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Friday, 19 April 2024

Botswana is a paradise of corruption– Gaolathe

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Leader of newly formed political party, Alliance for Progressives (AP), Ndaba Gaolathe has attributed the current corruption scandals sweeping across the country to the lack of strong institutions and poor oversight.

He said the poor foundation laid out in the country’s three arms of government which gives more powers unnecessarily to the Executive has resulted in the corruption mess as every accountability institution reports to the Executive. In terms of the 3 arms of government; Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, the soft spoken Gaolathe maintained that the Executive remains powerful as compared to others although ideally they should be on the same level.

Gaolathe said this in light of the current setting in government where most oversight and accountability bodies like the Ombudsman, Directorate on Corruption on Economic Crime (DCEC), Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and to some extent the Judiciary (Chief Justice) all report to and are financed by the Executive and therefore by extension not totally independent. 

“There are no independent and trustworthy institutions that can take on the public confidence in dealing with such corruption taking place in the country. That is why we are suspicious of each other at the moment; we know longer even trust each other. Our country is now in a total mess,” Gaolathe said at a Public Lecture/Meeting on Corruption this week held in Gaborone. 

The public lecture came at a time when there are strong allegations that link President Lt. Gen. Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, DISS Director General Isaac Kgosi, Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development Thapelo Olopeng and Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security Sadique Kebonang among other top government officials – to high magnitude corruption.

In the said biggest financial scandal in Botswana involving P250 million, an attorney representing Bakang Seretse in the case, Kgosi Ngakaagae said in court last week that the country’s top politburo may have unduly benefitted from the controversial National Petroleum Fund(NPF) – which they all denied. 

In the ongoing case, Gaolathe said even if the culprits can be taken to book and the money returned to the government purse, the issues will still come back in future to haunt us (or repeat itself) owing to governance issues (still). “These issues have turned this country into a fertile ground and paradise of corruption,” he pointed out.

According to Gaolathe, in terms of the corruption at NPF, “to be honest with you, I doubt anybody really knows what happened; it’s just a tip of the iceberg. But all indications suggest that the money landed in the wrong pockets.” He continued: “we don’t even know how much money was taken from the fund, although I have seen numbers been dropped up like 250 million, 300 million etc. But that’s just a transaction that has leaked, this shows there might be other transactions which have not leaked to the public. We don’t even know when the looting started. In this circus, some have broken their constitutional vow not to steal from the public purse.”

Calls for a commission of inquiry on corruption allegations

According to Gaolathe, “when we don’t know the answers to all this for now, we must be honest, and look for answers from those with the technical expertise to assist find out with a fair and transparent exercise.” “They should be fair to everyone involved. That’s why we are saying that let there be an independent commission of inquiries to find out who stole how much and clear others who are not in any way involved.  We want a motion for a commission of inquiry on the abuse of the National Petroleum Fund and general abuse of public resources,” he said.

He added: “Even I have been accused of receiving 1 million through corrupt means of the controversial NPF but the inquiry will put that to bare if correct and I will also be brought to book if found to be implicated.” Gaolathe pointed out that his motion differs from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) one which calls for the review of the NPF.

The NPF has a fund order; he said adding that it’s basically used in case of increases in petroleum fee; some money will be used to caution motorists with such high prices of fuel. The other role, he added, is to build strategic fuel reserves for use in future in times of need. “Some countries that supply us with fuel may also get into war and this may adversely affect us, and in cases of delay of fuel.”

Parliament role in Botswana in funds like NPF is insufficient

The son of the former and late Minister of Finance and Development Planning Baledzi Gaolathe highlighted that in American parliament in terms of the NPF, it has a bigger role than Botswana. “Pity, with us we have a Committee of Supplies; the Minister presents his proposals and parliament rubber stamps and that is not a proper procedure. But parliament should have committees that oversee the use of public funds and can have a significant contribution.”

The country, he said, has many public funds and levies but there is one big fund called Consolidated Fund which takes part of the government money that it disperses to the public. Others include National Disaster Funds, Botswana Public Officers Pension fund (BPOPF), National Petroleum Fund (NPF).

“Some countries like the US have a solid foundation of a constitution, in which you cannot be corrupt in any way. But in terms of our constitution, when the President becomes implicated in corruption it becomes a total mess. The Constitution makes the president to tow the line unlike in our country.” According to Gaolathe, the arms of government of Botswana do not have a firm, strong and solid foundation.

“By not necessarily pointing fingers at anyone, we are only revealing our findings as sent by you. We found out that the executive and parliament are less resourced and very weak. In some countries of the world, some Student Representative Councils (SRC’s) are more resourced than our parliament. Those SRC’s are equipped with their in house lawyers. They also have some economists dedicated to the Councils,” he pointed out. 

The Gaborone Bonnington South lawmaker said, in the case of Botswana even parliament lacks a department consisting of attorneys. “Where have you seen people assigned with making laws but without any lawyers to guide such process? It’s the first time to witness such in my life,” he lamented. He raised concern that there is no “economics” department at parliament that would oversee the budget of the national cake and see whether it is fair and transparent. “At the moment there is no economist even purely dedicated to assist the executive or Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to assist in country’s economic forecast and day to day business.”

Botswana should establish a Comptroller General not Auditor General

In America he said they have what is known as ‘government accountability office’ headed by a Comptroller General. “In Botswana the office is almost similar to that of the Auditor General. The difference between these offices is that in Botswana, the Executive is more powerful. That is why all ministries and even Auditor General report to the Executive.”


Gaolathe highlighted that the Comptroller General in other countries like US, unlike Botswana, does not report to the Executive but rather to parliament. Parliament, he said has legislative agencies just like there are government ministries for the Executive. “The Auditor General is therefore very independent in that way in those countries, they can’t even touch him. Even his contracts and salaries are done by parliament.”

The Comptroller, he said, has been disagreeing with the Central government in America for long, since 1996, and they have been calling for prudent spending of government funds while denouncing heavy budget on the military and others. “If we had such an independent office such as Comptroller General in Botswana, the corruption issues currently engulfing the country would be no more. In times like these, the local Comptroller General would tell us that there has been corruption where and how, and to what extent,” he said.

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Nigerians, Zimbabweans apply for Chema Chema Fund

16th April 2024

Fronting activities, where locals are used as a front for foreign-owned businesses, have been a long-standing issue in Botswana. These activities not only undermine the government’s efforts to promote local businesses but also deprive Batswana of opportunities for economic empowerment, officials say. The Ministry of Trade and Industry has warned of heavy penalties for those involved in fronting activities especially in relation to the latest popular government initiative dubbed Chema Chema.

According to the Ministry, the Industrial Development Act of 2019 clearly outlines the consequences of engaging in fronting activities. The fines of up to P50,000 for first-time offenders and P20,000 plus a two-year jail term for repeat offenders send a strong message that the government is serious about cracking down on this illegal practice. These penalties are meant to deter individuals from participating in fronting activities and to protect the integrity of local industries.

“It is disheartening to hear reports of collaboration between foreigners and locals to exploit government initiatives such as the Chema Chema Fund. This fund, administered by CEDA and LEA, is meant to support informal traders and low-income earners in Botswana. However, when fronting activities come into play, the intended beneficiaries are sidelined, and the funds are misused for personal gain.” It has been discovered that foreign nationals predominantly of Zimbabwean and Nigerian origin use unsuspecting Batswana to attempt to access the Chema Chema Fund. It is understood that they approach these Batswana under the guise of drafting business plans for them or simply coming up with ‘bankable business ideas that qualify for Chema Chema.’

Observers say the Chema Chema Fund has the potential to uplift the lives of many Batswana who are struggling to make ends meet. They argue that it is crucial that these funds are used for their intended purpose and not siphoned off through illegal activities such as fronting. The Ministry says the warning it issued serves as a reminder to all stakeholders involved in the administration of these funds to ensure transparency and accountability in their disbursement.

One local commentator said it is important to highlight the impact of fronting activities on the local economy and the livelihoods of Batswana. He said by using locals as a front for foreign-owned businesses, opportunities for local entrepreneurs are stifled, and the economic empowerment of Batswana is hindered. The Ministry’s warning of heavy penalties is a call to action for all stakeholders to work together to eliminate fronting activities and promote a level playing field for local businesses.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s warning of heavy penalties for fronting activities is a necessary step to protect the integrity of local industries and promote economic empowerment for Batswana. “It is imperative that all stakeholders comply with regulations and work towards a transparent and accountable business environment. By upholding the law and cracking down on illegal activities, we can ensure a fair and prosperous future for all Batswana.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Merck Foundation and African First Ladies mark World Health Day 2024

15th April 2024

Merck Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA Germany marks “World Health Day” 2024 together with Africa’s First Ladies who are also Ambassadors of MerckFoundation “More Than a Mother” Campaign through their Scholarship and Capacity Building Program. Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation emphasized, “At Merck Foundation, we mark World Health Day every single day of the year over the past 12 years, by building healthcare capacity and transforming patient care across Africa, Asia and beyond.

I am proud to share that Merck Foundation has provided over 1740 scholarships to aspiring young doctors from 52 countries, in 44 critical and underserved medical specialties such as Oncology, Diabetes, Preventative Cardiovascular Medicine, Endocrinology, Sexual and Reproductive Medicine, Acute Medicine, Respiratory Medicine, Embryology & Fertility specialty, Gastroenterology, Dermatology, Psychiatry, Emergency and Resuscitation Medicine, Critical Care, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Neonatal Medicine, Advanced Surgical Practice, Pain Management, General Surgery, Clinical Microbiology and infectious diseases, Internal Medicine, Trauma & Orthopedics, Neurosurgery, Neurology, Cardiology, Stroke Medicine, Care of the Older Person, Family Medicine, Pediatrics and Child Health, Obesity & Weight Management, Women’s Health, Biotechnology in ART and many more”.

As per the available data, Africa has only 34.6% of the required doctors, nurses, and midwives. It is projected that by 2030, Africa would need additional 6.1 million doctors, nurses, and midwives*. “For Example, before the start of the Merck Foundation programs in 2012; there was not a single Oncologist, Fertility or Reproductive care specialists, Diabetologist, Respiratory or ICU specialist in many countries such as The Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Guinea, Burundi, Niger, Chad, Ethiopia, Namibia among others. We are certainly creating historic legacy in Africa, and also beyond. Together with our partners like Africa’s First Ladies, Ministries of Health, Gender, Education and Communication, we are impacting the lives of people in the most disadvantaged communities in Africa and beyond.”, added Senator Dr. Kelej. Merck Foundation works closely with their Ambassadors, the African First Ladies and local partners such as; Ministries of Health, Education, Information & Communication, Gender, Academia, Research Institutions, Media and Art in building healthcare capacity and addressing health, social & economic challenges in developing countries and under-served communities. “I strongly believe that training healthcare providers and building professional healthcare capacity is the right strategy to improve access to equitable and quality at health care in Africa.

Therefore, I am happy to announce the Call for Applications for 2024 Scholarships for young doctors with special focus on female doctors for our online one-year diploma and two year master degree in 44 critical and underserved medical specialties, which includes both Online Diploma programs and On-Site Fellowship and clinical training programs. The applications are invited through the Office of our Ambassadors and long-term partners, The First Ladies of Africa and Ministry of Health of each country.” shared Dr . Kelej. “Our aim is to improve the overall health and wellbeing of people by building healthcare capacity across Africa, Asia and other developing countries. We are strongly committed to transforming patientcare landscape through our scholarships program”, concluded Senator Kelej.

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Interpol fugitive escapes from Botswana

15th April 2024

John Isaak Ndovi, a Tanzanian national embroiled in controversy and pursued under a red notice by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), has mysteriously vanished, bypassing a scheduled bail hearing at the Extension 2 Magistrate Court in Gaborone. Previously apprehended by Botswana law enforcement at the Tlokweng border post several months earlier, his escape has ignited serious concerns.

Accused of pilfering assets worth in excess of P1 million, an amount translating to roughly 30,000 Omani Riyals, Ndovi has become a figure of paramount interest, especially to the authorities in the Sultanate of Oman, nestled in the far reaches of Asia.

The unsettling news of his disappearance surfaced following his failure to present himself at the Extension 2 Magistrate Court the preceding week. Speculation abounds that Ndovi may have sought refuge in South Africa in a bid to elude capture, prompting a widespread mobilization of law enforcement agencies to ascertain his current location.

In an official communiqué, Detective Senior Assistant Police Commissioner Selebatso Mokgosi of Interpol Gaborone disclosed Ndovi’s apprehension last September at the Tlokweng border, a capture made possible through the vigilant issuance of the Interpol red notice.

At 36, Ndovi is implicated in a case of alleged home invasion in Oman. Despite the non-existence of an extradition treaty between Botswana and Oman, Nomsa Moatswi, the Director of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP), emphasized that the lack of formal extradition agreements does not hinder her office’s ability to entertain extradition requests. She highlighted the adoption of international cooperation norms, advocating for collaboration through the lenses of international comity and reciprocity.

Moatswi disclosed the intensified effort by law enforcement to locate Ndovi following his no-show in court, and pointed to Botswana’s track record of extraditing two international fugitives from France and Zimbabwe in the previous year as evidence of the country’s relentless pursuit of legal integrity.

When probed about the potential implications of Ndovi’s case on Botswana’s forthcoming evaluation by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Moatswi reserved her speculations. She acknowledged the criticality of steering clear of blacklisting, suggesting that this singular case is unlikely to feature prominently in the FATF’s assessment criteria.

 

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