The Selebi-Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU), which is aimed at resuscitating the economy of the region and the copper mining town, has attracted more controversy than investors since the employment of former Member of Parliament for Goodhope-Mabule, James Mathokgwane, last month.
After dominating the news for all the wrong reasons, the regional diversification unit is back in the news now with allegations that its board chairman, Dan Mahupela, was suspended by Minister of Trade and Industry Vincent Seretse in the first week of June. Information gathered by this publication suggests that Mahupela - who is also the General Manager of BCL Mine - was suspended from the board after he clashed with the newly appointed SPEDU Chief Executive Officer Dr Mokubung Mokubung over the appointment of board member Monte Phuthego as Research and Innovation consultant. Things are said to have come to a boiling point when other SPEDU executives raised concern that Phuthego’s role clashes with their job description as the Director for Research has been appointed. There was duplication of roles within the unit, said a source.
Sources also allege that Phuthego, who was the acting CEO before the arrival of Dr Mokubung, was appointed by Mahupela without consulting other board members. After preliminary investigations led by SPEDU CEO a recommendation was made to the minister to terminate Phuthego’s contract. On the 3rd of June 2015 the issue was presented to the Minister of Trade and Industry who then acted swiftly and suspended Mahupela until investigations regarding the engagement of Phuthego as consultant are complete. Phuthego is also a board member of SPEDU and is said to have retained his position.
Another issue that is alleged to have led to Mahupela’s suspension is that he might have used inside information to help the formation of Recycled Energy and Fuels which is based in Sefophe within the SPEDU region. Mahupela’s wife, Sarah Mahupela, is the director of Recycled Energy and Fuels. The company is owned by the Verma family who are in partnership with BCL at Pula Steel Casting and Manufacturers, a subsidiary of BCL Limited. “This is one of the projects which were earmarked for SPEDU and some board members were shocked that Mahupela was involved in the formation of a company similar to the one which was proposed,” said a source close to developments at SPEDU.
Information gathered by this publication shows that SPEDU wanted to complement the steel recycling company by empowering one of the communities to start a recycling company dealing especially with used tyres but was shocked that the Vermas and Mahupelas have already started one.
The employment of Mathokgwane - the former Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) politician – is said to have caused some rift within the SPEDU board and some senior staff members. Contrary to statements that he was interviewed for the position of Director Operations, it is alleged that he was never interviewed. It is said that only two candidates were shortlisted for the interview being Mathokgwane and an executive from Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) and the interview was supposed to be held at Lansmore Hotel in Gaborone. “The interviewers were Dr Mokubung and board member Thoteletso Jane. Mathokgwane just came to drop some letters and left and was never interviewed,” said the source.
After the said 'meeting' it is alleged that Jane refused to sign the interview tool kit which recommended Mathokgwane as the Director because he felt procedure was not followed. “The tool kit was only signed by Dr Mokubung, hence board members are washing their hands regarding the employment of Mathokgwane,” said the source.
Mathokgwane, who is currently in United States of America with Dr Mokubung and other directors as well as board member Jane for benchmarking, has no office space at SPEDU.
SPEDU PR & Communications Manager, Punah Serati in response to The Patriot on Sunday question regarding the suspension of their board chairman denied the allegations. “As SPEDU, we are not aware of the allegation, as nothing has been communicated to us by the relevant authorities,” she said.
Efforts to get comment from Mahupela hit a snag as he did not answer his phone nor respond to a short message sent to him. SPEDU CEO, Jane and Mathokgwane were said to be in USA for benchmarking at the time of putting the paper to bed.
Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee was told on Wednesday that SPEDU has since its conversion to a company had vacant posts of directors in its structure. Quizzing the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry Peggy Serame on her ministry’s executive summary of its submissions to the PAC, Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament Dithapelo Keorapetse requested Serame to enlighten the PAC about the controversial Regional Operations Director position which the former Goodhope/Mabule MP James Mathokgwane has been appointed to.
Keorapetse requested the Permanent Secretary to clear the air about the alleged fraudulent and corrupt means in which the position was apparently created under. Responding to Keorapetse’s questions Serame told the PAC that in terms of set procedures and provisions, the minister was only charged with appointing the Chief Executive Officer after which other positions would then be appointed for by the CEO with the approval of the company board. She said as a result her ministry had nothing to do with the said appointment. Serame, however, told the PAC that she had it on good authority that Directors' positions have long been provided for in SPEDU structure after its conversion to a company. Although Keorapetse pointed to her that even though it might be true that directors’ positions existed in SPEDU structure, the Regional Operations Director position was never part of it, Serame maintained that there was a possibility that it existed. She told the PAC that after media reports emerged purporting that the position had been fraudulently created for the hired candidate under unclear circumstances, she personally called SPEDU CEO to confirm the allegations, and she was assured that the said candidate had applied for the position, was interviewed and hired for the position. According to Serame, SPEDU started operating fully as a company this year; hence its recent recruitments were justified.
Mahupela had not responded to questions sent to him through BCL public relations office at the time of going to print.