FRANCISTOWN: Crack investigators from the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) have this week swooped on the Central District Council (CDC) headquarters in Serowe, arresting a senior officer and ruling party parliamentary candidate for alleged corruption.
In a raid akin to a clip in an action movie, the agents arrested a council engineer whose names Mmegi failed to get despite repeated efforts, and the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary hopeful for Gantsi North, John Thiite in what has the potential to bring to light more rot in the CDC tendering processes.
More heads are expected to roll as investigations continue.
DCEC public relations officer, Phakamile Kraai confirmed the arrest of the CDC principal engineer in relation to the freshly launched investigations this week. He was however cagey about the exact charges the engineer is facing.
He would also not confirm the arrest of Thiite. Mmegi, however has it on good authority that Thiite was in custody for questioning at the time of going to press.
Mmegi has learnt how the council leadership was left reeling in shock after the principal engineer was whisked away this week by a team of uncompromising investigators on the trail of a case of corruption involving millions of pula in the construction industry.
Our investigations have revealed that the Serowe-based principal engineer is entangled in suspicions of an unethical conduct by allegedly assisting a company that did not qualify to win a tender worth about P270 million in the Tutume Sub District for a handsome reward.
The alleged tender at the centre of a corruption storm and awarded a few months ago, relates to the Tutume village infrastructural development project, which is currently being undertaken. The lucrative tender is for the provision of tarred roads, bridges, sewerage, streetlights and others.
An eyewitness account has it that the engineer’s newly purchased top-of-the-range Ford Double Cab, valued at about P500, 000 was quickly loaded into a police flat-bed truck and ferried to an unknown destination perhaps, as a real exhibit for the crime allegedly committed.
The principal engineer had allegedly assisted a construction company owned by a newly-crowned BDP parliamentary hopeful for Gantsi North and tenderpreneur, Thiite to win the multi-million-pula tender in Tutume.
The company, Thiite Rabble Screeners, owned by Thiite was awarded the P270 million tender for the infrastructural development in Tutume when the said company was allegedly ineligible to qualify, “because it had a garnishee order issued against it at the time of tendering”.
Now, fingers are pointing at the CDC engineer as the alleged architect of the mysterious qualification of Thiite Rabble Screeners when in the first place, the company was not even eligible to qualify.
The arrested engineer allegedly received ‘kickbacks’ in the form of a motor vehicle to qualify the company, even though it allegedly did not meet the qualifications criterion.
Suspicions of collusion that were raised against the engineer included complaints that the main company that won the tender was “absent” from the construction site, and instead companies that did not win the tender were the ones running the show.
This raised fears that the main contractor could have simply ‘fronted’ for the companies on site. The DCEC is also investigating this matter.
Amongst the companies that are onsite and suspected to have been fronted by the arrested engineer include Zac Construction owned by construction mogul, Nicholas Zakhem of the Gaborone United fame. Zac Construction is currently constructing three bridges and roads
This week, Zakhem, who is accused as the chief beneficiary of the alleged fronting business, tried to exonerate himself from any possible collusion, blame nor illegal business.
“Accusations of my company being illegal on site in Tutume are unfounded, baseless and obviously devoid of the truth. Zac Construction has been officially nominated by the contractor, Thiite to the Tutume Sub Council and our stay there is above board,” Zakhem explained. Zakhem was steadfast that no one has fronted for his company as Zac Construction was nominated on the basis of its experience and expertise.
However, it emerged that Zakhem might not be off the hook as yet as the DCEC is investigating a possibility of the accused tenderpreneur, Thiite having fronted for amongst others, Zac Construction.
Mmegi is on good authority that Thiite was this week also arrested for questioning by the DCEC for him to account for the role that he is alleged to have played in the questionable hefty Tutume Sub District tender.
His mobile phone, just like that of the CDC engineer, was in the hands of DCEC investigators at the time of going to press.
The chairperson of the Tutume Sub District Council, Councillor Ishmael Mokgethi revealed this week that his council was awaiting an update on the matter from the CDC headquarters.
He also confirmed that the CDC headquarters supervised this particular tender.
He was aware however, that the tender for the works was awarded to Thiite Rabble Screeners to do, amongst others, networking of tarred roads, bridges, street-lights and others. He could not be drawn into discussing the accusations of fronting and alleged acts of corruption, insisting that his council will get proper briefing at the right time.
The CDC deputy council secretary (technical) based in Serowe, Robert Letlole this week feigned ignorance of the arrest of the CDC engineer, though it happened just under his nose. “I am not aware of any arrest and for that question, the DCEC can answer better. As far as I am concerned, we don’t have any officer arrested this week,” Letlole said.
As regards allegations of fronting by the main contractor in Tutume, Letlole insisted that, “We haven’t anyone on site, but it happens when someone does the job. He can hire some of the equipment from others. I don’t know what people could have seen to suggest that the main contractor might have fronted for others”.
Even last week, Letlole was at the site, but still, he insisted he had not seen anything disturbing at all.
For his part, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Masego Ramakgati said: “It is true that one of our officers at Central District Council had a conversation with the DCEC on issues related to their conduct in public office. In a nutshell, one of our officers is under DCEC investigations”.
When quizzed by Mmegi this week, BDP chairperson for communication and international relations, Thapelo Pabalinga said he was unaware of Thiite’s whereabouts. He said his efforts to trace him (this week) through the party structures in Gantsi could not bear fruit.