Fresh details emerged this week of unjustified wide salary and wage disparities, favouritism and allegations of employees working under duress at the Botswana Tourism Board (BTO). The organisation mandated to, among others, develop and implement tourism marketing and promotion strategies for Botswana - has been making headlines for the wrong reasons since last month about how it has been mismanaged by the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama.
BTO was also established to expand local and international travel trade networks. This week, the outgoing Chief Executive Officer, Thabo Dithebe threw the gauntlet against his boss, Minister Khama, and revealed how his salary was even lower than that of his subordinates at the organisation. Dithebe dropped the bombshell before the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises and revealed that they are working under serious duress. Dithebe was supposed to be leaving the organisation next month (November) but Minister Khama wrote a letter to him requesting that he leave the office within five days.
Today (Friday) is his last day as the most powerful man in the troubled orgnaisation. He said he is not aware of the reasons why his work notice has been cut short. When responding to a question from Chairman of the Committee, Moyo Guma, Dithebe said, “The committee must understand that we are working under serious duress.” When asked by Moyo why he has not reported the terrible working conditions he is working under, he answered, “I have reported to Permanent Secretary and the matter was elevated to Permanent Secretary to the President but nothing was done.”
Moyo said it was not constitutional that a dysfunctional Board could make such a decision and called on (Elias) Magosi to advise the minister that it is wrong. “Why did he do this, this might as well make our job difficult when we want to call him as he can choose to relocate from Botswana when he is no longer a BTO employee, but we still have a long way in engaging you on these issues,” he said.At the committee meeting it was even revealed that, Dithebe was earning less than his juniors, Legal Officer, Tswelelo Kebatlile and the Executive Manager, Jilian Blackbeard. His monthly salary was P42 000 while Kebatile earns P50 000 and Blackbeard earns P49 000. Blackbeard is the daughter to Botswana’s High Commissioner to London, Roy Blackbeard, a close family friend to the Khamas.
Ministry’s PS, Elias Magosi said he also raised the issue to PSP but no interference was made. “It is a hard environment and the committee must understand this,” said Magosi. He also said he does not rule out the possibility of also resigning because of interference from Minister Khama.
“I tried to advise Minister Tshekedi that it was wrong to cut short the notice of BTO CEO but he ignored my advice. I have never been involved in the running affairs of BTO. Lots of meetings have been held without my knowledge,” noted Magosi.
Dithebe became the top man at BTO after serving a full year as acting CEO following the sudden departure of the parastatal’s founding CEO, Myra Sekogororoane.
Minister Khama who did not show up will now be forced to appear before the committee. “He knows very well that whenever Parliament calls you, you drop whatever you are doing and give it priority, he now leaves us with no option but to subpoena him, nobody is above the law, him included,” said Moyo.He said their interrogation is not about politics. “Our role is to make sure rules and procedures are followed. But I see chaos here in the organisation. A golo mo ga lona semausunyana hela,” said Moyo.
Dithebe also revealed that a British national, Sally Anne Smith has been working at the troubled organisation without a work permit for two and half years while Minister Khama was aware of this. In September Smith was arraigned by the immigration officials for working without permit but later given one-month work permit. BTO is currently having one board member Lawrence Khupe as Acting Board Chairman. In January the organisation signed memorandum of agreement with UK based company, ASUIA to implement development levy without approval of Parliament.
“They went against Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA) advice and went ahead to sign a contract with UK-based insurance broker while there are many insurance companies in Botswana offering the same product and not as brokers,” said Dithebe. “Following presentation by ASUIA to the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism (MWET) and subsequently to Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO), it is confirmed that a preliminary contract has since been signed for ASUIA to provide inbound insurance for Botswana,” states the letter written by Minister Khama dated 8th February 2016.
He further writes, “In the absence of a board to consider the ASUIA proposal, you are accordingly instructed to implement the instruction, inclusive of directly appointing ASUIA as a service provider for inbound insurance under the terms and conditions stipulated in the existing contract, save for any reference to BTO Board approval.”