Just as the smoke was clearing and the ignominy of the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism’s lamentable handling of state funds through a lack of internal governance was subsiding, Air Botswana and the Ministry of Transport and Communications have contrived to once again fuel public dismay.
This past week the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies, chaired by Guma Moyo, interrogated former Minister of Transport and Communications – Tshenolo Mabeo along with his then Permanent Secretary, Neil Fit.
The line of questioning was pertinent to the dubious awarding of a P81 million tender to Canadian Aviation Company – Pratt and Whitney.
The tender, which primarily seeks to provide aircraft maintenance services over the course of three years, has raised questions as it was signed off by Neil Fitt in his capacity as Permanent Secretary – a direct contravention of the rules and regulations detailed in the Air Botswana Act.
He primarily attributes his indiscretion due to the absence of the board, which in itself is ironic as he himself was a member of the board which he had a hand in dissolving consequently creating the very vacuum that made it possible for him to approve the awarding of the tender.
He and the Minister’s subsequent delay in appointing a board has also fuelled speculation that the vacuum was intended to confer them powers that were not legally bestowed on them.
In fact Moyo went on to candidly chastise Minister Mabeo;
“There is a culture currently prevailing now where there is a deliberate attempt not to have boards, and Ministers run the parastatals and take procurements, and we are getting shaken as a nation and it is not right.
We must quite categorically state that it is happening. It should be a concern for the nation.”
After Moyo condemned the lack of an active board, he then proceeded to probe why Fit was under the impression he was authorised to append his signature to such a transaction.
He was implored to highlight any section of the Air Botswana Act that explicitly states that he and the Ministry are in charge of operations in the absence of a board, of which he failed to do.
“The management [Air Botswana] convinced me that it was the right thing to do at the time,” he justified.
However, his claim of ignorance was met with much trepidation as his position as Permanent Secretary and the fact that he had previously been a board member, should have been incentive enough for him to be fully acquainted with the Act.
Another point of contention for the committee was the trip to Brazil, Canada and France which was undertaken by Fit, Mabeo and an Air Botswana representative.
The trip is said to have undermined the internal processes of Air Botswana and this was an inevitability that should have been foreseen.
Neil Fitt however refuted this and adamantly asserted that Air Botswana assured them that the trip was in fact imperative to their processes and not a hindrance.
“It was agreed that we would take a trip to become more informed so when and if a decision was made by the board of Air Botswana to request re-fleeting, we would be in a position to either support it or not support it.”
In conclusion, both Mabeo and Fit admitted their culpability and vowed to seek legal aid in a bid to rectify the problem.
Moyo however, was in an unforgiving mood and declared; “I put it to you Mr Neil, that if you don’t follow procedure, you Sir will be charged.
Minister our biggest problem is governance. No one can be above the law.
We will be in serious trouble if we circumvent processes and don’t respect the rule of law.
You must insist on your Permanent Secretary to give you proper advice.
Judging from what he is telling you Minister, if I were you I would have long dismissed Mr Neil for giving you the wrong advice.
It is totally unacceptable.”