Dr. David Falepau worked with the Minister of Agriculture Christiaan De Graaff for about 18 months, but they never comprehended each other. However, it only took 15 minutes for former Vice President Mompati Merafhe to understand the former Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) Chief Executive’s problems at the parastatal.
“I explained the conflicts of interest in the Board and within 15 minutes the VP understood the untenable position I was in,” said Falepau in a rare but exclusive interview with the Botswana Guardian days after appearing before the Mephato Reatile Parliamentary Select committee. Falepau and De Graaff’s scorn for each other also showed in the open long after the former was fired from his post. He had refused outright when he was called to appear before a Task Force De Graaff appointed to look at the BMC mess. It has been a long and taxing journey for the Reatile committee. And in the closing stages of the enquiry into the collapse of BMC and the Botswana beef industry, Botswana Guardian managed to talk to Professor David Falepau the former CEO of the BMC, to get a short but rarely granted insight into his thinking on the whole fiasco.
Many appeared before Reatile and his committee in the past six months. From BMC lowly ranked officers to past and present executives and with much finger pointing. It was more exciting in the last few days as three men at the helm of the organisation took the hot seat before Reatile. Minister of Agriculture Christiaan De Graaff, his assistant Oreeditse Molebatsi and Falepau appeared before the committee in a series of sittings to try and set the record straight. On Saturday Falepau appeared before the committee for a 4-hour videoconference from his home in Australia. And later this week, the former CEO-now a Professor of Agricultural Business Management at the Charles Strut University in Australia-opened up to the Botswana Guardian, rather reluctantly. Falepau told this publication that “the Minister has no control over his Ministry and they are underperforming.” He also gave a clear picture of the P1.9 million he was given to silence him after he was fired. “I had an agreement with the Minister that in return for the P1.9 million he paid me to go home, I wouldn’t discuss anything to do with my termination or the BMC business to anyone and he wouldn’t either.
He never had the courage to meet with me and tell me to my face what it was that I had done wrong. But I guess if he’s happy to stand up in front of a public gallery and badmouth me, the agreement no longer stands.” He was responding to De Graaff’s comments that the former CEO was clueless on how he was supposed to run the BMC. Falepua further talked of how he engaged Parks Tafa of Collins Newman & Co to help him negotiate with government his exit package. But the former CEO makes another claim when it comes to the appointment of Board members. Tafa gets implicated and plays the devil advocate. While he was supposed to be representing Dr. Falepau, he allegedly backtracked to support the minister's position.
When he complained to Tafa about the composition of the Board (as some Board members were still in the Board), Tafa told him to the face to live with the reality. “I know he (De Graaff) worked with Tafa to decide the Board members,” reveals Falepau. “Because he left Siva Prasad on the Board against my wishes, I complained to both the minister and Tafa and Tafa could only I put up with it and continue on.” Tafa could not respond to several calls and an SMS from Botswana Guardian.
When he reveals details of the meeting between him, Merafhe, De Graaff and Permanent Secretary Dr. Micus Chimbombi the BMC mess gets complicated as it involves a web of neatly connected people.
In this interview, Falepau reveals that at one point in 2011 former Agriculture Hub coordinator Neil Fitt once told the British High Commissioner to Botswana that they were planning to fire him (Falepau).
Below is the abridged interview with Falepau
BG: What was your initial contract agreement with the BMC? (What were you employed to do?)
Falepau: The BMC Act says exactly what my responsibilities are versus the Board. I worked to comply with the Act. The Board is only supposed to give direction on matters of general policy. I did what I was paid to do and had control over. If the Hub and DVS do their job BMC will get enough cattle to slaughter and have access to the best markets. I only wanted to be in Botswana for three years but the Board pleaded with me to sign a five-year contract. So I did but I was going to review at three years.
BG: What do you think went wrong between you, the BMC Board and the Minister of Agriculture?
Falepau: The Minister has no control over his Ministry and they are underperforming. For everyone in Botswana it is too uncomfortable to challenge the public service. So they blame everything on others. The Board members that supported me when I exposed the DVS were fired from the Board. They have to run businesses in Botswana so they were scared. I was a threat because I know how the Government services overseas work successfully and I couldn’t be controlled because I wasn’t scared of the Minister or his PS. I started to tell the farmers how it should be and that threatened GOB strategy to keep them uninformed.
BG: During your submissions on Saturday you mentioned that you attended a meeting with Minister De Graaff and former Vice President Mompati Merafhe. Who initiated the meeting and for what purpose?
Falepau: The Board started holding closed meetings with the Minister and Chimbombi around December 2011. Shortly after one of their meetings Neil Fitt told the British High Commissioner they were firing me, before I was told by them of their intentions. This was a direct breach of corporate confidentiality and constituted ‘pre-judgment’. I reported this to the Minister but he did nothing. Then I responded to all the Board performance allegations but they didn’t like my responses and asked me to resign. With Parks Tafa’s support I wrote my concerns to the Minister and copied to the Office of the President. Subsequently I was called to the Office of the Vice President with the Minister and Chimbombi. I suspect it was the VP that called the meeting because during it the Minister and Chimbombi were clearly against me. I explained the conflicts of interest in the Board and within 15 minutes the VP understood the untenable position I was in. The Minister and Chimbombi did not support me in the meeting. Chimbombi in particular tried to influence the VP against me but couldn’t support any of his misleading allegations. The VP asked me to name the Board members that needed to be removed which I did. Although I also impressed that just as important was to change the way Board members are appointed. This requires amendment of the BMC Act to put in place competitive skills based selection process and remuneration structure. Immediately after that meeting the Minister called me to his office, shook my hand, said I had his full support and asked me again to name the Board members he should replace. I still suggested that we change the way Board members are appointed first. In the end I gave him the names and left him. I know he worked with Parks Tafa to decide the Board members because when he left Siva Prasad on the Board against my wishes I complained to both the Minister and Parks Tafa and Parks could only suggest I put up with it and continue on. What the Minister did by leaving Prasad on the Board was to make him the only qualified accountant on the Board and he was one of the main people that had wanted me removed. Prasad from the outset had tried to have Board remuneration increased and he appeared to want to get paid to work for BMC, which I wouldn’t support. I also believe Prasad may have been involved in a bid to build a Ghanzi abattoir because I recall him mentioning it to some others and myself once.
BG: Would you please share with us what were Merafhe’s views on the way BMC is being run?
Falepau: Merafhe seemed to understand in 15 minutes the untenable position I was in with the conflicts of interest in the Board. I don’t know if he understood the conflict of interest the Minister and Chimbombi had as the principals of DVS and the Hub and that they had other reasons for wanting me removed. Merafhe just insisted I name Board members that I needed removed so I can only guess that he supported my tenure and that the Minister’s actions that followed were at his direction.
On why De Graaff and the PS should resign
Falepau: What De Graaff and his Permanent Secretary Chimbombi should resign for is not the mess that BMC is in. It is the mess that caused it that they have presided over for the last eight years, the Department of Veterinary Services and the Agricultural Hub. They say the DVS before Chimbombi was Director was actually world class. Then he got promoted to Permanent Secretary and now is back on the BMC Board while everyone else gets fired. The Hub has done nothing to help the average Motswana become globally competitive beef producer. They give Government land away to people who already have cattle and plenty of capital. They’ve created no cooperative feedlots, no training programmes, no nothing. Instead they watch as their President gives out blankets to these people because they can’t afford a decent roof over their heads.