Cresta thrives amidst storms

SHARE   |   Monday, 24 April 2017   |   By Staff Writer
Group Board Chairperson Maria Nthebolan Group Board Chairperson Maria Nthebolan

Cresta Marakanelo group is at an advanced stage of replacing its most senior executives who left the company unceremoniously with a dark cloud of financial embezzlement recently. Group board chairperson Maria Nthebolan confirmed recently that the process of appointing new Managing Director and Chief Financial Officer will kick off soon. Meanwhile Glenn Stutchbury and Chipo Mandela continue to act as Managing Director and Chief Finance Officer respectively. Mbulawa leaves Cresta The replacement process will now have to cover the vacancy created by the recent departure of Agripa Soul Mbulawa who was the General Manager of Cresta Marakanelo President Hotel. It is not clear if he was pushed or left at his own volition. Nthebolan has denied that Mbulawa was pushed. As far as Cresta is concerned, she said, Mbulawa tendered a resignation, which the company accepted. "His resignation had nothing to do with an investigation we carried out last year. We specifically indicated in the past that the investigation was centred around the CFO," she said, denying that he was forced to resign. Having started off his career as a Reservations Clerk at Mowana Safari Resort in February 1994, Mbulawa's meteoric rise in the hospitality industry saw him rising to a more senior position at least every 18 months, finally landing him the General Manager's job at Cresta President Hotel in July 2009 – a position he held until February this year.

CEO, CFO scandal
The hospitality and leisure behemoth has recently been in the news for the wrong reasons after its most senior executives – the CEO and the CFO – were implicated in a financial scandal. Tawanda Makaya, who was implicated in an embezzlement scandal that fleeced the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) leading hospitality outfit over P2 million, tendered his resignation as Managing Director in December. Makaya’s resignation came a month after his co-accused – Chief Finance Officer Valentine Mganga – was fired by the Board after being convicted of defrauding the company by filing fictitious invoices for supplies, non-existent works and paying ghost employees. They duo was suspended during an investigation carried out by the Board, which was later reported to the police. Nthebolan refused to reveal the police station where they have reported the misappropriation of funds. Botswana Police spokesperson Witness Bosija had, in an earlier interview, said they could only assist once they are aware where the matter was reported. "I am not at liberty to disclose such information. I will have to get legal advice on whether I should share such information with the media," said Nthebolan. Makaya joined Cresta as the Group Financial Controller in 1996 before rising through the ranks to become CFO and eventually Managing Director in 2007. Mganga joined Cresta as the finance manager in 2007. The two were at the helm of the company for nine years. “The Company has commenced a process to recover the misappropriated funds,” Nthebolan advised recently.

Cox favoured?
Meanwhile some employees within Cresta Marakanelo group are complaining that Cresta has been using underhand tactics to obtain an extension of Group Operations Manager, Jonathan Cox’s residence and work permits in Botswana. Complaints are that he has remained in the post for many years under the pretext that he was training two local General Managers who are understudying him. The two – General Manager at Cresta Thapama in Francistown and General Manager at Cresta Mahalapye – are neither aware of the understudy designation nor even based at the company headquarters, the aggrieved employees complain. They also question Cox's qualifications for appointment to an executive post. Cox – a British national – holds a Higher National Diploma in Hotel Management from the United Kingdom and has 24 years hotel management experience. After completing six years in Tanzania and Zanzibar running 5 star lodges and resorts he rejoined Cresta in 2007 as General Manager at Cresta Lodge Gaborone before he was appointed Group Operations Manager. Cox has declined to field questions from The Patriot on Sunday, referring any enquiry to Sales and Marketing division or Group Human Resource Manager. "I don't deal with the media or public relations issues. I only deal with running hotels. Those guys (HR, Sales and Marketing) should be able to help you," said Cox.

Cresta’s performance 
For the financial year ended December 2016, Cresta recorded an increase in revenue from P320 million in the previous reporting period (Dec 2015) to P344 million. As of 13 April 2017 Cresta shares were trading at P130 per share, well below its Initial Public Offering (IPO) price of 145 thebe. Cresta Group portfolio covers hospitality, insurance, investment management and agrochemical sectors. Cresta is recognised in the local market as the largest hotel operator both in the number of rooms and in the geographical spread of its hotels. It operates 10 Cresta Hotels in Botswana with over 724 rooms. Cresta is co-owned by TA Holdings (40 %) of Zimbabwe, and BDC (26 %), while the rest of the shares (34%) were listed on the BSE in 2010 when BDC – then the majority shareholder – put up 62.9 million shares in an IPO. The IPO was made up of 40.7 million shares offered to the public at P1.45 per share, while 18.5 million was sold through private placement. The remaining 3.7 million was bought by the company on behalf of its employees. The IPO which was 94% subscribed managed to raise P55.4 million, a record for the BSE at that time.