The Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, Dithapelo Keorapetse has strongly rejected the observation that he is somehow delaying the release of a report on the probe of alleged embezzlement at the National Petroleum Fund (NPF).
Instead he posits that the narrative is sold by those who want to divert attention from the scandal, “all they are trying is to soil my name for political expediency.” Giving an update of the PAC examination of the books of accounts of the National Petroleum Fund, Keorapetse said the primary elections, shortage of staff, committee disagreements, incomplete information are among some of the factors that contributed to the delay in releasing the PAC’s report on the NPF. But he stated that there is light at the end of the tunnel as the report is currently being compiled after receipt of crucial information.
When quizzed on latest PAC business on the NPF probe, Keorapetse stated, “When the PAC adjourned, we subpoenaed information from Bank Gaborone and Stanbic Bank. PAC needed to know how the authorization of opening of bank accounts and disbursements and or transfer of funds happened; Who authorized and under what authority.” According to Keorapetse, information which was requested by the PAC has been submitted and copies have been given to MPs at their meeting of Tuesday the 28th.
“We’ve agreed to subpoena persons in respect of the information we received because we have to ascertain that there was compliance with Banking Act, Banking Regulations, Financial Intelligence Act and other important laws and regulations. We’ve to check if some banks or individuals employed by some banks colluded with those who plundered the NPF or not. So on Wednesday the 5th of September we intend to call witnesses from commercial banks to ask them a few questions,” said the PAC chairman.
Pressed further Keorapetse pointed to more challenges besieging his committee, he indicated that the PAC has One Secretary who is seconded from the Auditor General and the whole Parliament has two legal officers being the Parliamentary Counsel and her Assistant; “they service the whole parliament including all committees. These people are the ones who draft our reports not of only PAC but other committees and we depend on them. They’re not even directly employed by Parliament.”
Keorapetse said their role as MPs of the Committee is to discuss these draft reports and add or subtract. “People should understand the delay from the backdrop of our rubber stamp parliament which lacks experts such as lawyers, economists, forensic accountants etc, it also has no complex internal structures. I can confirm that the few bureaucrats we have at our disposal are seized with the matter and are drafting the NPF report.”
The Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament told this publication that most MPs in the PAC have been campaigning for both primary elections and general elections (registration). He acknowledged that it hasn’t been easy to meet. “It’s also easy for MPs to opt to be in their constituencies or attend to their personal businesses than to sit in a PAC meeting and be paid P350, it doesn’t make sense to many to give Committees their whole attention, that is why we struggle with quorum all the time. That’s the sad reality.”
Meanwhile Keorapetse said as a committee they have also had their own points of disagreement. “My view as chair of the NPF inquiry was that the examination is incomplete and we’ve many unanswered questions. Fundamental was for the Speaker to invoke her powers in the National Assembly Powers and Privileges Act to compel former DG of DIS to answer questions. Most committee members didn’t agree with this. Their view is that we’ve adequate information of what really happened, that we can infer from the refusal to answer questions and make conclusions,” he shared.
The DIS Act Section 29 establishes the Intelligence and Security Council which consists of the Permanent Secretary to the President, the Attorney General, The DG, and Deputy DG. It’s function according to Section 30 is to review intelligence policies and activities and examine the expenditure, administration, complaints by and oversee the legal framework of the Directorate.
Keorapetse pointed out that as Chair was that the decision on anti-poaching security issues and other related matters which resulted in the procurement of security equipment with NPF money by the DIS ought to have been discussed and authorized by Council as this clearly falls within their mandate. “I wanted to put all the members of the council on stand to clarify these matters. Majority of committee members disagreed with this opinion. “
Keorapetse said the PAC had to establish the extent of the President’s (Commander in Chief) knowledge and involvement in the NPF issues especially as it relates to the DIS. “Was he aware of security concerns the DG spoke about when he appeared before the PAC? Did he know that money was sourced from NPF for the purpose of security equipment procurement and did he authorize it? If he didn’t know how did he not know when High policy intelligence matters are reported to him?
I wanted to put former President Ian Khama on the stand regarding the matter but majority didn’t think it’s necessary. I think the VP and minister in the Presidency would be privy to high policy intelligence matters and may have been briefed about the security concerns and the need to procure some equipment from Israel with NPF or other money. I was of the view that these people should be called to answer questions the same way former Ministers Sadique Kebonang and Kitso Mokaila were called.”
Keorapetse said they also noted that the role of PPADB is also in question because it is not clear of the SPADC which Manages Procurement of Highly Sensitive Items for Disciplined Services was involved or not. He noted that the PPADCB rejected the single sourcing for storage facilities “but what has been its role subsequently?”
“I was personally frustrated by all these and thought if we write a report without answers to these questions then our job isn’t over. But the attitude in our parliament has always been that “let’s get it over with”, even Bills pass through Parliament most of the time rather than being passed by Parliament. You should also note that most PAC MPs are ruling party MPs uneager to provide oversight of the executive for obvious reasons.”
According to Keorapetse Botswana parliament is extremely weak, “we don’t have the necessary capacity, human resource and other resources to effectively scrutinize some of these matters. People should understand that we are doing our best under the circumstances.”
Asked if he has any personal reasons to delay the NPF report, Keorapetse said, “My conscience is clear, I’ve been a consistent corruption fighter as DCEC Officer in 2007-2008, as an academic and columnist and as a trade unionists and politician. I don’t care about some brief-case political parties’ agents and their media plants who go around trying to damage me.
There are issues which I’ve explained which have delayed the report. PAC is a committee which does its work in public and that’s why I’m sharing this information with you and agree to answer your questions. Our secretariat will advise us when they’re ready.” The PAC is tasked with examining government books, and in this matter it is interrogating the Directorate on Intelligence Security Services’ (DISS) involvement in the P250 million National Petroleum Fund (NPF) scandal.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.
The Global Gender Gap Index, a report published by the World Economic Forum annually, has indicated that Botswana is among countries that fare badly when it comes to representation of women in legislative bodies.
The latest Global Gender Gap Index, published last week, benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment). It is the longest-standing index which tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time since its inception in 2006.
This year, the Global Gender Gap Index benchmarked 146 countries. Of these, a subset of 102 countries have been represented in every edition of the index since 2006, further providing a large constant sample for time series analysis.
Botswana ranks number 66 overall (out of 146 countries), with good rankings in most of the pillars. Botswana ranks 1st in Health and Survival, 7th in the Economic Participation and Opportunity, 22nd in Educational Attainment, and 129th in Political Empowerment.
The Global Gender Gap Index measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale and scores can be interpreted as the distance covered towards parity (i.e. the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed). The cross-country comparisons aim to support the identification of the most effective policies to close gender gaps.
The Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index contains three concepts: the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap. The participation gap is captured using the difference between women and men in labour-force participation rates. The remuneration gap is captured through a hard data indicator (ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income) and a qualitative indicator gathered through the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey (wage equality for similar work).
Finally, the gap between the advancement of women and men is captured through two hard data statistics (the ratio of women to men among legislators, senior officials and managers, and the ratio of women to men among technical and professional workers).
The Educational Attainment sub-index captures the gap between women’s and men’s current access to education through the enrolment ratios of women to men in primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level education. A longer-term view of the country’s ability to educate women and men in equal numbers is captured through the ratio of women’s literacy rate to men’s literacy rate.
Health and Survival sub-index provides an overview of the differences between women’s and men’s health using two indicators. The first is the sex ratio at birth, which aims specifically to capture the phenomenon of “missing women”, prevalent in countries with a strong son preference. Second, the index uses the gap between women’s and men’s healthy life expectancy.
This measure provides an estimate of the number of years that women and men can expect to live in good health by accounting for the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition and other factors. Political Empowerment sub-index measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in ministerial positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. In addition, the reported included the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.
In the last general elections, only three women won elections, compared to 54 males. The three women are; Nnaniki Makwinja (Lentsweletau-Mmopane), Talita Monnakgotla (Kgalagadi North), and Anna Mokgethi (Gaborone Bonnington North). Four women were elected through Specially Elected dispensation; Peggy Serame, Dr Unity Dow, Phildah Kereng and Beauty Manake. All female MPs — save Dow, who resigned — are members of the executive.
Overall, Botswana has 63 seats, all 57 elected by the electorates, and six elected by parliament. Early this year, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general and Gaborone North MP, Mpho Balopi, successfully moved a motion in parliament calling for increment of elective seats from 57 to 61. Balopi contented that population growth demands the country respond by increasing the number of MPs.
In Africa, Botswana play second fiddle to countries like Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, Burundi, and Zimbabwe who have better representation of women, with Rwanda being the only country with more than 50 percent of women in parliament.
The low number of women in parliament is attributed to Botswana’s current, electoral system, First-Past-the-Post. During the 9th parliament, then MP for Mahalapye East tabled a motion in parliament in which she sort to increase the number of Specially Elected MPs in parliament to augment female representation in the National Assembly.
The motion was opposed famously, by then Specially Elected MP, Botsalo Ntuane, who said the citizens were not in favour of such a move since it dilute democracy, instead suggesting the Botswana should switch to Proportional-Representation-System. Botswana is currently undergoing Constitutional Review process, with the commission, appointed in December, expected to deliver the report to President Mokgweetsi Masisi by September this year.