The controversial National Petroleum Fund which is currently at the centre of dispute at the courts in the ongoing biggest financial scandal in the country has not been audited for two years.
The shocking revelation by the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security came to the fore at a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) special meeting this week. The PAC is meeting with the sole purpose of reviewing the Funds, with key interest on the fund order and the financial years under review are 2016/2017 and part of 2018. Acting Permanent Secretary and Accounting Officer in the Ministry Dr. Obolokile Obakeng was summoned to give evidence before the committee.
When he started during examination he apologized for the non submission of the said audited financial statements for the two years. “I would like to tender my apologies for the late submission of financial statements for the same years for inclusion in the Auditors Report,” he highlighted. This is, he said was “due to the findings from the audit that leads to a number of issues that the former Manager could not address adequately; and more importantly, the issue of a figure of 2 027 279 (two million, twenty seven thousand, two hundred and seventy nine) that was not properly accounted for”.
He added: “we would like to tell this committee that we have since recovered the funds.” After he highlighted, PAC committee member Guma Moyo interjected to ask the accounting officer what he meant that the money had been ‘recovered.’ “The 2 million was not stolen; it just meant that they could not account for it adequately. It was not appropriately accounted for. It was missing. So in the end they had to pay that amount of money. The 2 million is interest due to government.”
Another committee member Dithapelo Keorapetse also asked if an audit query on the 2 million on the previous financial statements is reason enough to stop financial statements for 2 full years, adding that he thought it was a flimsy reason. “Yes, with explanation,” the Acting Permanent Secretary responded, amidst murmurs from the shocked PAC committee members.
Keorapetse then turned to the Auditor General who was present at the meeting for assistance. “They could have at least produced something,” the Auditor general advised in few words. “The non submission is in violation of the law in particular the NPF order and the Public Finance Management Fund,” the Auditor General stressed to the committee.
According to Keorapetse, who in cognizant of the advice from the Auditor general, stated to the Accounting Officer: “the reasons you are giving this committee on your delay are inadequate. When dealing with government ministries, the Auditor General always has some issues she raises, but this does not allow them to withhold financial statements. It is unreasonable and unacceptable. You can’t sit for 2 years without financial statements.”
The fuming Keorapetse attracted Moyo who chipped in to tell Dr. Obakeng the reason he was giving the committee should have not stopped the preparation of the accounts, adding that the accounts should have reflected that there was 2 million due to government. On his part the Attorney General in the meeting also made an emphasis that submission of the audited financial statements is a “requirement of the law”.
Dr. Obakeng said as at 7 November 2017, the NPF had only two NPF accounts with Stanbic Bank, which are a call account, and a current account. At a later time he said there was also a corporate account which was opened for grant money that was coming from “somewhere” but it never was credited any funds since it was opened.
The Acting Permanent Secretary further said there was also a call account opened at Stanbic Bank to assist with the purchase of fuel from Mozambique which has since been closed as well. Essentially, all accounts which were held with Stanbic have since been closed, he pointed out to the PAC committee. However the accounting officer stated that he was not in a position to reveal the exact funds in other accounts when they closed adding that he may assist the committed with them at a later stage.
“But all the funds were since moved to First National Bank in 2017. The funds were somewhere in the region of 700 million pula when they were transferred.” In terms of the current account at FNB, he said it is essentially a transactional account and carries a zero balance, and that the call account is an interest earning account, with the balance at 4 million. He also said there is a merchant bank account which is sitting at 1 million pula.
“There is another below the line account opened at Bank of Botswana; funds were transferred there to deal with the issues currently before courts so as to protect the public funds. Currently, as at 26 March 2018, the account balance is 97 million pula,” he said.
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.
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.
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.”