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Confessions of a thieving ps

With government coffers bleeding to debilitating levels, a former permanent secretary (PS), who on one or two occasions had to participate in some corrupt activities in favour of his minister to secure him a government contract, has made a confession to this publication on how government is crippled of billions of pulas.

His reason for sharing, he says, is the popping out of activities that have fleeced government of billions of Pula. He cites the National Petroleum Fund (NPF), the Palapye Glass Project, the Morupule B Power Plant, a series of suspicious tenders awarded at Ministerial Tender Committee levels as the main sources of leakage within government. He also points to the plethora of Funds and Levies which are mismanaged and abused as the reason why Botswana “will soon be on her knees, if the carnage is not stopped.”

The former PS, whose name is known to this publication said he was worried by the fact that in many instances, the public views them as lazy people who do not even know their job. “But, the issue here is a lot happens behind closed doors in government offices. People take advantage of the five years and below contract term that we work under, and they just make us do corrupt things knowing we will be afraid of losing our jobs,” he noted.

“You get instructions telephonically or verbally that such contractor must be awarded a tender. And you will be told that you must see to it that you organise a proper team which will help you do the assessment process well. If maybe you don’t have people who do not question things, some officials will be transferred from other government departments to do as the seniors have instructed.”

The PS said sometimes they would ask their bosses to make a written instruction whereby they will be promised, but to no avail. “And you cannot ask them for the second time to make a written instruction; you just carry out the job as commanded,” he decried. He further noted that at times, they even get instructions from their juniors who lead certain departments within the ministry. “And because you are on contract, you just implement.

Of course, you know very well that what is being proposed is contrary to procurement, protocols or even accounting protocols: But you fear for your contract which would normally be extended by approval of that individual.” He decried that these dynamics of communicating verbally without any footprints have led to a lot of officers resigning for lack of evidence to prove the offending actions.

BUT THE MONEY PORES KEEP OPENING UP

Just recently the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) increased thresholds for Ministries’ Ministerial Tender Committees (MTCs). But according to this permanent secretary, “this is where the biggest problem lies.” He says they are easily instructed verbally to giving jobs to certain companies regardless of whether they qualify for the job or not.

In his estimation, “tax payers are losing billions to a well-orchestrated corruption scheme within government.” The former permanent secretary likens the scheme to a pyramid scheme because the key players are linked by their corrupt activities and they help each other get contracts or tenders across ministries.

“It is unfortunate that those who are sucking government of millions of Pula have been retained in cabinet. The thing is they always make sure it is not their names that appear on documents, they are smart. But they get the money and we ruin our names and reputations,” he said. The former permanent secretary said it is embarrassing that government is owing fuel suppliers more than P1.2 billion. “This is all because of the mismanagement and looting that took place at the National Petroleum Fund (NPF)”. He points out that some of the service providers are owed money in the region of between P200 million and P300 million.

Just last week, the Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Eric Molale, acting on behalf of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development transferred an amount of P430 million from the Road Levy Collections Fund to the National Petroleum Fund (NPF).

According to the Government Gazette of 25th May 2018, Molale cites that “…it is in the best interest of the public and the exigencies of the financial situation renders it expedient to withdraw funds from the Road levy Collections Fund to the National Petroleum Fund.” Finance and Economic Development Minister, Kenneth Matambo told WeekendPost in an interview on Friday last week that, “Yes, we gave NPF the money. NPF is bankrupt as we speak,” he said,

INCREASED THRESHOLD IS A BLANK CHEQUE TO THIEVES

The former permanent secretary is concerned that the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) has reviewed and increased the financial ceilings of both the Ministerial Tender Committees (MTCs) and District Administration Tender Committees (DATCs). He says this should have come with more tight financial controls. Although he draws solace from the proposed declaration of assets and liabilities laws and Financial Intelligence Act, he is worried by the sluggish implementation of oversight laws in the country.

According to the reviewed thresholds, one of the Ministries that brew the biggest scandal in the country,  the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security had its threshold shoot from P300 000 000 to P600 000 000 . The new ceilings will become effective on the 1st June 2018. According to the PPADB the objective is to improve efficiency in the procurement system by ensuring that timely decisions are made at the Ministry and District level. “But there can’t be efficiency where corruption is the main reason for floating tenders and jobs,” observes the former permanent secretary.

The PPADB is mandated in terms of Section 65 of the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal (PPAD) Act to carry out this exercise. Another jump in threshold saw the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services also had its threshold doubled from P200 000 000 to P400 000 000.

Central Medical Stores, which has been on front pages for fraud related issues in the past had Adjudication Committee also leaped from P100 000 000 to P200 000 000. Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security Ministerial Tender Committee will now preside over a threshold of P240 000 000 instead of the old P120 000 000. The Ministry of Basic Education threshold has improved from P80 000 000 to P130 000 000.

The Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security Ministerial tender Committee budget has doubled from P160 000 000 to P320 000 000. The Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development is up to P160 000 000 from P100 000 000; while the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism threshold doubles to P130 000 000.

The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development Tender Committee will make decisions worth P200 000 000 effective 1st June2018, a double from P100 000 000, the same figures and changes apply to the Ministry of Health and Wellness. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Housing Development Tender Committee threshold experienced the biggest percentage jump from P135 000 000 to P400 000 000.

On the other hand the Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation Ministerial Tender Committee threshold was increased from P65 000 000  to P130 000 000; as for the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry, the Ministerial Tender Committee will start presiding over tender worth P300 000 000 compared to the previous P150 000 000. At the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the threshold has doubled to P240 000 000; as is the case at Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs where the figure has doubled to P200 000 000.

The Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Ministerial Tender Committee will deal with awards capped at P160 000 000, a jump from P80 000 000. At the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology the Tender Committee has been capped at P160 000 000, an increase from the old P80 000 000. Ministry of Transport and Communications’ Ministerial Tender Committee has its ceiling pinned at P260 000 000, an improvement from the P160 000 000 of old. The Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development also has a huge percentage jump from P120 000 000 to P360 000 000.

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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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