Inside the cutthroat boardroom war at BIUST

The full record of Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) fallout reveals how paranoia gripped rival camps of Festus Mogae and Boyce Sebetlela are, amid the shock resignation of vice chancellor, Professor Hilary Inyang.

Documents handed to Botswana Guardian show how political considerations triumphed over administrative arguments when Inyang locked horns with politically connected members of the university council. Inyang is the second vice chancellor to resign under a cloud from the government-sponsored research institution since its establishment.

Inyang wanted to establish an ‘Ivy League’ university that boasts of top ranking academics and award winning faculties. The records show that former Palapye legislator, Boyce Sebetlela with former executive director at Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA), Dr. Happy Fidzani, were at the centre of an onslaught against BIUST chancellor, (Mogae), vice chancellor (Inyang) and chairman Serwalo Tumelo. Documents reveal deep-seated rivalry and lack of trust between the Mogae-Tumelo camp and Sebetlela-Fidzani camp.

Mogae’s rivalry with Sebetlela dates back to the late 2000s when the two were in government. Tumelo, a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, is linked to Botswana’s economic discipline and financial prudence. Documents show that on September 19th, Sebetlela bemoaned a lack of financial management at the institution and urged Prof. Inyang to be more prudent with BIUST resources. “I am shocked and saddened that VC is ignorant of our procurement procedures,” Sebetlela wrote.

In one of the correspondences, Sebetlela tore apart what he considers poor governance and BIUST maladministration issues and warned Prof. Inyang and management that the institution needs urgent fixing. The documents also reveal that the Sebetlela camp was deeply worried that Prof. Inyang had an ear for Tumelo. “The VC only sees one council member in the person of the chairman,” Sebetlela would say in a correspondence to Dr. Fidzani in the morning of September 19. Dr. Fidzani concurred: “He is not the council nor is he a senior council member… I believe I am as accountable… as the BIUST chair.” Dr. Fidzani’s main gripe with Prof. Inyang is not difficult to trace as the two appeared to have fundamental ideological differences on the running of the institution. He seemed inclined towards micromanaging the institution and was of the strong view that BIUST management makes a lot of elementary mistakes and in the process loses a lot of taxpayers’ money.

In one of the e-mails leaked to Botswana Guardian, Dr. Fidzani - who clearly considers himself to be on the Sebetlela side – tears into Prof. Inyang decisions to consider interim appointments at BIUST. “Tsela kgopo ga le latse nageng. Most of the time with short cuts you get lost. I hope you learn your lesson,” he advised Prof. Inyang.

To that Sebetlela adds: “I have no doubt that one day the chickens will come home to roost!” Interim appointment is provided for under the BIUST Act to cut through red tape and bureaucracy at the immigration and labour departments. Cool heads prevailed when one of the symphathisers Nkatla Carter Morupisi, DPSM Director begged the warring parties to find a middle ground.  “We can’t all be wrong but we can all share a common purpose.” The documents also shed light on the extent of the political machinations at play between President Ian Khama and Festus Mogae and their symphathisers in and outside government. Mogae is believed to have stirred up the hornet’s nest last month when he complained in Tanzania about declining rule of law and arbitrary deportation of expatriates under Khama’s regime. “Tanzania escalated tension,” said a source who pleaded anonymity.

Khama is said to have been reluctant to meet and discuss BIUST with Mogae and has repeatedly avoided meeting the BIUST chairman. Those who understand BIUST internal politics say Prof. Inyang was caught in the crossfire as old rivals in Mogae-Tumelo camp came face to face with Sebetlela who also had an axe to grind with Mogae. Sebetlela’s decision to resign as Member of Parliament to take up a post in the corporate world set tongues wagging in 2007. One source who did not want to be identified said Sebetlela had long wanted to take over the chairmanship at BIUST as it would elevate his profile. He is said to be looking at making a comeback to politics. However Sebetlela denied ever having an interest in BIUST chairmanship, saying he actually intends to quit.

BIUST problems are multi-faceted and part of senior management appears to have joined forces with the Sebetlela camp. Other problems allegedly include intimidation by people who claim to be immigration officials. The US Embassy is said to have intervened when scores of immigration officials threatened to arrest a number of American citizens at the institution. Patricia Espinoza’s frantic letter to Prof. Inyang shed light on the scale of the intimidation and harassment of foreigners at BIUST. “Several of us are concerned that it will be violence against us personally.

The most opportune time of attack is when we are home alone. These issues have not been fault of BIUST but coming from government (sic),” writes Espinoza. She vowed to leave if she ever felt threatened again. Espinoza and other American citizens working at BIUST were shocked when unidentified people threatened to arrest them under the guise that their work and residence permits had expired. BIUST was modelled along the Michigan Institute of Technology and other distinguished science and technology universities.

The multimillion Pula international university was planned to be constructed in phases. However, it appears political considerations play a major part in management of the prestigious institution. “These people do not have knowledge of running an international university,” quipped a BIUST employee reluctant to be identified.

By these people, he refers to bureaucrats and politicians who appear to have grown impatient with the development of the institution. But on the ground, the institution has made significant strides, leaping 600 places in global university rankings and attracting Yale University academics.

Last modified on Monday, 20 October 2014 09:43

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