicate that it threatens the long standing relationship between BR and Collins Newman lawfirm.


Botswana’s premier law firm, Collins Newman, last Monday slapped the Botswana Railways (BR) with a letter of demand for payment, after it rendered the parastatal legal services.
In the letter written by Parks Tafa, senior partner at Collins Newsman, Botswana Railways was given seven days to pay P8 million, failing which he threatened to take them to court.
Information gathered by The Botswana Gazette indicates that the law firm was engaged by BR to draw up a contract for the procurement of 525 locomotives and passenger coaches from an American company.
Management at BR is said to be running helter-skelter to douse off the ensuing crossfire battle with Collins Newman lawfirm. Their predicament, it is suggested, lies in the fact that they excluded the BR Board when the decision to engage Collins Newman was made. Apparently, management can only authorise payment of up to P1.5 million without seeking consent from the Board, but Tafa’s legal fees surpassed the threshold by P6.5 million. Sources within BR indicate that management had asked Tafa to itemise and break down the bill, but his total charges still came down to P8 million.
Tafa is said to have not taken kindly to management’s request to take the matter to the Board: “He told them in no ambiguous terms that he has no business waiting for the Board as they were never engaged when he was given the contract,” revealed a source.
The issue is said to be so delicate that it threatens the long standing relationship between BR and Collins Newman lawfirm who have been rendering legal services to the railway company for several years now. Botswana Railways has embarked on an ambitious P280 million expenditure to return the passenger train by the end of March 2016.
In an interesting twist, the South African company engaged to supply Botswana Railways with 37 passenger train coaches, Transnet Engineering in its response to The Botswana Gazette, claims that it was awarded the contract to supply passenger train coaches “following a public and competitive bidding process.” On the other hand the Minister of Transport and Communications, Tshenolo Mabeo, told the media that Transnet was handpicked through the selective tendering route.
Also in its rebuttal, Transnet says that by saying it cannot explain how it manufactured 37 coaches in 6 months, this publication is “insinuating” that “Transnet is, one way or the other incapable of manufacturing coaches” and that “it casts aspersions” on its ability to execute or manage a project of this magnitude.
While it claims that the coaches ordered by Botswana Railways were engineered to “exact specifications,” Transnet did not state such specifications, or break down the timeline within which they made them to allay any concerns of wrong doing, nor the amount of coaches manufactured versus the timeline raised by the The Botswana Gazette. The company also did not offer any breakdown of how many coaches it made per month for instance.