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Faulty P1 billion Student Fund irks PAC

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has accused the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (now Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology) of neglecting the FNBB held Students Allowance Disbursements Account, which involves the use of over P1 billion annually.

In its latest report, for 2015-2016 accounts, the PAC indicates that there is evidence that despite the large sums of money involved, there was no follow up on the part of the ministry officials to ensure that the monthly remittances to the bank are fully accounted for through periodic returns by the bank and reconciliations of those returns.

Government sponsored students in local tertiary institutions are paid their stipends through FNBB, one of the country’s leading commercial banks.  The procedure is that the funds are advanced to the bank monthly on the basis that after disbursements, the bank would submit a return of how the funds had been disbursed on a monthly basis.

“There we clear indications that the Accounting Officer had lost control of these accounts. For example, as at 31st March 2016, the account for these transactions had a balance of P1 122 852 010 and another related had a balance of P1 099 078 632, for which there were no explanations from the Accounting Officer,” states the report.

“The Committee was concerned that the Accounting Officer had not paid proper attention to this important matter until it was brought up to the committee. When Accounting Officers fail to apply themselves to these matters, there is always a risk that public funds may be lost without trace or detection.” The PAC recommended that the Accounting Officer must ensure that the account is reconciled and be brought to up to date, and periodic reconciliations should be carried out henceforth.

In the past, the Department of Tertiary Education Financing (DTEF) has been marred by controversy, after some officials were ensnared in deceitful scheme to rob government money through creation of ghost students. It was discovered that government have been losing millions of pula to non-existent students.

STUDENT ADVANCE LOAN SCHEME

The PAC report also touches on the Student Advance Loach Scheme which the Ministry of Education has over the years failed to reconcile its outstanding balances.  This is an account which recorded advances made to students who were sponsored by Government to tertiaries in South Africa. The advances were to enable the students to buy computers and pay rental deposits. According to the report, since 2008, the balance in the account has been steadily increasing; from P1 068 601 in 2008 to P3 540 383 in 2016.

“The Accounting Officer had informed the PAC that it is a challenge to reconcile these balances due to the difficulty in locating source documents. It was also said that some of the loans were paid, but due to separate names which were used, the amounts could not be matched to cancel each other out,” indicates the PAC report. “The committee was also informed that the loans were captured using names of companies which were providing the services, whereas payments were made using the students’ names.”

The PAC noted its acknowledgement of the difficulty in locating the source evidence to reconcile the balances but noted its concern that the balances in question are steadily increasing yearly, which means that new cases are not being attended to whilst evidence can easily be located. The committee registered a concern that with the passage of time even the new balances would also become irreconcilable, and even where it has been proven that indeed certain individuals do owe government, those individuals may not be located by then.

The PAC recommended that the Ministry should expedite the process of linking those accounts for outstanding loans and recoveries to correct the books of accounts so they can give a true picture of the liability to Government. The PAC chaired by opposition legislator, Abram Kesupile is a parliamentary committee that scrutinises the value for money—the economy, efficiency and effectiveness—of public spending and generally holds the government and its civil servants to account for the delivery of public services.

Other members of the committee members include; Ndaba Gaolathe (Gaborone Bonnington South), Samson Guma (Tati East),  Bogolo Kenewendo (Specially Elected), Konstantinos Markus (Maun East), Mephato Reatile (Specially Elected), Dithapelo Keorapetse (Selebe Phikwe West), Ignatius Moswaane (Francistown West), Polson Majaga (Nata-Gweta), and Shawn Ntlhaile (Jwaneng-Mabutsane).

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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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