Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama has agreed with the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises that the P17 million contract the BTO entered into with Gafa Media in Dubai was flawed and could not be deemed valid.
The committee said this was because it was signed by a “junior officer with the wrong designation”. The officer in question would be Marketing Executive Jillian Blackbeard- was found to have signed the contract on 28th August 2016, ahead of her appointment to the position which was valid from 1st September. She said she relied on a verbal agreement about her promotion and that she had not yet been given an appointment when she signed the Dubai contract.
Another error picked by the committee is that despite the contract saying the deal with Gafa Media would be valid for 3 years; it contradicted itself by stating that the same deal would end in 2021, giving the impression of a tenure of 5 years. Blackbeard admitted to parliamentary committe that she did not read the contract when she signed it leading to Khama agreeing with the committee that the contact should be nullified as the P17 million had not yet been paid out.
However, Khama threw the outgoing BTO boss Thabo Dithebe under the bus stating that the CEO allowed him to be hands on with the affairs of the parastatal.
This is after Dithebe told the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises last week that almost all the decisions at BTO were made by the Minister, the bone of contention being the recently signed P17 million contract with a Dubai based company, Gafa Media which the CEO said Khama sidelined him over.
“The CEO advised me that in the absence of a board, the Minister can be in charge. He said it was procedural. When it comes to decision making, everything was coming to me through the board. The CEO advised me that in the absence of the board, the Minister has the right of control,” Khama told the parliamentary committee.
Asked by Gabane-Mankgodi MP Pius Mokgware if he was aware that the BTO Act did not empower him to usurp the role of the board, Khama said Dithebe told him he had the powers. An answer which led to the committee concluding that most decisions made in the absence of the board were illegal as they contravene the Act. The BTO board has been defunct in the last nine months and Dithebe says
of the nine members who sit on it, five resigned, while the remaining four could not form a quorum as per the act. The board is supposed to be appointed by the Minister.
Fielding the committee’s questions on the matter, Khama said he was perplexed to learn of Dithebe’s claims when he was “at the forefront” on the project from the start, even approving the BTO trip to the United Arab Emirates.
“The CEO has never shown any displeasure on the contract. I wrote BTO a letter asking them to consider going to Dubai. At no point did the CEO refuse. When the CEO approved the first trip to Dubai…what did he think he was doing, approving a holiday?” Khama asked.
He refused to take full responsibility for any wrong doing at BTO, saying if he were to, he would have to consequently “take care” of those who misled. Speaking after Khama in parliament, the outgoing CEO still maintained his position from last week.“There is no how I would have allowed a junior to sign a P17 million contract. I was aware that Jillian went to Dubai to accompany the ministry. However I then heard that she signed contract under the minister’s instruction by our legal advisor Zibani Hubona,” he said.
Dithebe maintained that he had always been working under Khama’s instruction and from the sidelines, a situation that made him feel unhappy and viewing the minister as “Operational”- the reason why he says he insisted on having an independent board. He however admitted to failing BTO, hence his decision to step down.
Jillian Blackbeard was for her part grilled by parliament and warned of the dangers of lying under oath. She however insisted that Dithebe had approved the Dubai trip and that she had the impression she was also authorized to sign the contract as she was accompanied by their legal advisor, Zibani Hubona. Blackbeard said Hubona told her it was legal to sign the contract without the CEO. She however denied being with Khama in Dubai, saying she signed the contract alone.
Before Khama, Dithebe and Blackbeard appeared before the parliamentary committee on Monday, Permanent Secretary at the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Elias Magosi had said his involvement in the affairs of BTO was limited. This suggested that in the absence of the board, Khama solely controlled BTO.
While Parliament Legal Advisor Shabani Chikanda advised that it was illegal for BTO to run without a board as it leaves a vacuum, Magosi said he advised Khama to appoint the board several times and even sent a draft of names to him for approval, but the Minister told him to wait until the “the right people” were found.