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Motor Center has a history of dominating government tenders

Graph showing vehicle sales from the big 3 between 2008 - 2018

Motor Center has a history of dominating government tenders

29 March 2023

A leaked trove of confidential files has revealed how some motor dealers in Botswana ingratiate themselves with the government by donating scores of motor vehicles to departments and making billions of Pula in return.

The data puts into spotlight the ethically questionable practices of donating motor vehicles and resultant benefits to dealers and lays bare the symbiotic relationship between some businesses and the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), that has kept the party in power since the country gained independence in 1966. 

The data spans some 30-year period but has been cleaned to focus on the period between 2008 and 2018. It provides details of how the government disproportionately awarded contracts to companies with links to the ruling party at the expense of other dealers.

BDP treasurer, Satar Dada and a dozen other motor magnets earned as much as P7 billion in revenue from motor vehicle sales to the government over a ten-year period ended 2018. Motor Center also led a pack of dealerships that donated most vehicles to government, giving away atleast 89 motor vehicles between 2008 and 2018, mostly to the Department of Clinical Services in the Ministry of Health. Dada could not respond to questions sent to him on his dealerships.

These details, together with a two-month long analysis of the Central Transport Organization (CTO) data shows that CTO spent over P6.4 billion on 6185 motor vehicles between 2008 and 2018. Major motor dealers such as Motor Center, Barloworld and Broadhurst Motors dominated the supply of vehicles, according to the INK Centers’ data analysis. Other suppliers include Commercial Motors, KIA, Mahindra as well as Capital Motors and Naledi Motors. At least a third of the contracts or P1.4 billion went to dealerships linked to Dada. For example, Motor Center alone supplied over 2500 vehicles worth P957 million in sale between 2008 and 2018. 

The mean price for the cars was P425 000, while the vehicle of choice was a Toyota.

The database shows that Barloworld, supplier of Audi, Ford and Volvo came in second, making a sale of about P630 million. Motor Holdings, owned by Charles Tibone, another BDP stalwart, supplied around 1000 cars during the same period. 

The database, which initially covered a 30-year-period from 1982, is reliable, but incomplete. To make up for the shortfall, INK Center focused on motor vehicle trade carried between April 2008 and March 2018. This is the period in which President Ian Khama was in office. We also spoke to several people at CTO, who pleaded anonymity, to ascertain its authenticity.

The database shows that dealers made a windfall in 2014 where most motor vehicles were sold in the period selling over 1200 cars. The data also shows that in 2009 motor dealers sold least cars to government. However, most of the largest motor vehicle dealers in the country have a relationship with the BDP and it is seemingly beneficial business relationship that has kept the party in power.

For example, Motor Center has been one of the biggest beneficiaries over the years selling 2805 motor vehicles to the government between 2008 and 2018. Motor Center trades mostly in the Toyota brand.

The database, however, omits some of the crucial information on motor vehicle sales, particularly to the intelligence agency, the Office of the President, the military, and the police. The database also omits sales by some previous dealers linked to the former President Ian Khama family. Motor sales from Seleka Springs – a pariah motor vehicle dealership belonging to former President Khama brothers, Tshekedi and Anthony Khama – has also been conspicuously excluded from the CTO database. CTO is a government department that maintains the government fleet. Seleka Springs traded in Land Rover, the MG and Bedford brands and supplied the Botswana military with heavy and light infantry vehicles. Seleka Springs dominated government motor supplies tenders in the late 90s and throughout Khama’s term in office. The firm has since been suspended from supplying government in the wake of a fallout between Khama and president Mokgweetsi Masisi.

 Some big spenders 

With a record sale exceeding 1700 motor vehicles in a year, the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security is the biggest spender of motor vehicles, while the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport, and Culture Development, spending the least at 143 cars in the same period. Analyzing the data further reveals that the Ministry of Defence acquired 429 motor vehicles from Motor Center between 2008 and 2018 second to Ministry of Health. Parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs purchased fewer vehicles from Motor at the time.

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