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BPOPF Audit exposes P1.5 billion ghost pensioners

An audit at the Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF) has exposed possible corruption.

Fresh information turned up by WeekendPost suggests that since the reclaiming of the funds administration from one of the fund administrators close to 1.5 billion pula worth of funds have no trace of active pension members. The company, which acted as advisor to the multi-billion Pula Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF), has been at the centre of reports of concerns of possible conflict of interest.

The same company was providing Financial Services to BPOPF which includes collection of members’ contributions and administration of benefits for 15 years. BPOPF pulled out of the contract, which started in April 2001 ended in May 2016. But BPOPF has since taken over the services and is doing everything in-house. What ensued thereafter were endless court battles.

“It’s an issue of data. It’s another legal battle.  You remember we took over the administration of the fund. Kante go na le maretshwanyana (There was a transgression of some sort),” a senior BPOPF official who spoke on condition of anonymity told WeekendPost this week.
She continued: “and I am sure you have heard of what is happening to our industry lately.

So basically when we took over from them, and all of a sudden this year, it was the first year that the funds were administered ko go rona (by us at BPOPF), and so rona (we) we gave actuaries all the data we were given.” According to the impeccable source, the data revealed new information of ghost pension members which opened a can of worms.

“In the data, they (actuaries) came to the finding that, which they shared with us, that 1.5 billion pula has never been declared to us (BPOPF). This is a serious matter. So it resulted in us reaching a negative. So what this means is that the actual members have been over provided for the last 10 years (the money accrued over the period),” the official pointed out. So we now had to adjust the 1.5 billion and declare a negative return, she added.

But she said the board instead insisted that they are uncomfortable with the actuaries’ results and ordered for more investigations in the matter and “we hired another forensic investigator to carry out the investigations on that data further. So it may be true that this board again is superfluous.” The official who also makes part of the top management at BPOPF further highlighted to this publication that; so, that’s why there is need to investigate further. The immaculate source further maintained that, as a result, “this space (BPOPF) needs God’s glory, it needs God’s interference I tell you. In fact if we should just become alive to the fact that this is 6 billion pula of people’s (pensioners) money we are talking about here.”

BPOPF ‘fund cleansing’ leads to data challenges

Meanwhile it is understood that owing to the state of affairs at BPOPF including updating members’ records, some pensioners were not paid. It is said that some on pension payroll didn’t get their dues last month due to the fact that BPOPF have suspended about 2000 pensioners from the payroll, all of whom need to go to BPOPF offices to sign a certificate of existence in order to be paid. The suspended ones are said to be those who didn’t confirm that they are alive in the current year.

It is also said that pensioners need to sign a certificate of existence annually to confirm that they are still alive. It is further understood that most do not do so and this leads to paying deceased pensioners. The BPOPF Board of Trustees who is also the Chairman for the Communications Committee Solomon Mantswe said last week in a press briefing that they have had some data challenges that have led to a delay in announcing the interest rate for active and deferred members and an increase for pensioners.

Some of the board of Trustees of BPOPF include Chairman Carter Morupisi, Ruth Maphorisa, Kaelo Molefhe, Ikotlhaeng Bagopi, Boitumelo Molefhe, Charles Nkele, Tobokani Rari, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, Johannes Tshukudu, Topias Morenga, Solomon Mantswe, and others amounting to 40 (including alternates).

According to Mantswe, the new Pensions Fund Act has actually addressed the size of the board (which is said to be oversized and redundant) and with effect from the 1st of April the board would be reduced from 40 to 11 members. The trustees are driving the business of the fund from modest beginnings to investment under management of funds over 60 billion pula to this day. BPOPF is the first largest pension in Botswana and the third in Africa.

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UDC founder warns against merger

19th October 2020
Ex UDC Convener: Mpotokwane

Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.

The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).

Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model.  BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.

“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.

Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.

Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board.  However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.

He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.

“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).

“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.

“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.

Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.

“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.

“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.

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BDP attaches Boko’s property

19th October 2020
DUMA BOKO

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.

WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs.  High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.

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COVID-19 exposes decay in the education system

19th October 2020
Education Systm

Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.

The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.

“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.

As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.

“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.

Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.

“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.

The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.

“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.

BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.

“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.

Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.

In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.

“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.

The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.

“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”

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