For many years government’s procurement system has been viewed by many as a breeding medium for institutionalized corruption as well as an apparatus for looting of public funds by a select few, mostly with certain connections.
Of recent, President Mokgwieetsi Masisi has said – ‘no more’, and vowed to spearhead transformation of government’s procurement system. Government procurement is worth over 14 billion pula annually. This is predominantly administered by Public Procurement & Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) as the body that receives bids, evaluates and allocates tenders. Amongst other goods and services acquired under the government procurement system is infrastructure development, medical and pharmaceutical services.
Bid rigging as well as well as unleveled grounds of competition in doing business with government have also been counted in the list of what is wrong with the system. Masisi, upon ascending to the highest office in the land, highlighted combating corrupt practices within government administration as one of his key deliverables as President of the country.
This Monday, when reviewing his 100 days in office Masisi revealed that his administration was making significant progress in instilling a culture of fair and anticorruption service delivery within the civil employ. The President noted that transformation of the government procurement system was ongoing to create a conducive and enabling environment for every Motswana, regardless of their economic status and political identity an opportunity to do business with government.
President Masisi highlighted that a process was ongoing to restructure government procurement systems in a bid for it to trickle down to the ordinary Batswana. Masisi reiterated that to achieve this, his administration will sponsor and root for relevant legislative frameworks that promote accountability and rule of law. “There cannot be equal opportunities without equality before the law,” he said.
Masisi highlighted that amongst other legislative amendments that he continues to push for was further review of the public procurement and asset disposal act to optimize efficiency and economic impact as well as eliminate loopholes that can act as a window for institutionalized wastage of public funds and national resources.
In a bid to curb political influence and tampering with government bidding and tendering processes, President Masisi underscored that his cabinet ministers will not interfere with public procurement process. “I have directed my public accounting officers to report any Minister who tries to meddle with tenders and asset disposal processes to me because they are not supposed to do so. He added that he will fire any cabinet minister that doesn’t observe this directive.
“We are committed to ensuring calculated and strategic deployment of our national resources in pursuit of broad based multiplied and beneficial effect on the economy and people of Botswana,” he said. Recently the PPADB has been collecting suggestions and stakeholder views towards transforming government goods procurement and assets disposal dealings to improve and realize the much needed efficiency and service delivery in the multibillion pula procurement window. In various forums, transparency and constant evaluations were raised as among the core main values of strategic operations by procurement entities.
The general custodian of public funds, Minister of Finance & Economic development, Kenneth Matambo told procurement stakeholders from Botswana, Mauritius and Kenya at a forum recently that: “I would like to urge procuring entities to take their responsibility and mandate seriously, fast tracked service delivery, openness and diligence should govern the daily proceedings of an economic segment of this magnitude,” said Matambo.
According to Matambo, PPADB handles very sensitive matters that have the potential of crushing the national economy if not handled with utmost professional ethics and etiquettes. “A procuring entity that is well resourced, transparent, evaluates and introspects its procedures and organizational operations from time to time will output a procurement system that inspires public confidence and delivers its government policy objective,” observed Matambo.
PPADB recently has also been making efforts to evolve into ICT and digital means of service delivery. “We have to move into digital procurement systems and we have to capacitate our staff and educate the public about the transformation,” noted then PPADB Executive, Bridget John. John has said the move would reduce issues of vulnerability to corruption and help PPADB to respond to tender queries within a short turnaround time as well as improve public confidence in their service delivery.
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.