Tafa’s multiple roles: Is there a conflict of interest?

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Fears that Parks Tafa is a conflicted party in his provision of legal expertise to the university are as old as the hills. The debate was recently ignited through an inquiry by MP for Gabane-Mankgodi Major General Pius Mokgware on law firms engaged by UB, and fees paid for their services in the past five years.

Parliament was told Collins Newman & Co, and Chibanda Makgalemele were the two law firms that offered legal services to the University.

Upon the education ministry’s response, Mokgware further asked whether there was no conflict of interest in this arrangement because the UB council chairperson, Parks is a partner in one of the law firms representing the institution; Collins Newman & Co.Assistant education minister, Kgotla Autlwetse, said the criterion to select the law firms was based on trust and confidence and fees paid were determined by the nature of the cases they handled. 

“One of the law firms is indeed associated with the UB council chairperson, but the appointment of the law firm was made much earlier than the council chairperson’s appointment,” he said.

He added that the university council had considered the matter and agreed that where there was conflict, which necessarily did arise and could affect all members of the council at one point or the other, the concerned member would recuse himself or herself as per the conflict of Interest Policy.

Reached for comment, the Law Society of Botswana (LSB) has said the engagement of Collins Newman & Co while its partner held such a crucial position at the university was an obvious conflict of interest.  LSB president and Maun based attorney, Lawrence Lecha said UB had to see to it that the conflict was ended. 

“It is an obvious conflict of interest. However, it is up to the university to ensure that the conflict was addressed, not me,” he said.  While authorities said trust and competency to deliver were the criteria used to appoint Collins Newman & Co to provide legal services to the institution, Lecha said the conflict resulting from Tafa’s chairpersonship could not be ignored. UB sees no conflict of interest in this arrangement. The university spokesperson, Mhitshane Reetsang has nullified the conflict of interest as claims they “hear from the press and those concerned”.

“We read and hear about the conflict of interest in the media and as discussed by those concerned. The University has experienced none of such conflict,” she said. 

According to Reetsang there has never been any instance where Tafa had to recuse himself from a case because of conflicting interests.

At the moment, UB has no plans to engage other private law firms besides the current ones, unless such need arises, explained Reetsang.  The Attorney-General (AG) is in the process of drafting guidelines on government’s engagement of private law firms in litigation.

In her address to the opening of the Legal Year, Attorney General Dr Athalia Molokomme revealed that they are drafting guidelines on government’s engagement of private law firms in litigation, to be operational in the 2015-2016 financial year. This week, spokesperson of the AG, Caroline Bogale- Jaiyeoba told Mmegi that the process was nearing completion.

“We are about to finalise the process, and we will inform the media,” she said. She could not comment on the AG’s position regarding the engagement of Tafa’s law firm at the university while he chaired its council.

The AG could not discuss whether an issue such as this would be addressed through these guidelines.  Two months back, Gaborone Central MP, Phenyo Butale had asked on the possible conflict of interest emanating from Tafa’s numerous hats at UB.

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