Though the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies hearings have been a dull event with some members often not bothering to attend, everything changed on Monday when the outspoken Tshekedi Khama - minister responsible for tourism - was summoned to account for the mess at Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO). Some had thought Minister Khama would snub the hearing, but he came and in his usual character was bare-knuckled, direct and fort-right. Clad in a stripped black suit he sat next to his Permanent Secretary Elias Magosi. With his imposing and well-built towering figure, he joked with members of the PCSB who are his Parliamentary colleagues.
The smile of the members of the PCSB did not resemble the seriousness of the matter at hand - the collapse of corporate governance and maladministration at BTO that has left the nation reeling in shock. The minister’s tactic was clear – to disarm the panel. He chose not to deny wrongdoing and simply passed the blame to those who advised him. Most of the blame was put at the doorstep of BTO CEO Dithebe. For more than nine months BTO has operated without a board of directors but the minister has saw nothing wrong with this based on the advice from Dithebe. “He told me that I can take decisions in the absence of the board and did that because he has more experience on corporate governance than me,” he said, with his eyes fixed on PCSB members. It became clear that Minister Khama was well prepared for the hearing as he kept on using the term "going forward," a term to shrivel the heart of anyone toiling at trying to pin the blame on him and it seemed to work.
On the absence of the board
In his defence Tshekedi Khama said that one of the reasons that he was reluctant to have a board of directors at BTO is that organisations with boards are not performing well. “Look at BCL, BMC, BPC and BDC and those parastatals are performing badly yet they have well-functioning board of directors which have failed dismally. I don’t want a board that is recycled,” hit out Tshekedi Khama as the chairman of PCSB Samson Moyo Guma nod his head. Minister Khama, who seemed to have taken control of the hearing, informed the PCSB that he is very particular about performance and the board that he wants has to be exceptional. “I was told have powers,” he said. Put to him that he has been taking decisions that were supposed to be done by the board and that is illegal, the minister turned the blame to Dithebe, saying he was doing all these on the advice of the CEO.“I have always been told that that I have the full authority in the absence of the board but if was misled I take full responsibility,” he said.
Shifts the blame on the multimillion deals to BTO
Recently BTO was instructed to release P1.3 million for the publication of 10 souvenir books for the independence celebrations. Permanent Secretary Magosi was not aware of the printing of the 10 books and instructions given to BTO to release P1.3 million. The letter for the instructions bear the signature of Tshekedi Khama but he denied instructing BTO to pay for the books though admitting the idea of books was his. “It was clear instruction from minister’s office, but not mine,” said Magosi, avoiding looking straight at Minister Khama, who shook his head. Minister Khama also drew P88 million from the Tourism Development Fund without the approval of cabinet, even side-lining his PS.
Guma asked him why he is side-lining cabinet and his PS when taking some of the big decision like drawing P88 million from Tourism Fund, the outspoken Tshekedi Khama said that they don’t want to change. “People don’t want to change. I can’t work with people who believe in red tapes and fail to adapt to the new development,” he hit out in a clear reference to his PS. The P88 million was used to fund some of the tourism activities including Race for Rhino, Makgadikgadi Epic, World Strongest Man event and the upcoming Gaborone Air show which will gobble P7 million. The infamous P17 million Dubai deal. On the 26th of July this year the minister wrote a letter to BTO CEO Dithebe instructing him to open an office in Dubai. Dithebe in his earlier submission said that they were still looking at other markets and the letter came when he was in Germany.
Dithebe clashed with the minister over the Dubai deal with GAFFA Media and was ultimately left out of the team that went to sign the contract. In his absence Jillian Blackbeard together with BTO Legal officer Zibanani Hubona went to Dubai to discuss the deal. In one of the mails, Hubona advised Blackbeard that she could not sign the contract as she did not have the authority to do so.
This was ignored and Blackbeard signed the deal but Minister Khama in his submissions denied that he ever instructed her to sign the contract. He stood by the story that Dithebe was aware of the deal and was in Dubai when it was signed. The CEO’s comments are inaccurate and he was there in Dubai when the deal was sealed. What did he think he was doing in Dubai, on holiday?” he asked rhetorically. Tshekedi Khama has informed the committee that he will reverse the contract as it is illegal.
When she appeared before PCSB, the daughter of Botswana High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Roy Blackbeard seemed confused. She behaved like a person working on instruction. Most of her answers were punctuated by a response - ‘I was under the impression’. She was very evasive – she knew nothing and saw nothing. She couldn't recall some of the decisions she took. She looked tense. She either folded her arms or stared at her fingernails. It was clear that she was the one running the show at BTO as she signed a P17 million Dubai contract as a junior officer and against the advice of the legal advisor Hubona. She maintained that she thought that by the time she signed the multi-million deal, she was already appointed the Marketing Executive Manager, a development that occurred days later.
After Dithebe declared that he never gave her instructions to sign the Dubai contract, all drama fizzled. She started droning on, mostly saying she didn’t recall or didn't know whether she was already appointed Executive Manager before she signed the deal. Thus, the depth of her regrets for actions she took seemed shallow. Guma had to come to her rescue as she dodged questions and looked, as her own submission might say, "dodgy." Blackbeard, who holds Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Affairs from Hurron University in London, was part of the committee that recommended that she be promoted to the post of Marketing Executive Manager.