(Pic:Press Photo)

– DIS engaged to seek out alleged “moles” – Five senior staff summarily dismissed
– Staff victims of a ‘paranoid’ management

The troubled Citizen Entrepreneurship Development Agency is in a state of chaos as the management institutes a scorched earth policy of victimisation against staff in a bid to save further damage from the revelations of Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Eric Molale’s controversial financial dealings with the agency. Last week in further embarrassment, CEDA admitted that it had no knowledge that Molale had turned his CEDA-bonded farm into a borrowpit without knowledge of his financier. However, this week management moved to show strength by summarily sacking members of staff. This follows hot on the heels of a series of questionings by Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) agents of some staff members in a bid to smoke out what management believes are moles in their midst. INK Centre for Investigative Journalism and The Business Weekly & Review have established that Molale was in default with his loans while rules were bent to accommodate the Minister.

Details are starting to emerge showing how far CEDA top management are prepared to attempt to smoke out the imaginary whistle-blowers. A month ago, just after The Business Weekly & Review the first expose on the Minister’s dealings with the state funding body, CEDA brought in DIS for one on one interrogation of staff targeted in the alleged plot to smoke out moles. The CEDA Employees Union leaders were initially targets of the harassment because some in top CEDA management thought the leaks originated from the trade unionists. However, the DIS agents hit a blank after a interviews.

Last week as The Business Weekly & Review led with yet another revelation about Molale’s defacing of his bonded farm in Borolong, five mostly senior managers were given letters of summary dismissals in what CEDA insiders say is the last gasp attempt at saving the state financier and top Minister from further embarrassment.Two weeks ago five staff ranging from Managers and Analysts were served with letters dismissing them on the spot, some were recalled from training and told to pack up and leave. CEDA says it is implementing a restructuring exercise recommended by the audit firm Deloitte firm.

Deloitte’s report, “The CEDA Business Review” remains under lock and key at the CBD Headquarters of the taxpayer-funded financier, recommendations of which remain obscure to those served with the termination, causing consternation through the CEDA staff. The CEDAEU accuses CEDA of keeping it away from the research that led to the report and keeping the Deloitte report from it while using it as the basis for the summary dismissals of CEDA staff. Attempts by Union leaders to get access to the controversial report were rebuffed by CEO Thabo Thamane. Staff dismissed include Head of Strategy, Production Manager (Strategy) and two Analysts.

CEDA insiders say the Deloitte report rather than suggest dismissal of employees actually recommended that new positions be created. CEDA has been under public attention after the INK Centre and Business Weekly & Review revealed that in September 2016, CEDA approved a P600 000 loan to Molale for commercial dry land farming at Mosisedi. The loan was granted despite indications in the loan assessment report that the project is not profitable and that the Minister had a poor payment record. Last week it emerged that Molale had turned part of the farm into a borrowpit for a lucrative tender to supply road construction.

It further emerged that Molale had not sought permission for the quarrying business from CEDA, from which he has received five loans valued at about P4 million cumulatively.
CEDA’s standard loan conditions require a written consent for additional work on its financed projects. As per requirements Molale should have, before quarrying gravel in his farm, notified CEDA on the change of land use, and to allow for CEDA to give him a go ahead. Asked whether Molale had informed CEDA before launching the quarrying project at his farm, Anno Tshipa, CEDA’s Head of Marketing and Communications, said that the agency “has not funded any borrow pit business in Mosisedi”.

“It has not come to CEDA’s knowledge that one of its clients is running a commercial business in a form of a borrow pit at Mosisedi,” Tshipa added. INK and The Business Weekly & Review reporters witnessed quarrying under way during a visit to the farm in June this year. They also spoke to workers who confirmed that Molale owned the quarry, also known as a borrow pit. Despite receiving media questions more than a month ago, the Minister dismissed the INK reporter as “gullible” and declined to comment on the issue. He ignored a dozen follow-up calls and at least four text messages asking him to respond to questions pertaining mining quarry in a land funded by CEDA for farming. A loan appraisal report seen by INK and The Business Weekly & Review suggests that Molale has struggled to service his CEDA loans, which he was given to finance his dry-land farming business. His agreement with CEDA was on the basis that he repays CEDA from the proceeds of farming, and also that his farm could be used as collateral. By changing its use to quarrying gravel, it involved mining this gravel, which leaves the farm land in no state to grow crops.

The Minister owns a 400ha farm at Mosisedi, one of the biggest commercial farming operations in the Barolong district in southeastern Botswana, from which he currently supplies gravel to a controversial Spanish-Indian firm, Elsamex Intl JV, that won a P1-billion World Bank-funded contract to refurbish a 160km road that connects five villages in the Barolong area.

A source close to the project said Molale, the former permanent secretary to President Ian Khama and Festus Mogae, was awarded the gravel sub-contract in or around 2015. The value of Molale’s quarrying tender remains a closely guarded secret.
Further it also means that Molale has direct financial benefit from supplying the quarry from his farm.

The initial contract award raised eyebrows in the Ngwaketsi council and the construction sector, as Elsamex had no local partner, as per accepted practice.
Elsamex awarded various sub-contracts to a number of local businesses, including Molale’s quarrying operation, Steel Base Botswana and Tau Grading. Elsamex is a joint venture between Spanish construction firm Elsamex SA and IF&LS Transportation Network Limited from Mumbai.

Molale interests in the project extend beyond the supply of material, as the road being rehabilitated will also improve his and other farmers’ access to markets. In 2015/16 ploughing season he cultivated 385ha of yellow maize and 15ha of beans, according to documents seen by INK and The Business Weekly & Review. The World Bank-funded road project is expected to end in 2024 and connect the villages of Rakhuna, Tlhareseleele, Pitshane, Phitshane Molopo and Mabule.

Independent engineers last year accused the joint venture of constructing poor-quality roads and bridges, following the collapse of two bridges during the festive season after the company removed “erosion protectors.” Government cleared the joint venture of any responsibility. Steel Base, owned by the Kader family, and Tau Grading, an earth moving company linked to former Minister of Agriculture, Christian de Graaf, transports the gravel.