The SADC Secretariat has once again been caught with pants down in the latest scandal in which a Tanzanian travel agency that was housed at its head office had to be shut down for failure to comply with Botswana laws.
The shameful shutdown of Worldlink Travel and Tours Limited by the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism (MENT) last week Friday came after the company was awarded a multimillion travel tender but failed to comply with laws of Botswana, from where it has been operating at the SADC Secretariat offices in the CBD.
A series of articles by Botswana Guardian exposed the rot and prompted the Ministry to investigate. However, although ordered to shut down, there are suspicions that World Link Travel and Tours is still operating from SADC.
A top official of the company based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania this week contradicted SADC official statement in a telephone interview with BG News when she feigned ignorance of her company having been allocated office space at the SADC Secretariat let alone having an office in Gaborone.
Although the SADC executives tried to cover up, it is evidently clear that the prequalification set requirements calling for the provision of the service whose identification contract number is SADC/travel and events/01/2016 was not meant for the local market, but, rather meant to eliminate most if not all companies providing travel services as they could not meet the set criteria.
Section 2.1 on qualification criteria ,which led to the Tanzanian company winning the tender requires that applicants, (a) must have implemented at least three contracts for travel management in the last three years of at least USD 1.500 (which is P15m) each with a minimum turnover of USD 500000 (P5m). Further that such a company must have experience in working in SADC area as a provider of travel management.
The order for the shutdown of Worldlink Travel and Tours Limited has opened yet another can of worms. It suggests that corruption could be rife at the SADC Secretariat and brings to question who between the Secretariat executives and their service providers is lying.
BG News investigation supported by documents has revealed that since Worldlink Travel and Tours opened business in Botswana, they assigned three officers who were all housed at SADC. There is Wassim Mohamed whose designation is Operations Manager and then Lakhi Singh who does not hold any position. Both Mohamed and Singh have listed their physical addresses as SADC Secretariat, Gaborone.
They also have local contact mobile phones and use each other’s mobile phone as a backup all of Asian origin. The third is Zainab Parmar whose designation is GlobalStar Travel Management; her physical address appears as Ohio Street, Dar es Salaam, Serena Hotel, Tanzania.
BG News followed the three up to get their side of the story on why they chose to flout Botswana laws. Although they have been ordered to close down, there is a possibility that representatives of World Link and Travel Tours Limited are still operating in Botswana at their residence, that is if the noise made by small children in the background which sounded more like someone in his house, is anything to go by.
Speaking to BG News on his mobile phone Mohamed confirmed his identity, but refused to entertain questions from BG News. Quizzed on why they have been ordered to close down, and why they decide to operate a business without having first followed the stipulated procedure, his response was short. “I have no comment”. Asked whether he is still in the country, he said, “Maybe” before requesting to be excused but promised to call back, which he never did. Singh’s mobile rang unattended.
Speaking to BG News, Parmar was very cagey, first claiming ignorance even on the fact that Worldlink Travel and Tours had an office in Botswana. She claimed to be on leave and not aware of what could be happening in Gaborone before referring this publication to her colleague Mohamed. But when asked how she knew Mohamed is in Gaborone when she is not aware of the office operation, she quickly changed:
“I am currently on a one month leave I do not know if we have an office, all I know is that they go to Gaborone and come back to Dar es Salaam many times. I am not aware if the said Wassim Mohamed and Lakkhi Singh have any office or have been allocated office space at SADC headquarters”.
Parmar's statement contradicts what both SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Tax and Acting Head of Procurement Gift Mike Gwaza told this publication a fortnight ago when we broke the story. Speaking to BG News then, Tax said, “I am not a technical person. But as far as I am concerned, the due process was followed before the tender was awarded. The tender was advertised on the regional market, it was a regional tender. It is a contract framework.”
As for the company being housed at SADC headquarters, she said it was part of their negotiations that they should be given an office space at the Secretariat. “If they were to win”, said Dr Tax before referring this publication to the Acting Head of Procurement Gift Mike Gwaza.
For his part Gwaza said it must be noted that the majority of business for SADC is in travel and any outcome of the tender even when it could have been won by a Botswana company, would have been challenged by others elsewhere.
“This happened with the other tender that concerned the EU programmes. Based on the lessons from the first tender we came up with clearly defined set criteria. This time we needed a company that has a strong financial background because the requirements are that such a company should pay for the tickets and claim from SADC so that our operations continue smoothly.
“Otherwise we will not be able to attend conference meetings and implement decisions,” he said.
He said that the set criteria were made clear in the advertisement document. “We had clearly stipulated that the company that wins will be provided with office space within SADC, but must bring their own equipment. We provide them with space in order to facilitate the convenience and efficiency on how they provide the service delivery,” said Gwaza.
A statement issued by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism (MENT), Jimmy Rule Opelo advised stakeholders and the public that World Link Travel and Tours which was operating from the SADC building has been instructed to close its operations with immediate effect.
“This is due to the fact that investigations by the Department of Tourism indicated that the company is not licensed to operate as a tourism operator (travel agency) in Botswana, thus it has been operating illegally. The illegality of the operations of this company at SADC has also been communicated to SADC”.
Corruption at SADC
With rampant allegations of corruption and mismanagement at SADC Secretariat, member states eventually commissioned Ernst and Young in 2012-2013 to do a forensic audit, which unearthed 79 weaknesses across key functions of administration. The audit revealed that of the 79 weaknesses, 24 concerned International co-operating partners, while 18 are compliance issues, with 15 each being information technology audit and performance audit on procurement audit respectively, with 3 each being operations issues and strategic issues respectively, while one concerns member states special fund programmes. To date the Secretariat is still to implement all recommendations
Other cases of corruption
Some heads of departments have been caught abusing their powers to the extent of issuing diplomatic passports to undeserving beneficiaries. Botswana Guardian investigation uncovered that a Zimbabwean national Albert Mhanda, then an employee of Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) project stationed at Meteorological Services offices in Gaborone was issued with a SADC diplomatic passport while they were still negotiating with him to join them as a part time consultant.
In recent years Botswana Police was called in to investigate a case in which a senior member of the management team at the SADC Secretariat headquarters in Gaborone absconded from his duties taking away with him huge sums of money from SADC coffers.
TAABOT speaks out on travel tender
Meanwhile the Travel Agency Association of Botswana (TAABOT) representing all travel agents in Botswana this week issued a public statement that condemns the SADC travel tender.
The statement reads, “TAABOT appreciates fruitful engagements it has had with SADC pertaining to the Travel Tender, more so that TAABOT has tabled a proposal to SADC, which SADC will hopefully consider to re-open their travel business to locally based Travel Agents. But, TAABOT would like to indicate that its members’ businesses have been hurt by the 6-months they have endured without SADC business so far.
TAABOT wishes to express its disappointment of SADC appointing an unregistered foreign travel agency to provide travel services to it in Botswana despite the fact that SADC is very much aware that the local Botswana registered travel agents have the capacity to meet their travel requirements as has been the case in the past.
SADC floated a tender for their travel requirements. The majority of TAABOT members tendered, notwithstanding the difficult framework and requirements of the tender that we suspect were tailor made for a specific company.
TAABOT members engaged SADC on this issue but SADC was not willing to enter into any dialogue concerning the matter. At this stage, some TAABOT members, independently engaged SADC without success. SADC’s response implied that TAABOT members were not able to provide them with the services they required.
Notwithstanding the amount of engagement with SADC on this position, SADC proceeded to contract a foreign travel agent who we are informed is housed in SADC facilities in the CBD,
Since this kind of appointment of a foreign Travel agent to SADC - the biggest client of TAABOT members, most of the members face looming retrenchments as a result of the decision taken by SADC to close them out,
This matter has since found space in the media and TAABOT understands that industry regulators have engaged SADC and led to the closure of the foreign non-TAABOT member.
We wish to commend the actions taken by the relevant departments and hope that SADC will engage us as locally registered and performing members of TAABOT.
We wish to inform our members that we are doing all that is appropriate in this and other matters that pertain to the industry to ensure that our interests as TAABOT are considered. We shall continue to inform our members of any new developments.