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90 elephants poached! Not in our AOR – BDF rubbishes Chase

“Eighty-seven elephant carcasses were found in the country, months after it disarmed its anti-poaching unit. The carcasses of 87 elephants have been discovered near a Botswana protected sanctuary, killed and stripped for their tusks. The elephants were discovered by Elephants Without Borders, a conservation nonprofit.”

This is the narrative that was sold to the international media and attributed to Dr Mike Chase who has been awarded a contract by the Government of Botswana to carry out a survey of elephants in the Ngami-Chobe area. However this week, a Task Team led by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF)’s Brigadier Simon Barwabatsile rubbished these reports which were attributed to Dr Mike Chase on 3rd September 2018. The Office of the President had invited local and international media on a tour of the area which was said to have invaded by poachers and elephants massacred and striped of their tusks.

“… the figure of 87 or around 90 that was circulated was not a true reflection of what has been recorded by all government agencies involved in anti-poaching operations to date in the Ngami-Chobe areas. The official figure recorded as from January to date is 63 poached elephants,” said Brigadier Barwabatsile, who indicated that on their verification tour they invited Dr Mike Chase. The exercise took two full days and only a total of 19 carcasses were located.

Before he delved into the numbers, Brigadier Barwabatsile indicated that the area that Dr Mike Chase referred to is under the control of the BDF, “…and as you can see we are armed, we have all the ammunition we need to deal with poachers.” In accounting for the elephants carcasses reported, Brigadier Barwabatsile said a total of 36 carcasses have been located as per the grid coordinates given. The carcasses were found to have died over the years from various causes including poaching, natural causes, as well as human/wildlife conflict among other causes.

According to the Brigadier, the task team realized that most of the carcasses are not recent and are scattered all over the area contrary to what has been attributed to Dr Mike Chase. “Among these carcasses less than 50 percent of them can be attributed to poaching which has been taking place over the years, but it has not worsened.” All these incidents occurred in BDF area of operation, he stressed as a way of shooting down the assertion that disarming Wildlife officers gave rise to poaching.

When giving his update on the anti-poaching situation in the Chobe-Ngami area, Brigadier Barwabatsile shared that the north of the country has a high population of elephants and this attracts poachers. He pointed out that they are aware that poachers come armed and they have to be addressed as such by those in operation. Brigadier Barwabatsile explained that the military provides safe and secure environment for elephants and the area of Chobe-Ngami has been under the control of the military since the 1970s.

He acknowledged that poaching has always been there and on average poachers kill about 80 elephants countrywide. The army Brigadier noted that the numbers attributed to Dr Mike chase are staggering hence they had to call him in and do a corroboration of facts.
“There has been no exponential increase in the number of elephants that died because of poaching. We take coordinates for every dead elephant in the bush and we keep them for future reference. It was established that most of the carcasses reported by Dr Chase were old, some died six month ago, others eight months, and three months; only a few were found to be fresh,” said Brigadier Barwabatsile.

Off all carcasses located one is estimated to have been lying there for 2-3 weeks; Three estimated to have died about 2-3 months ago, nine estimated to have lay dead for 6-8 months; while six are estimated to have died 12 months ago. Of the 19 carcasses located, 18 were without tusks, one had a pair of tusks and were collected by the task team. Of these number, six were found to be covered with tree branches – an indication that they died as a result of poaching. They were also found to be near water points, another sign that shows that poachers were involved because they ambush the elephants at water points.

12 carcasses had no sign of either being poached or dying of natural cause. An old camping site was identified which is an indication of a bigger group of poachers during winter season. The team realized it was the first time that Dr Mike Chase had visited some of the locations where these carcasses were identified. To step up the anti-poaching campaign, Brigadier Barwabatsile pointed out that they intend to enhance capacity of law enforcement agencies. He said there is need to ensure enforcement of legislations to preserve wildlife resources. Critical to the operations, Barwabatsile said community involvement in ant poaching initiatives must be increased while also accommodating interagency cooperation in operations.

 DR CHASE’S EWB RESPONDS

“Elephants Without Borders (EWB) has received many questions and comments regarding the elephant poaching situation that has been widely reported in the press. EWB has been working in partnership with the Government of Botswana (GoB) conducting aerial wildlife surveys since 2010. Our team, which includes members from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and other professionals, is perhaps the most experienced wildlife aerial survey team in Africa. Our current survey adheres to the highest international standards for counting wildlife, the same standards employed for the surveys EWB conducted in collaboration with the GoB in 2010 and 2014.

Dr. Michael Chase is recognised for his knowledge and dedication having received the Botswana Presidential Merit of Service Award and was also bestowed the Global Conservation in Action Award, a prestigious international conservation honour. Dr. Chase is a fourth generation Motswana and is a citizen of Botswana by birth.

EWB was awarded a grant from the Conservation Trust Fund, under the administration of the DWNP, to conduct the 2018 wildlife aerial survey of Northern Botswana. The 2018 survey, began on the 3 July in full partnership with the DWNP, and is due to be completed by October.
During this survey an unusually high number of elephant carcasses were seen by the survey team. As part of the survey, data (which include GPS locations, photographs, written records and cockpit voice recordings) are collected and then collated, checked and run through standard statistical analyses to generate the final report.

In addition, and given the high number of elephant carcasses seen during the survey, EWB felt it a moral and patriotic duty to immediately report this to the Government of Botswana, which it did soon after the survey commenced. EWB is, however, deeply saddened by recent articles both in the written media and on social media which have sought to portray the issue as being political. It is not. EWB has the greatest respect for Government and EWB is completely a-political in its work. EWB’s sole concern is for the wildlife and the natural heritage of our wonderful country and its preservation for future generations of Batswana.

Dr Chase was not extended an invitation to the recent Government of Botswana press briefing held in Kasane on the 19 September pertaining to a fact finding mission about alleged elephant poaching. EWB is not able, until further notice, to release any detailed information concerning the survey in general, nor potential cases of elephant poaching. We trust that concerned citizens of Botswana, the media and the international conservation community can respect these constraints and await the dissemination of the final survey report.”

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Botswana’s development agenda in jeopardy

21st September 2020
Botswana’s-development-agenda-in-jeopardy--water-construction

Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review indicates that Botswana will fail to meet some of its Vision 2036 targets, particularly unemployment reduction and reaching high-income status.

The report says this is mainly due to the slow economic growth that the country is currently experiencing. This Quarterly Economic Review focuses on the 2020 Budget Speech.

The first paper reviews the entire budget with its key observations being that this budget is prepared as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act; the priorities it seeks to address are drawn from Vision 2036 and the eleventh

The 2020 budget Speech, which was the maiden speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, and the first after the 2019 general elections, was delivered to Parliament on the 4th of February 2020.

It has been well received by the labour unions, business community, and the public at large as well as international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It mainly derived its support from key facets including, emphasis on changing the business-as-usual approach to development; outlining the transformation agenda; fiscal reform that minimizes the negative impact on economic development and human welfare, competiveness and the decision to implement the 2019 negotiated and agreed public sector.

The budget’s progress review shows that economic growth was consistent with the NDP 11 projections, with growth of around 4 percent. At this growth rate, the country would neither ascend to a high-income status nor reduce unemployment towards the Vision 2036 target of a single digit.

Simple calculations of this review confirm that the economy will need to grow the Vision 2036’s target of 6 percent over the next 16 years for per capita income to increase from around USD 8,000.00 to above USD 12,000.00 in current prices.

Further, the population is anticipated to grow by only 2 percent per annum.

For this reason, the focal areas for the forthcoming FY’s budget include measures to increase economic growth towards an average of 6 percent per annum.

Economic diversification is reportedly progressing fairly well. The report says, the share of the non-mining private sector in value added has risen to 66 percent in 2018 from to 63 percent in 2015.

The sectoral pattern of growth showed that the performance of services sector (particularly transport & communications, trade, hotels & restaurants, and finance & business services) has been the silver lining and that of mining sector was subdued whilst the utility sector disappointed.

The drive towards the service sector of the economy, especially to low-productivity activities (tourism, public administration, wholesaling and retailing) does not bode well for the country’s development aspirations.

In the previous versions of this Quarterly Review, it was noted that there is need for the rethinking of economic diversification. Since the country’s domestic market is small, it is inevitable that economic diversification not only focus on broadening the product mix, but also the composition of exports and markets.

This understanding of economic diversification has not been embraced by this year’s budget. Consequently, Botswana’s exports are still overwhelmingly diamonds, which means that the rest of economic sectors are still highly dependent on foreign-exchange earnings from diamonds. Thus, “the transformation programme requires a review of the country’s entire ecosystem”.

The budget review of the economic context also depicts that an economy with positive medium-term prospects, with growth expected to recover to 4.4 percent in 2020 from the expected growth of 36 percent in 2019 largely due to faster growth of services sectors and, thereafter, to slow-down to 4 percent in 2021.

These projected growth rates are comparable to those of the IMF staff’s baseline scenario of 4.2 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2021. Thus, the business-as-usual scenario produces growth rates that are still too low to achieve Botswana’s development objectives and create enough jobs to absorb the new entrants into the labour market.

Trade tensions between the two major markets for diamond exports, viz., the United States of America and China, is one of the factors that are cited as contributing to, indeed, undermining not only the domestic growth, but also the fiscal position.

Another notable downside risk to both global and domestic growth is outbreak of the coronavirus in China around January 2020. This has been declared as a global health emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Chinese authorities have ordered city lockdowns and extended holidays, of course, at the expense of near- term economic growth, according to the new Stanbic Bank Botswana report.

According to Nomura Holdings Inc., fewer migrant workers returned for work than in previous years and business activities have been slow to pick up. The havoc wreaked by the virus on the world’s second largest economy is likely to spill over to the global economy. In fact, it has resulted in a glut in crude oil and, thereby placed oil markets into a contango, i.e., a market structure where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts.

It also presents significant risks one of Botswana’s main drivers of economic growth, diversification and foreign exchange earnings. According to the Financial Times (February 13, 2020), Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018. Regardless of whether the growth materializes, the projected domestic growth rate would not transform the economy to a high-income one.

Progress towards reduction of unemployment, to a target of single digit, and poverty and achieving inclusive growth has also been relatively slow, the Stanbic Bank Botswana Review says.

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OP leases Orapa House

21st September 2020
Orapa House

Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MOPAGPA) has through the Office of the President (OP) proposed to avail Orapa House for use by private training institutions as well as research institutions involved in the area of technology development.

For a very long time the monumental building located in the heart of the city has been a white elephant, despite government purchasing it for nearly P80 million from De Beers in 2012.

However, government has now identified a productive use for the iconic building. “The overall vision is for the building to be transformed into a hub for digital technology research and development to be carried-out by institutions, such as; Limkokwing University, BIUST, BITRI and other relevant stakeholders.”

The decision was taken as government traverse a new path of transforming the economy from a mineral led economy to a knowledge based economy through the promotion of research and innovation. However, the facility will need major maintenance to be carried-out in order to meet the requirements of the proposed change in use.

“The work will include provision of laboratories, work stations, production areas and seminar rooms; audio visual centre, high speed internet connectivity, exhibition areas and offices,” reads the proposal note for the development.

These developments will be done through the refurbishment and maintenance of the main building, workshop, and ablution block, gate house, parking area, grounds, and access control and security service.

“There will be minimal modifications to the structure as it stands. The project is estimated to cost approximately P50, 000, 000,” says the report. In this regard, it is said, the initial scope of the OP facility will be modified to accommodate the envisaged digital technology research and development hub.

With funds needed to improve the building, OP has requested that; “the 2020/21 annual budget provision for Orapa House will need to be increased by P37,500,000 from P2,500,000 to P40,000,000 to kick start the maintenance works.” Funds will be sourced from the projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19 protocols during the 2020/21 financial year.

The building has been a thorny issue for government for years. Initially, OP was expected to move there but the move never materialised. At one point it was a question of whether the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development were planning to override a decision by Parliament which rejected the proposal to buy Orapa House under the belief that government may be buying its own property. The building was to be bought at a negotiated cost of P79 million.

Again in 2012, Government had wanted to buy Orapa House for a negotiated P79m but the Finance and Estimates Committee of Parliament had rejected the request because of the inconsistencies realised in the supporting documents of the proposed procurement. The valuation of the building was put at P74 million.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing had initially offered De Beers P73, 000,000 as the purchase price. However, De Beers countered with P85, 000,000. On negotiation and converging of the minds, the selling price was finally agreed at P79, 000,000.

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Sad state of Brigades: dumped and ignored!

21st September 2020
Brigades

Auditor General, Pulane Letebele, has expressed discontentment at the worrying and deteriorating state of brigades in the country.

In an audit inspection which was carried out at Tshwaragano Brigade in Gabane, a number of observations showed weaknesses and shortcomings in the conduct of the financial affairs of the institution.

According to Letebele’s report, former students of the brigade had been engaged to carry out maintenance works on the school premises, comprising of painting, tiling, plumbing and electrical works, which covered the period from July 2017 to June 2018.

Although the agreed maintenance period had elapsed, the works had not been completed because of unavailability of funds and this situation had persisted up till the time of inspection in November 2019.

Auditor General says arrangements should have been made in time for funds to be available to complete these relatively minor works even before the works commenced.

Various contractors had been engaged for clearing the bush and for the supply of concrete stones, pit and river sand and hiring equipment for digging the trench towards the construction of an auto mechanics workshop, the report said.

It stated that the cost of services and supplies provided totalled P117 949.80. However, despite the services and the supplies having been paid for, the construction works had not commenced for a long period afterwards, resulting in the trench filling back in.

The audit inquiries had not elicited satisfactory responses as both the institution and the Ministry had not accepted the responsibility for the project, although orders for the provision for the supplies had been made. For their part, the Ministry had stated that they had sub warranted funds for the purchase of porta cabins.

Letebele indicated that it is therefore confusing that a project which is critical to the functioning of an institution such as this one would commence without a well-defined plan.

Furthermore, the accounting and maintenance of records for the supplies items were not of the standard prescribed by the Supplies Regulations and Procedures in that the supplies ledger cards, the main accounting records for Government assets, were not properly maintained for the recording of receipts and issues.

This had resulted in significant discrepancies between physical and ledger balances, while in other instances the supplies items had not been recorded at all.

The report says 24 of the 91 new computers found in the computer laboratory at Kumakwane ABC campus were not recorded anywhere, as were the other computers in the storeroom which could not be counted due to the disorderly storage conditions.

The institution had entered into a contract agreement with a security company for the provision of security services at Tshwaragano Brigade, ABC and Horticulture campuses at Kumakwane for a 2-year period which ended in June 2018, WeekendPost learnt.

After the contract expired in June 2018, an extension was granted till the 30th September 2018. Since then, there has been no security service coverage for the institution to-date. According to Auditor General, in the face of prevailing crimes, it is of paramount importance that government properties be protected by provision of security services at all times.

At Tlokweng Brigade, it was noted that the kitchen staff were working under difficult conditions as the kitchen facilities and equipment, such as the cold room, tilting pot, food warmers and solar power for hot water were dysfunctional. The kitchen roof was leaking and men’s restrooms was not working. All these need to be brought to a reasonable and functional state of repair.

The kitchen staff should use a purpose-designed Rations Ledger for the recording of receipts and issues of foodstuffs to reflect the usage of those items. As far back as 2014 the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services had found that the house occupied by the bursar was uninhabitable on account of structural defects, the report said.

A site visit during the audit had established that the house was indeed unfit for occupation as there were cracks on the walls, power switches were not working and the roof was leaking. On a sadder note, there were a number of finished items of clothing, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets from students’ practical exercises from the Fashion Design Textiles Workshop.

Auditor General shared her take on this, saying: “I have not been able to ascertain the policy on the disposal of products from these practicals. A trace of 103 green acid-proof overalls which had been purchased in August 2018 had indicated that there was no record of these items having been recorded or issued, nor were they available in stock. I was not able to obtain any explanation for this situation.”

Kgatleng brigade was also audited and inspected by Auditor General who observed that the brigade has 26 institutional houses at Bokaa, both old campus and new campus. Some of these houses are very old and dilapidated, with two declared uninhabitable. The condition of the houses is a clear indication of lack of care and maintenance of these properties.

At the time of the audit, there was no contractor engaged for the provision of security guard services at the new campus, after expiry of the previous one in July 2019.  It is hoped that steps would be taken to safeguard the security of the premises and government properties against any acts of hooliganism.

In August 2019, there was a break-in at the electrical and at the plumbing maintenance workshops and a number of high value items, such as drilling machines, bolt cutters, spanners and cables, were stolen. The break-in and theft were reported to the police.

“However, at the time of writing this report I was not aware of the outcome of the police investigation, nor of any loss report submitted in terms of the Supplies Regulations and Procedures,” Letebele said.

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