President Mokgweetsi Masisi has been asked to take action against Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama owing to his actions that threw Botswana Tourism (BTO) into controversy.
The Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Public Enterprises, chaired by Tati East legislator and former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) chairman Moyo Guma was tabled before parliament this week following a period anticipation. The report, which was presented by committee acting chairperson Ndaba Gaolathe was not kind to Khama over his actions in the running of BTO affairs.
The report points out that Khama breached BTO Act in several ways, including among others; failure to appoint a board within a reasonable time-frame to run the affairs of the BTO; intentional and unlawful supervision of the BTO as if it is a department of the Ministry; going against procedural advice of the Permanent Secretary, Chief Executive Officer of the BTO and Non-Bank Institutions Regulatory Authority; and unlawful procurement appointments during the absence of the Board.
Blame is also apportioned to Khama for the BTO satellite office which was to be established in Dubai, at the minister’s instruction. According to the report, the Board had indicated that due diligence was not conducted to determine the viability of the office since it was Khama’s instruction. “The result was that a market analysis was not done to determine whether the market was relevant and worth the investment for the Botswana products. In spite of such procedural deficiencies the BTO was to spend P17 million on the establishment of Dubai office over a period of three years,” reads the report.
“It became apparent during the interrogation of the CEO that the BTO Board was no-existent for nine months hence the Ministry usurping the functions of the Board. The Committee was of the view that procedurally and in accordance with statutory requirements the CEO should take instructions from the Board not the Ministry.” The report implicates Khama in making direct procurement of services of one Mike Brook for the production of 10 copies worth P1,347,500 in the absence of the board.
Khama is found to have been directly involved in the restructuring of the BTO, a decision which would have required an additional P23 million which was not budgeted for, subsequently necessitating the Ministry of Tourism to approach parliament through supplementary appropriation. “It came to light that the Minister was directly running the BTO. The decision to restructure should have emanated from the Board and not the Minister,” the report reads.
The committee also found Khama to have acted wrongly when he instructed BTO to appoint a medical insurance company to provide an insurance cover for BTO. A direct appointment of ASUIA as a service provider for inbound insurance was to be made at the request of Khama. A contract was to be signed with the company at the direction of the Minister. “The NBFIRA had advised that BTO should engage a local insurer before opening the tender to international bidders. This advice was ignored by the Ministry,” indicates the report.
The committee further found that the decision made by Khama should have actually been made by the Board. In another wrong doing, Khama instructed then BTO CEO Brian Dithebe to appoint Changu Newman to be the BTO attaché in Washington DC against the advice from the Human Resources Unit.
“Mrs Newman’s overall performance in the assessment indicated marginally below average competency potential compared to other professionals in management. This also had a bearing on the issues of governance where the Minister interfered with the running of the BTO,” says the report.
The firing of BTO CEO was not procedural according to the report. The Acting Chairman of the Board acting together with Ministry agreed and terminated the contract without following proper procedures since the Acting Chairman of the Board cannot legally act on his own without other members of the Board, stated the report. “The Committee was of the view that the action of the Acting Chairman and the Ministry was procedurally flowed.”
The Committee recommends that the BTO be instructed to to conduct a forensic audit for a three year period ending December 2017, under the direction of the Auditor General and report findings to Parliament) the Tourism Bill, 2017, seeks to validate a process which was done improperly, and therefore the Committee recommends that the bill be deferred pending the outcome of the detailed forensic audit, Khama has also been warned to refrain from acting in such a manner that violates the BTO Act, with further recommendation that President takes appropriate action in relation to the Minister’s meddling with the affairs of the BTO.
In November 2017, Masisi, then Vice President coaxed Khama to withdraw the Tourism Development Levy Bill, after it emerged from the committee that Khama tried to validate his actions at BTO through the bill. The committee also comprise of Major Gen Pius Mokgware, Gilbert Mangole, Sethom Lelatisitswe, Dr Phenyo Butale, Kosta Markus and Mephato Reatile.
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.