Botswana is a paradise of corruption– Gaolathe
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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Batswana owe banks P79 billion
The Minister of Finance, Peggy Serame, has disclosed that the total bank credit extended by commercial banks amounted to P79 billion, out of which P53.4 billion was retail loans and advances to households.
Parliament was informed this week in response to a question by the Member of Parliament for Selibe-Phikwe West and Leader of Opposition (LOO), Dithapelo Keorapetse.
â€śAs at 31st December 2022, loans and other advances extended to households by banks constituted the largest share of bank-lending at 67.6 percent, the majority of which was unsecured personal loans at P36.2 billion (67.8%),â€ť said Serame.
She added that the total household Debt to GDP ratio was 21.9%, while the total private business credit to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio was 10.8%.
On the other hand, it was noted that outstanding mortgage loans extended to households were P14.2 billion (26.6% of household debt) or 5.9% of GDP. Overall, total bank credit as a ratio of GDP stood at 32.7 percent.
It was acknowledged that there are 10 deposit-taking banks in the country, that is, nine commercial banks and one statutory bank (Botswana Savings Bank). This statistics excludes the National Development Bank (NDB), which is a development finance institution. The nine commercial banks include an indigenous bank, Botswana Building Society Bank Limited (BBSBL), which was issued with a commercial banking license by the Bank of Botswana in October 2022.
Still in December 2022, it was recorded that there were 376 non-bank lenders in Botswana consisting of 246 micro lenders, 66 finance companies, three leasing companies and 61 registered pawnshops.
According to Minister Serame, the loan book value representing the principal amount lent by these entities to individuals and to small, medium and micro Enterprises (SMMEs) is collated by the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA), which at 31stÂ of December 2021, the loan book values were P5.6 billion for micro lenders, P1.6 billion for finance companies, P225 million for leasing companies and P14 million for pawnshops.
Government policy is that price control is not effective or desirable, and, as such, interest rates are not regulated. Non-regulation may, among other things, result in an increase in non-interest rate fees and commissions, reduced price transparency, lower credit supply and loan approval rates.
â€śIt is important to note that, from a macroeconomic perspective, household debt in Botswana is neither a pandemic nor considered to be excessive. Indeed, the Bank of Botswanaâ€™s periodic and continuous assessments of household debt, including through the annual Household Indebtedness Surveys, suggest moderate household indebtedness and therefore, is of no apparent risk to the safety and soundness of the domestic financial system,â€ť said Serame.
She also alluded this assessment is validated by the recently concluded Financial Sector Assessment Programme (FSAP) on Botswana undertaken by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group.
Keorapetse however rebuked the issue of debt not being excessive and noted the Minister thinks itâ€™s fine for Batswana to be debt burdened in a way that their debts diminishes their quality of life.
â€śA significant portion of Batswanaâ€™s salaries go to servicing debts and because she doesnâ€™t see this as a challenge, there can never be any intervention from her side.Â There is no price regulation on interest, which can go up to 30%+ a month.Â Â Since President Masisi ascended to the high office in 2018, 2 384 Batswana were put in prison for failure to pay debts, that is 467 Batswana every year. So, for us, debt problems are big and concerning,â€ť said Keorapetse.
He said they are worried because Batswana are drowning in debts because of relative poverty, slave wages and unemployment/underemployment, they buy basic needs and services with borrowed money and noted predatory and unethical lending has become a major problem in Botswanaâ€™s financial sector.
How to fleece P14 million from Chinese investor
The modus operandi of how five men allegedly swindled a Chinese national P14 million last week continue to unravel. Highly placed sources from the intelligence, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) revealed to this publication how the whole scam was concocted.
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ENVIRONMENT ISSUES: Masisi asks Virginia for help
President Mokgweetsi Masisi says the issue of sustainable natural resources management has always been an important part of Botswanaâ€™s national development agenda.
Masisi was speaking this week on the occasion of a public lecture at Virginia Polytechnic, under theme, â€śMerging Conservation, Democracy and Sustainable Development in Botswana.â€ť
Botswana, according to Masisi, holds the view that the environment is fragile and as such, must be managed and given the utmost protection to enable the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
â€śIt is necessary that we engage one another in the interchange of ideas, perspectives, visualizations of social futures, and considerations of possible strategies and courses of action for sustainable development,â€ť said Masisi.
On the other hand, dialogue, in the form of rigorous democratic discourse among stakeholders presents another basis for reconfiguring how people act on their environments, with a view to conserving its resources that â€śwe require to meet our socio-economic development needs on a sustainable basis,â€ť Masisi told attendees at the public lecture.
He said government has a keen interest in understanding the epidemiology and ecology of diseases of both domestic and wild animals. â€śIt is our national interest to forestall the dire consequences of animal diseases on our communities livelihoods.â€ť
President Masisi hoped that both Botswana and Virginia could help each other in curbing contagious diseases of wildlife.
â€śWe believe that Virginia Tech can reasonably share their experiences, research insights and advances in veterinary sciences and medicines, to help us build capacity for knowledge creation and improve efforts of managing and containing contagious diseases of wildlife. The ground is fertile for entering into such a mutually beneficial partnership.â€ť
When explaining environmental issues further, Masisi said efforts of conservation and sustainable development might at times be hampered by the emergence and recurrence of diseases when pathogens mutate and take host of more than one species.
â€śWater pollution also kills aquatic life, such as fish, which is one of humanityâ€™s much deserved sources of food. In this regard, One Health Approach imposes ecological responsibility upon all of us to care for the environment and the bio-diversity therein.â€ť
He said the production and use of animal vaccines is an important space and tool for conservation, particularly to deal with trans-border animal diseases.
â€śIn Botswana, our 43-year-old national premier pharmaceutical institution called Botswana Vaccine Institute has played its role well. Through its successful production of highly efficacious Foot and Mouth vaccines, the country is able to contain this disease as well as supply vaccines to other countries in the sub-region.:
He has however declared that there is need for more help, saying â€śWe need more capacitation to deal with and contain other types of microbial that affect both animals and human health.â€ť