The relationship between the Selebi-Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU) Chief Executive Officer Dr Mokubung Mokubung and his board chairman Dan Mahupela is said to be at its lowest.
Sources familiar with the two have revealed that the main problem emanated after Dr Mokubung reported Mahupela to the Minister of Trade and Industry Vincent Seretse over the employment of former acting SPEDU CEO Monte Phuthego as caretaker consultant for research. The employment was said to have been done without the consultation of other board members and was done when the new CEO had just reported for work.
It is alleged that the new CEO and his team of directors felt that Phuthego was interfering with their duties and her job clashed with theirs, hence they raised the issue with the board and the minister. This irked the minister who after some investigations realised that indeed the board chairman did not follow the right procedure in hiring Phuthego and wrote to him (Mahupela) asking him to show cause why he cannot be suspended pending further investigations.
On the 20th of June Mahupela met with Seretse in Gaborone to explain why he hired Phuthego as consultant and according to sources, one of the conditions that he made to the minister was that if Phuthego’s contract is not confirmed, James Mathokgwane’s employment must also be terminated. His master stroke is said to be laid on the claim that right procedures were not followed when Mathokgwane was employed as his post was created without consultation with the board.
Mathokgwane, the former Member of Parliament for Goodhope/Mabule who resigned recently under a cloud of controversy to join SPEDU as Director Regional Operations, a portfolio that never existed in SPEDU structure. Mathokgwane's appointment has also been questioned by his political party, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) who believe it was done nunder questionable circumstances to destabilise their party.
It is alleged that Mokububung who is a former Director of Competition and Research Analysis at the Competition Authority, is adamant that as the CEO he has powers to create positions and employ people whom he feels can help drive his vision for SPEDU. Phuthego was engaged as a caretaker consultant by Mahupela at a cost of P1.5 million with benefits which included a housing allowance, and a company.
Currently Phuthego is staying in a BCL house which has been leased to SPEDU, with Mathokgwane as her new neighbor. At one point, Mahupela who is the Managing Director of BCL Mine is said to have asked to be excused as the board chairman of SPEDU as he felt that the conflicts might soil his reputation with his board at BCL.
During a press briefing recently, when asked about his relationship with SPEDU CEO and his alleged suspension, the soft spoken Mahupela became emotional and said; “It is a lie. I am not suspended as SPEDU chairman.” He said that the rumors have affected his son who is staying in Gaborone and is worried it may affect him negatively. On his relationship with Dr Mokubung, Mahupela said that they have a cordial relationship and revealed that SPEDU CEO will soon call a press briefing to set the record straight regarding the alleged protracted boardroom wars.
Mahupela rebutted allegations that the sour relationship between him and his CEO might regress efforts to diversify the economy of Selebi Phikwe as BCL is the mainstay of the project. Contacted for comment, Phuthego said that she was engaged as caretaker consultant at SPEDU for the month of April and her contract has come to an end. Efforts to get comment from Dr Mokubung hit a snag as his mobile phone was not going through.
SPEDU Public Relations and Communications Manager Keleabetswe Serati confirmed that Dr Mokubung will soon call a press conference but could not commit to a date and day.
Established in 2008 under the ministry of Finance and Development Planning, SPEDU was set up to facilitate economic diversification within the area which is reliant on BCL mine. In 2012 SPEDU was transferred to Ministry of Trade and Industry and has since been incorporated as a company. One of the reasons that were given for turning SPEDU into a company was to have it operate semi-autonomously outside cumbersome government processes.
In 2011 Botswana government signed a memorandum of understanding with the f European Union for the use of some P640 million to foster economic diversification in the region of Selebi Phikwe which include Bobirwa and some Tswapong villages. Among priority projects identified for funding were the Selebi Phikwe Technical College, the Botswana Mining Museum and Research Centre, an acid capture plant, tourism infrastructure at Letsibogo Dam as well as a packaging house and processing plant for horticultural produce.
Currently the food processing plant is under construction with partnership with Naftec Investments (Pty) Ltd, a company wholly owned by National Food Technology Research Centre (NFTRC).