OP ducks questions of conflict of interest

GABORONE 9 April 2020, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi wearing a mask to protect from Coronavirus Covid 19 after approval of six month state of emergency during a special parliament session seating at the Boipuso Hall due to make social distancing seating arrangement, to fight Covid 19 in Gaborone on April 9, 2020. Botswana recorded 7 more Covid 19 cases. (Pic:MONIRUL BHUIYAN/PRESS PHOTO)

President Masisi’s spokesman refers BW&R to other newspapers for answers

The Office of the President has passed up an opportunity presented by The Business Weekly & Review to explain President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s business affairs which have divided the nation over the question of conflict of interest that may arise when the President has to give his assent to a law that has a bearing on business establishments in which Masisi holds equity. 

This comes against the background of revelations that President Masisi is in partnership with controversial businessman Ramachandran Ottapathu of Choppies fame who has been shunned by both the Botswana Stock Exchange and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. 

According to media reports, the President and Ram are shareholders in a Choppies sister company called Acree (Pty) Ltd where he owns 10 percent while Ram holds the rest. Reports say altogether the President is in 10 establishments where his partners are people of a specific identity, namely Indian, who are known for their preeminence in business, especially retailing across a whole range of goods and services.

Acree is a detergent manufacturing company that recently hoarded headlines after it came to light that benefited close to P8 million between 2017 and 18 from doing business with Choppies. Last year, Ram was involved in a battle with the Choppies board around failure of the CEO, Ram, to declare third party transactions, thus delaying financial results for 2018. While the 2018 financials were eventually released, Choppies is yet to publish its 2019 results and the retailer remains suspended from both the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).

This week this publication sought to establish from the Office of the President if Masisi’s association with Ram would not compromise the President in any way. However, after telling this reporter to send an email enquiry on Wednesday night, the Press Secretary to the President, Batlhalefi Leagajang, directed The Business Weekly and Review to other publications for answers.

“Please be advised that the questions you raise have already been responded to as raised by other media houses as well as some by your media house in the past,” Leagajang said in an email. “They are therefore in the public domain for everyone’s perusal.”

This newspaper had sought to establish if the President was comfortable doing business with the CEO of a company that is suspended from two of Africa’s outstanding stock exchanges and whether President Masisi’s association with Choppies, albeit by means of a sister company, would not gain a superior advantage for the controversy-riddled businesses. This publication also sought clarity regarding reports that the President had jumped the queue of bidders for leasing a portion of state-owned Banyana Farms and if this was the result of the President using his position to muscle in.

Other questions to Leagajang were about exactly how many companies the President owns or holds shares in and when the President would remove oversight institutions from the ambit of his office, especially the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DISS) and Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC).

Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary General of the Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, has joined the growing list of Masisi’s critics. “Corruption seriously affects the progress and prosperity of the country’s economy as funds meant for national development are diverted for personal aggrandisement,” he told this publication in an interview. “The citizens then suffer as services are poorly delivered and in some instances are not delivered at all. The biggest problem is that it is perpetuated by and involves high ranking officials in government with more damning allegations hovering around the State President.  The President appoints heads of DCEC, DISS, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions” 

Motshegwa called on the President to clear his name, saying it was incumbent on Masisi to be a role model.