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Gambling Authority fights charges in marathon lottery case

STAFF WRITER
The Gambling Authority says it is not in the wrong in a marathon case involving a multi-million pula tender that was bided for by a local consortium and a South African lottery company.

The Authority denied flouting the Procurement Act, Gambling Act and Gambling Regulations when selecting a local consortium, Grow Mine Africa as the preferred bidder in the national lottery tender.

It was responding to accusations levelled at it by a South African lottery company Ithuba Solutions, which has approached the High Court seeking a review of the Authority’s award decision and an interim interdict of the latter’s negotiations with Grow Mine Africa.

Ithuba has been selected as the reserve applicant in the national lottery bid.

In its review application, Ithuba accused the Authority of flouting section 24 (2) of the Gambling Act, read with Regulation 67, which require all applicants to publish their applications in two consecutive editions of the Government Gazette or any other newspaper to allow the public to object to their applications.

Ithuba also accused the Authority of flouting Regulation 9 by not conducting thorough investigations into the applicants’ background to ascertain their suitability.

Further, the Authority is accused of failing to convene public hearings in respect of all applicants as per Regulation 68.  When responding to Ithuba’s allegations, Gambling Authority chief executive officer, Thuli Johnson said section 34 (2) of the Act did not apply to national lottery licence applications, but rather to gambling establishments.

“Accordingly, the Authority was not obliged to follow a public notice and comment procedure or hold a public hearing in terms of regulations 66, 67 and 68,” said Johnson.

He added that the Authority fully satisfied Regulation 69 as it conducted thorough investigations into the applicants’ background. According to the request for applications (RFA), all applicants were required to submit fit and proper documentation including police clearances, tax clearances and World Lottery Association Certificates of Suitability.

Moreover, said Johnson, the Authority undertook site visits in order to determine if the technical capability claimed in submitted bids was

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actually available. In response to Ithuba’s allegation that it did not follow the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act (PPADA), Johnson stated that the Act was not applicable to the national lottery. “The awarding of a national lottery licence should not be equated to procurement or disposal of public assets as defined by the Procurement Act. Therefore, Ithuba’s repeated allegations are baseless,” Johnson said.

On top of its application for review, Ithuba also wants the court to temporarily interdict the Authority’s negotiations with Grow Mine Africa. However, Johnson has dismissed the application as premature, saying the Authority has not made any final decision on the national lottery.

He added that there was no need for an interdict because Ithuba could still appeal the Authority’s decision to the Minister and further institute judicial review proceedings.

“Ithuba is evading its duty to exhaust internal remedies before launching judicial review proceedings. The argument that appealing to the Minister would be academic and a fait accompli is legally unsustainable and appears to impugn the integrity of the Minister,” Johnson said.

He further argued that restraining negotiations with Grow Mine Africa would severely impact the interests of both the Gambling Authority and Batswana.

“It is in the public interest for this process to be completed as soon as possible, given the delays over the past three years,” he said.

He further explained that proceeds from the national lottery are intended to benefit the National Lottery Distribution Fund, which is used to fund national projects such as charities, sports development, recreation and youth empowerment.  Johnson warned that any further delays would harm the intended beneficiaries of these public projects.

“These projects are of greater importance than the naked commercial interest that Ithuba seeks to protect as it expands its lottery empire from South Africa to Botswana,” Johnson said.



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