Former Minister of Transport and Communications Tshenolo Mabeo will appear before Parliamentary Committee this Wednesday for questioning over his unauthorized and secret trip to meet Brazilian airplane manufacturers Embraer, for possible procurement talks.
In last week’s cabinet reshuffle, President Ian Khama swiftly redeployed Mabeo to head the Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development. This coincided with claims by insiders that there is an underlying conflict with Mabeo remaining at the Transport ministry following the looming P2 billon tender to replace Air Botswana’s aging fleet.
It emerged in a recent Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Public Enterprises questioning session that Mabeo secretly went to Brazil in May this year to evaluate possible aircraft suppliers for Air Botswana without the parastatal’s approval. Mabeo was accompanied by his permanent secretary Neil Fitt and Air Botswana’s aircraft engineer Karabo Chibane when taking this controversial trip.
The bone of contention haunting Mabeo is that the Brazilian trip happened without the blessings of the Air Botswana Board and management. The Chairman of the board is one of Khama’s trusted inner circle, former Botswana Defense Force Commander, Tebogo Carter Masire.
Air Botswana Acting General Manager Agnes Khunwane spilled the beans before a parliamentary committee that they did not approve the trip nor were they part of its developments. The acting GM however admitted that they were aware of the trip but did not approve the request. Khunwane said the Air Botswana chairman was invited to the trip by the ministry but declined because the parastatal already had other plans regarding evaluating of aircrafts, therefore they did not want to compromise their in-house procedures.
“We were just alerted that they were carrying on a trip and how we knew was because they had wanted one of our staff members (aircraft engineer) to go with them because as the Minister had said it was just for their own benefit ,” Khunwane told the parliamentary committee.
The legislators stopped short of calling the Brazil trip an ‘ego trip’ before declaring it as “unofficial” and a “holiday.” Parliamentary committee chairman Samson Moyo Guma expressed shock, asking if it were possible for a minister to wake up and decide “he requests permission from the President; and the President approves it; and then flies first class with his PS and stays in a nice hotel. Then they get there they look at aircrafts, they look at the chairs and stuff like that and then they come back?”
Guma went on to say; “really I am comfortable in saying to Parliament and to my President respectfully that the trip undertaken to Brazil by the PS and your Minister was not an official trip because it was not sanctioned. It was not part of the process being undertaken by Air Botswana.”
Gabane-Mmankgodi MP Pius Mokgware was even more incensed at the acting general manager for giving Mabeo, her junior, the aircraft engineer to go to Brazil for a “holiday,” asking why she paid his per diem because he was doing the Ministry’s business which is not in line with Air Botswana’s procedures.
“You have to take full responsibility for that one; you cannot just sponsor your officer to go on holidays which did not benefit Air Botswana. Now we say you should be surcharged for that,” said Mokgware.
It also emerged that Air Botswana stakeholders including Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana and International Air Transport Association consultants were part of the Brazil trip even though they are working together with the parastatal to come up with a turnaround strategy.
It was also revealed at the recent parliamentary committee that on Monday(4 October 2016) Air Botswana will meet and decide which one to choose between three global aviation companies; Embraer (Brazil), ATR (France) and Bombadier (Canada).