President Ian Khama’s lawyer and board Chairman of Wilderness Safaris, Parks Tafa has made claims that the Khama family does not own a stake directly or indirectly in the controversial multimillion-pula tourism company.
This follows the highly covert acquisition of the national flag carrier, Air Botswana, by Wilderness following alleged arm twisting and threats in an equation where the Khama brothers were playing both the seller and buyer. The president’s brother, Tshekedi is a minister who oversees and controls tourism and conservation, an industry in which Wilderness operates.
Despite Tafa’s dismissals, this publication has records that indicate that President Khama is a director in a Kasane-based tourism company called Baobab Safari Lodge which is part of Wilderness Safaris: he also holds a 5% stake in Linyanti Investments, another subsidiary of Wilderness Holdings Limited.
This publication has it on good authority that a deal has been sealed between the government and Wilderness Safaris, and an announcement to that effect as well as reasons behind the deal will be made soon.
In an interview with this publication, Tafa who said he was not aware of the developments in relation to the tender said as the Chairman of Wilderness Safaris, he has not received anything to that effect. “But it will be good for the tender to be won by a local company, isn’t it? Wilderness Safaris is a local company bred here in Botswana and can bid for anything or tender like any company, they consider it to be profitable or having such prospects,” he said.
Tafa however declined to say what he thinks of the process of selling Air Botswana, saying it would be unprofessional and that he “will not be doing any justice to the integrity of the process.”
He however called the alleged involvement of president Khama in the affair ‘rubbish’: “All along we have been at pains seeing the name of the president been unfairly tied to the company which he doesn’t own a stake in.”
“The president does not directly or indirectly own any shares in Wilderness Safaris, let alone his brothers or sisters, go wherever and check, that lie has continued unchallenged for so many years and it is painful to the president and the company shareholders,” he said.
Tafa continued: “In the many years that I have been the chairman of the board of this company we have always seen that lie being peddled by many people. Khama has never been and is not a shareholder in Wilderness Safaris”.
While information on the acquisition of Air Botswana is not yet fully available- this publication understands that Wilderness Safaris (which some sources suggest had inside information) had the best proposal. Initially the Expression of Interest (EOI) was to introduce the opportunity and to determine the level of interest as well as potential strategic partnerships that could be established with Air Botswana. The selection criteria, according to the government, has always been that those who will make it will be the ones who will respond to the airline’s challenges and ability to serve the market and also the responsiveness to deployment of adequate resources and services including capable management competencies.
“Most invited the government to inject capital into the project but they (Wilderness Safaris) said the government will not inject anything; in the end the government retained a 25 percent stake while the Wilderness Safaris got away with a lion’s share of 75 percent” said a source. Despite this, other player say initially Air Botswana was to be sold in portions and that the latest reports are casting more confusion into the sale than there already is.
Tafa said he was not willing to discuss what they proposed, “Who will that information serve, how is it important now and to what extent is that allowed,” he asked. When told that it is of interest to the public, he said it can only be of interest to the public but will not be of any help now.
The deal is so shrouded in secrecy that even the bidders are equally clueless about the alleged ongoing underground dealings. When asked who has emerged victorious, most bidders said they hear it is Com Air- a South African based company.
When asked on whether they have received anything in relation to the issue, Com Air told this publication that they were equally in the dark about the deal. Wilderness Safaris will be expected to respond to utilization and development of existing facilities, infrastructure and human resource as stipulated and expected by the government.
The announcement is expected to lead to disapproval from the stakeholders and civil society following growing public pessimism over government’s handling of public enterprises and social media sarcasm in which some people say Batswana will one day wake up to the news that they are being sold. It however remains to be seen how the Khamas will revolutionise the airline and how they will benefit from the project, should the plan to hand it to government’s or their preferred investors materialize.
Insiders at Wilderness however, argue that the company does not have the capacity to operate a national airline since its own Wilderness Air Services is ailing.
The loss-making Air Botswana was put up for tender as part of its latest drive to attempt another privatization exercise. Transport minister, Kitso Mokaila, last year in parliament said prior to its dissolution, the former Air Botswana board had approved the 2015-2020 strategic plan aimed at turning around the airline by the year 2020. According to Mokaila, the plan entailed organisational restructuring at an estimated cost of P30 million, improved information technology systems (P30 million), as well as re-fleeting.