The Commander of Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Lieutenant General Placid Segokgo has revealed that they were misled when personnel and equipment were deployed to build an airstrip on the former President Lieutenant General Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s private compound in Mosu.
The construction saw public funds being used on private property. The airstrip belongs to the former president but was fenced and maintained by Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) at a cost to government. This is consistent with the past practice of providing safe landing facilities to the sitting Head of State and cannot amount to inequitable action nor maladministration, Segokgo told Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this week.
Segokgo said prior to the building of the air strip, they were not aware that it formed part of Khama’s compound. “Our understanding was that, it was not a private land [where the airstrip was built] because it was not in the fenced compound,” he said before adding. “The discussions were held but as BDF we are responsible for comfort of the sitting head of state. By then it didn’t ring bell on us because we have done similar thing for the past presidents.”
Asked about the practice of having a sitting president flying BDF aircrafts, Sekgogo said it possible since president is also a member of the army as the Commander-in-chief. Until he left presidential office, Khama has been flying BDF aircrafts both during his tenure Vice President and President respectively. Upon assuming office, Masisi instructed the BDF to not allow Khama to fly BDF aircrafts but to be offered VIP status every time he is on board. When quizzed about the memo, Segokgo said: “There is no command relationship between him [Khama] and us.”
BDF ADMITS OWING EX-SOLDIERS
Segokgo has conceded before the PAC that indeed they owe hundreds if not thousands of former soldiers amounting exceeding P60 million. “We owe them a number of things including leave days and pension. We have looked at the matter and we have paid significant number and others are yet to be paid because e are having a difficulty in finding some files,” he said. It is said because of the constant deployment, soldiers were not allowed to take their leave days which were increased from 90 to 120 days.
BDF Commander indicated that defense pension fund is modeled the same way as other civil servants, which naturally creates a problem for the army men. “But the retirement age is 55 for officers and 47 for lower ranks whilst other civil servants can go until 60 years which mean soldiers spend most time on retirement. This is the reason why soldiers demand a better package when they leave the job,” said Segokgo.
He admitted that former soldiers have the ability to destabilise the country if their concerns are not addressed. Segokgo however could not state the exact amount owed to the soldiers. Segokgo went on to disclose that they are currently still assessing which fighter jets to procure. He said they are taking into considerations the characteristics and affordability. Already, he said, they are looking at T50 jets and Mid 29 jets among others.
The fighter jets are expected to costs the government P15 billion ($1.7 billion). BDF is still negotiating with several governments and aircraft manufacturers around the world in search of affordable aircraft options. The aircraft acquisition is part of a force modernization programme that also includes the replacement of old troop carriers, transporters, tanks, armored vehicles, light weapons and aerial Defence systems.
BUDGET COMPROMISE BDF DEFENCE CAPABILITIES
Segokgo told PAC that the country’s procurement system and the budgeting system are hampering the army’s defence capabilities. He contended that since Botswana’s fiscal year runs only for 12 months, where they are expected to spend their budget, both recurrent and development within that period, it has proved difficunt for the army to utilise its development budget within that period.
“Because of the nature of the army, it takes a longer time, up to four years to procure defence capabilities that we need, but the budgeting system does not allow us since we are compelled to return unused funds at the beginning of every financial year,’ he said. Segokgo said, a longer budget period will allow BDF to meet its needs. PAC member, Ndaba Gaolathe concurred with Segokgo, indicating that it is absolutely necessarily to have longer budgeting period of 2-3 years.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.