SPEDU Procurement Graft Exposed

A case of unfair dismissal by a former high ranking employee of SPEDU has exposed an alleged procurement graft by a close-knit cohort of executives of an organisation set up to restore life to a town left barren when a mine that had been its lifeblood suddenly closed in 2016. Staff Writer KEABETSWE NEWEL reports A case of unfair dismissal by a former high ranking employee of SPEDU has exposed an alleged procurement graft by a close-knit cohort of executives of an organisation set up to restore life to a town left barren when a mine that had been its lifeblood suddenly closed in 2016. Staff Writer KEABETSWE NEWEL reports

Former Director – Investment Promotion at SPEDU, Louis Sibanda, is challenging his dismissal at the Francistown Industrial Court. A peek into the origins of the case indicates that Sibanda questioned some procurement processes at SPEDU. According to documented evidence seen by The Botswana Gazette,  Sibanda’s misgivings somehow cost him his job.

The documents establish that sometime in 2018, Sibanda wrote a letter to the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) in which he sought the spy agency to investigate what he termed irregular procurement practices at SPEDU. In the letter, he indicated that in a period dating back to December 2017, he had witnessed several procurement activities that, in his judgement, did not meet SPEDU procurement procedures.

“I must mention that over the past one year I have expressed my reservations on how the company handled procurement, which in my judgement was not above approach,” Sibanda wrote. “I have written an email to the CEO informing him that our procurement was not procedural and even attached procurement procedures in the same email. I have met and discussed with the Director responsible and urged his department to follow procedure and stop fixing tenders.”

According to the letter, Sibanda was subsequently called to the CEO’s office sometime around October 2018 where he met with Executive Director James Mathokgwane and the CEO Dr. Mokubung Mokubung.

It emerges that the brief meeting had no formal agenda. However, Sibanda was told that he should become a part of the team and play along.  The letter quotes the Director, Mathokgwane, as having said: “Gentlemen, the cake is too big for any one man. Let us share this cake and protect each other. We all have wives and children.”

Earlier on that day, the CEO had allegedly asked Sibanda to see the Director to discuss an P84 million Bulk Land Servicing Tender, which was due to come to the Management Tender Committee (MTC) around that time.

The allegations in available documentation indicate that one of the directors came up with a single quotation for procurement of survey services for the land bank under SPEDU. According to the documents, this particular director allegedly asked that a Management Tender Committee meeting be convened to award the tender to the company whose sole quotation he had.
According to the letter, Sibanda reportedly put it to him that the director needed to follow procurement procedure and that SPEDU could not award a tender under direct procurement if there was no serious emergency or if the services sought were offered by many companies in Botswana. The company (name withheld) won the tender nonetheless. This is in spite of SPEDU’s Procurement Procedure 6.1.2 that stipulates that procurement above P150,000 are to be advertised and awarded through a formal tender process and not a Request for Quotation (RFQ) method.

According to letters seen by The Botswana Gazette, procurement of a biometric access solution from a certain company (name withheld) was awarded and paid even before reaching the MTC. In fact, documents state that the tender should have been a formal tender in accordance with Procurement Procedure 6.1. However, it was sought through an RFQ, awarded and paid even before completion of contract. According to documents, it only came to the MTC a few weeks after payment. At the MTC, Sibanda reportedly raised his concerns about the unprocedural procurement process but was told that the tender was approved because it was already paid for at the time the MTC met to consider it. The biometric solution was allegedly commissioned four months after full payment.

It is alleged that procurement of partitioning services followed a route similar to that of biometric solutions. In his letter to DISS, Sibanda narrates how he had met with Director Mathokgwane and the CEO separately and expressed to each how dissatisfied he was with their ignorance of procurement procedures. The letter says he even wrote an email to the CEO and attached procurement procedures for his reference. The procurement was supposed to be a formal tender. However, it was procured through the RFQ method and awarded (unprocedurally) and paid for in full before the Management Tender Committee sat to consider it, according to Sibanda’s letter to DISS.

Like the other tenders, the tender for procurement of 11 laptops and mobile phones for members of the board of directors was allegedly awarded through RFQ while the procedure dictated a formal tender process where an Invitation to Tender (ITT) ought to have been advertised. At the MTC which sat to award the tender, the letter says Sibanda raised a concern regarding process, protesting that the tender was supposed to be a formal tender instead of an RFQ.

It is alleged that different companies were given different specifications to respond to. In that sense, there were queries allegedly raised by Sibanda about the evaluation of different devices and price proposals from RFQ respondents. His assertion was that there was no way the evaluation committee could submit a reasonable evaluation if the quotations under evaluation were for different specifications. “I submitted that if the quotation was to be awarded on the basis of price, then the bidders should all submit a price for the same specifications,” Sibanda wrote to DISS. “

The tender was awarded even with the irregularities.

After a meeting between Sibanda, the CEO and Director Mathokgwane at the CEO’s office, Sibanda allegedly discussed the tender further with the CEO. According to documents, Dr. Mokubung told Sibanda explicitly that he wanted money for the festive season from this tender. Documents allege that he said this tender would determine whether Sibanda could be trusted or not.

According to his letter to DISS, Sibanda later approached Dr. Mokubung to inform him that there were three companies that he trusted could deliver the investment conference and wanted them to respond to the ITT. Significantly, it is said Sibanda also explained to the CEO that he had a conflict of interest because two of the companies were from members of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), a political party with which he associates with, while the third company belonged to an old friend.
Documents reveal further that Director Mathokgwane, in consultation with Sibanda, said he was okay with Sibanda’s procurement as long as those companies remembered that he also had children to feed. A suggestion is said to have been made by Mathokgwane to add a company owned by a former Botswana National Youth Council (BNYC) official because he was an “understanding” person.

Documents further reveal that at a later date, Sibanda travelled to Gaborone for a Board Tender Committee meeting. According to the documents, he was asked to arrange a meeting with the ex-BNYC official. At the meeting, documents allege that it was agreed with him that he was going to charge around P400,000 and that some individuals at SPEDU would revert to him to about how much he should inflate the price with, in order to accommodate the SPEDU executives, being the CEO and Directors.

It is said on a trip in Cape Town sometime after that, the CEO told Sibanda that he wanted P100 000 from that tender for the festive season and that Sibanda should not fail him. At the end, it agreed with the former BNYC official to inflate the price by P200 000 to accommodate the SPEDU executive team.

Available evidence shows that a director at one of the companies which were allegedly about to be unfairly disqualified called the CEO after a tip off. The director of the company (a youthful BDP parliamentary hopeful) is said to have told Dr. Mokubung explicitly that he was aware that arrangements were in place for the tender to be awarded to a former BNYC official under an arrangement where a financial benefit would be kicked back to SPEDU executives. Realising that their arrangement had somehow leaked, it is said the EXCO reversed the arrangement and ended up awarding the tender to the young BDP parliamentary hopeful.

Sibanda was then charged and suspended by Dr. Mokubung. In a statement of offence seen by The Botswana Gazette, Sibanda was charged with willful disclosure of SPEDU’s confidential information where such disclosure was likely to be detrimental to the interests of SPEDU. He was accused of having tipped the young BDP parliamentary hopeful off about SPEDU EXCO arrangement regarding the tender, which allegedly compromised their plans to “make festive season money”.

Sibanda was also charged with inducement/soliciting a bribe from the director of a certain company (name withheld) which was awarded a security services tender. Notably, a disciplinary hearing was held on 6 May 2019 at which a three-man panel of judges found Sibanda not guilty of all the offences. The panel found that by leaking that confidential information, Sibanda was protecting the interests of SPEDU and should therefore himself be protected. Further, no evidence linking Sibanda to the other offence where he was said to have solicited a bribe was found.

About three weeks ago, this publication called the CEO of SPEDU, Dr. Mokubung, who is heavily implicated in the alleged wrongdoing, about these allegations. He did not answer his phone while text messages sent to his mobile platforms on the same day were read and ignored. A phone call was made to Director Mathokgwane in addition to an inquiry texted to his phone.

Mathokgwane said he could not speak to such matters and commented that such matters of improper governance should be reported to relevant authorities. However, he confirmed that Dr. Mokubung had brought this publication’s enquiries to his attention. Mathokgwane had instead promised to furnish The Botswana Gazette with his side of the story on Monday last week. On the same Monday, and again on Tuesday, he promised to engage but to-date has not.

The Marketing and Public Relations Manager at SPEDU, Sheila Moribame, also did not respond to calls made to her from two weeks ago. She also read and ignored questions sent to her phone. While the case has been postponed to September by the Francistown Industrial Court, Moribame had previously told this publication that she was not aware of it.

SPEDU is an investment promotion company owned by the Government of Botswana tasked with investment promotion and coordinating economic diversification in the Selebi-Phikwe region. It is funded by the taxpayer.