The storybook of the Botswana Premier League (BPL) reads like that of Mafia operatives hellbent on getting whatever they want no matter how irrational and illogical.
The book chronicles a tale of lies, deceit, fabrication, self-aggrandisement and divisions - as well as a trace of personal vendettas and quests to settle old scores. The inevitable result has been a failure to focus and account prudently for the money that has been pouring into the league.
Now the blame game has taken centre stage, with one dominant faction of the BPL Board of Governors pushing for the permanent removal of their CEO, and the minority muted in their defence of the beleaguered officer whom they feel is a victim of a witch-hunt. At the heart of everything that has been happening there lately, is the guised fight for power; the battle for control and an ultimate desire to be in charge of the close to P25 million that the premier league churns annually. All else, really, is secondary.
Just as the attention of local football lovers was glued on the ensuing photo finish rush for the beMOBILE Premiership crown between Orapa United, Township Rollers and Mochudi Centre Chiefs, the league gurus on the other hand mastered a grand plan to divert attention to courtroom and boardroom issues.
This past weekend, a meeting of 12 BPL club chairpersons – there are 16 in total - who constitute the league board resolved to recall board chairperson Walter Kgabung, his deputy Solomon Mantswe as well as to suspend the league’s Chief Executive Officer Bennett Mamelodi. The bone of contention is that the CEO has failed to account for what is presumed to be missing funds, with Kgabung and Mantswe seen as accessories to the ‘crime’ as they have failed to supervise the operations at the Secretariat. There is no clarity as to why the CEO’s Personal Assistant was also suspended.
As is always the case where self-serving tendencies floursih, the involved parties are clutching at straws, and those in charge are refusing to go on record regarding their deeds – of course under the pretext that the matter of the suspensions is sensitive and was still to be discussed at a BFA NEC meeting that was scheduled for Wednesday evening this week. It is thus remained unclear at press time what the real issues are.
On the one hand however, is the story of a P6.2 million deficit that is being bandied around as the cause of Mamelodi’s suspension. There was a board meeting on March 5 where the CEO presented the financials of the BPL, and those close to the trigger-happy side of the board members say he failed to account for that P6.2 million. Yet another submission from within the polarised board says there is confusion of issues as that sum only represents the outstanding funds that are yet to be credited into the BPL in the form of P4.2 million in prize money from sponsors BTCL and about P2 million from Mascom.
There is also no clarity as to who to blame for the BPL’s reported overspending this season, with reports that it was once again the CEO who failed to plan for the year properly. Yet those sympathetic to the beleaguered Mamelodi argue that the said board members are just desperately trying to discredit a blameless man even when they know what actually is the cause of the league’s financial problems. They cite the unexpected turn of events where BURS, the taxman, held the BPL at ransom over an outstanding tax amount of close to P2million carried from previous years.
The BPL, on striking an P8million broadcast deal with the Department of Broadcasting Services, were told they would not get a tax clearance certificate needed by the government broadcaster until they had paid the tax in question. The football body is registered for tax, and the outstanding money was eventually debited from the broadcast stipend, which left the BPL with lesser money than they had budgeted for.
In addition, BG Sports has learnt that clubs themselves refused to have their monthly grants paid less tax, saying the BPL office had to be the one to bear the tax liability. The clubs insisted on getting strictly P50 000 per month, nothing less. Each club has since received P250 000 in grant money for the first five months until December, with the tax liability left for the BPL office to sort out. This too, reportedly dug from the BPL coffers, leading to lesser money at the office than had been anticipated. The dominant section of the board maintains the CEO is to blame for failure to budget properly while others feel it is an unfair accusation given the prevailing circumstances.
There is also the issue of Mamelodi reportedly getting a P900 000 loan from businessman Jagdish Shah to assist indebted teams with grants against their prize money, something the board says constitutes conflict of interest. Shah is an investor in Township Rollers and the concerned board members feel that the move could be the one influencing decisions at the BPL that go against protesting opponents such as Chiefs and Gilport Lions in the famed Ofentse Nato case. BG Sport has however established that the benefitting teams - Motlakase Power Dynamos, Green Lovers and Sankoyo Bushbucks - are the ones who directly sought such loans from Shah.
Sources close to the three clubs also questioned the figure of P900 000, saying they have only received a total of P200 000 from the businessman. “I know a different story to that one of P900 000,” a source told BG Sport, adding: “Sankoyo and Lovers each asked for P50 000 while Motlakase requested a P100 000 loan. I understand Jagdish then told the clubs that he needed assurance that he would get his money back after one club failed to pay him back last season. That’s when the teams approached the BPL for assistance through providing surety against their prize money which will come at the end of the league.” An official from one of these three clubs confirmed their loan deal and wondered why it was made an issue this time when other teams have been doing that over the years. “I know Letlapeng also had a similar arrangement with Shah last season while Miscellaneous was helped by Nicolas Zackem. It’s difficult to understand what people are on about,” he said.
Shah himself has rubbished claims of a P900 000 loan to the BPL. Instead, he confirmed lending the three clubs a total sum of P200 000 and seeking surety from the BPL before the transaction could be done. This Shah had to do after reports say relegated Letlapeng are yet to pay him back after he had lent them money last season.
For now the BPL CEO remains suspended despite the mother body setting aside the Saturday decisions of the board until both parties have furnished reports as to what really led to the weekend decisions. On Thursday, the BPL offices were a beehive of activity as investigation agents reportedly from the DCEC and Botswana Police Services confiscated computers and cellphones of some BPL employees. Kgabung and Mamelodi were also taken for questioning.
With the BPL board saying they will in the meantime be carrying out a forensic audit at the BPL office, it will be interesting to see if the audit will also extend to the clubs that consume about 80-85 percent of the league’s annual income. Only about 20 percent is used for the Secretariat’s operations. On an annual basis, Mascom pumps in P5million into the league, DBS pours P8million while BTCL bleeds P10million. The bulk of this money, directly and by extension, goes to club related expenses such as prize money, grants, referees’ transport and accommodation, emergency medicals services, ticketing, as well as official and player accreditations among others. With crowds having been good this season, the clubs should have also made a lot of money from gatetakings. The BFA should thus ensure this audit covers every aspect of the BPL finances, both at club and Secretariat level – just to help determine how money is used by the league and to determine who really is fooling who.
Whatever the truth is regarding these stories, it begs the question why it took this long for the BPL to raise these financial queries when all along there were board meetings where there are always financial updates. There is also no official answer as to why, for the first time, the weekend board meeting was held without the CEO who reportedly was in South Africa for a funeral. The first time the board raised alarm was at the March 5 meeting where the CEO was in attendance, and that was the perfect time to question him ahead of a follow-up suspension then. The CEO, who once resigned out of frustration before being begged to return, has never had a healthy relationship with the board and other people involved in the prevailing allegations, and it remains difficult to know the extent to which the sour relationships may be playing a part in his suspension. The allegations against him misappropriating funds come a long way back, yet the board still gave him a new contract last November to continue running the affairs of the league. There remains more questions than answers in this saga, and the BFA leadership had better expedite conclusions on the matter lest the premier league programme be thrown into chaos.