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Home » News » Crime » Executives jailed as ‘Blue Train corruption’ slide off rails

Executives jailed as ‘Blue Train corruption’ slide off rails

Publishing Date : 21 April, 2016

Author : AUBREY LUTE

As things stand, about P750 million is poised to leave the coffers of the Botswana Railways in the course of the next two financial years, but it has come to light that brazen oversight will be required to ascertain that this money represents the true value of services offered to the organisation and that the characters involved are not up to no good.

The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and the Directorate on Intelligence Security (DIS) were this week called to action to prove or disprove allegations of corruption against some top executives of the Botswana Railways. Three of them ended up spending a night in jail; some had their gadgets confiscated by the corruption busting agencies.  

“This serves to confirm that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) is currently conducting investigations on Botswana Railways. The investigations have been ongoing for more than a week now,” wrote Botswana Railways CEO Dominic Ntwaagae in a memo to staff on Wednesday.

Botswana Railways in currently involved in a number of transactions involving millions of Pula, hence some staff members have noticed questionable decisions within the organisations that border on corruption on the part of some executives hence the involvement of the DCEC. Some Board members have told this publication that they have been reduced to puppets by the management and they could not continue to watch the alleged corruption episode explode without intervention of the authorities.

“We wish to inform staff that as an organisation, being owned by government, it is expected and appreciated that from time to time government agencies mandated to carry out such exercises may visit us to ensure that processes and procedures are dully followed,” Ntwaagae further expressed in his ‘call for calm’ memo to staff.  He further indicated that his organisation should be held to account in all its dealings. He vowed to be supportive to “the ongoing investigations, to clear all allegations of corruption against the organisation”.

Ntwaagae said the organisation would not reveal the detail or discuss the contents of the investigations, “as professionally we believe it is unethical to discuss the matter while the investigations are still underway”.  In his memo, Ntwaagae did not put a face behind the investigation; he randomly used words to indicate that it was the “organisation” that was being investigated for corruption and “to clear allegations of corruption”.

THE GENESIS OF SPOOKY COACHES

Government through the Ministry of Transport and Communications, headed by Tshenolo Mabeo has committed Botswana Railways to bring back the passenger train.

Ntwaagae, the BR CEO told staff this week that the Passenger train will be launched on March 22, 2016 at Lobatse, behind Peleng Dam. Weekend Post has established that it will be a mixed train along the way, because the margins are not adding up in terms of profit when it comes to operating the passenger train. The night passenger trains will commence on March 23rd from Lobatse and Francistown.

As a result of the decision to reintroduce the passenger train, which was stopped in 2009, Botswana Railways was forced to procure new coaches. A tender was flighted and several companies from Africa and Asia expressed interest in supplying the Botswana Railways with 37 coaches. Currently the Botswana Railways offices are more like a war zone, where words are weapons, on who actually won this tender.

A Board member who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity disclosed that a committee member had told him that the tender was initially awarded to a Chinese company. China is known for trading in steel and it has a developed manufacturing sector for coaches.  “But it later came out that the assessment marks were tinkered with to undermine the Chinese company,” he said.  But this, he said, was for the investigators to prove or disprove.

South African based Transnet Engineering which has bases in Cape Town and Pretoria was given the job to construct 37 NEW coaches for Botswana Railways at the tune of P280 million. Botswana Railways has already paid R82 million towards the job. It is expected that before March 22nd they will have supplied Botswana Railways with at least 10 coaches. Weekend Post has learnt that Minister Mabeo, the CEO, Director of Operations and Engineering, the Board chairman – Modise Modise and others visited South Africa recently to go and assess the extent of progress in relation to the supply of the coaches. The plant sites are in Cape Town and Pretoria, they visited both.  

Indications are that the deadlines for the delivery of the 37 coaches are too tight for the supplier despite initially agreeing to the terms and conditions of the deal. This publication is informed that a deal was struck to the effect that they could instead supply Botswana Railways with old coaches as long as there was a patch up job of repainting them.

Impeccable sources indicate that priority was given to the deadline of launching the passenger train, but it is not clear how the costs will be dealt with, “for example, if there is need to revise down the cost of the initial quote”, a board member revealed. The board member further indicated that some of them had asked these questions and they were shot down fast. Another matter that arose is that of the bogie (the steel base or frame that supports the coaches); it is clear that Transnet will have to order it from elsewhere, presumably China. Board members had asked why the deal was not given to a company that could bring a complete package; still they were hauled at by part of management.

Therefore Transnet will patch an old bogie and deliver it in the meantime.  

MORE QUESTIONS FROM THE BOARD

Meanwhile the Botswana Railways management is said to be confident that all the coaches will be delivered by the end of April this year. But some of the Board members want the DCEC to ask direct questions regarding the P280 million deal, they want the original tender documents, they want to know how much was revealed to the minister in relation to the coaches and the repainting job, they want to know how this will affect the original cost and whether there will be compensation to the Botswana Railways. It is evident that the Board had in most cases been overlooked when these deals were reached or approved.

AMERICANS GET P375 MILLION DEAL FROM RAILWAYS

Meanwhile as the Botswana Railways top brass has to ward off corruption allegations levelled against the ‘organisation’, an American company, Electro Motive Diesel is demanding that it be furnished with a Letter of Credit for the manufacture and supply of eight locomotives.

Botswana Railways has awarded the American company the deal at a value of $34 million. This publication has established that Botswana Railways paid 50 percent of the amount in September 2015 but has been dilly dallying when asked to produce the Letter of Credit. The New York based company has indicated that it will need 18 months to put the heads together and be in a position to supply.

The deal between the two parties was supervised by attorneys from Collins Newman and they have since slapped Botswana Railways with a bill of P8 million, which the Botswana Railways Board had wanted to distance itself from only to realise that management had committed to the Law firm already. The negotiations and the deal were sealed at Rail Park mall last year.

UNREPORTED LOCOMOTIVE ACCIDENTS

Three Botswana Railways locomotives veneered off the railway line and crashed on 22nd December last year and the incident was never reported. One of the locomotives is said to be almost beyond repair but management is said to have decided to repair all the three anyway. A source at the Ministry of Transport and Communications revealed that the accidents occurred as a result of negligence because the locomotives actually sped off unmanned for 5km after a mechanical error occasioned by one of the engine men. It is estimated that the cost of the damage is in the region of P50 million. The damaged locomotives are currently piled at Lobatse.

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