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Kenewendo wants P1 billion FNB student fund audited

Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Bogolo Kenewendo has requested the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research Science and Technology to conduct an audit on the suspicions Students Allowance Disbursement Account, operated by the First National Bank Botswana (FNBB).

From 2006 until 2017, the Ministry of Education and Skills Development, which has since been split into two, has failed to reconcile the Student Allowance Disbursement Account periodically, raising fears of losing public funds due to unaccountability. 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 were 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.

Kenewendo, who is also a member of the PAC this week in parliament pushed for details on the suspicious account with regards as to how long the FNBB has had a contract of disbursing allowances to Government sponsored students; the cost associated with the contract as well as the length of the contract and date for renewal.

The youngest MP also wanted to know the FNBB’s value proposition that led to them winning the tender; the system put in place to reconcile the remittances from the FNB Students’ Allowances Disbursements Account; the frequency of the accounts’ reconciliation; and
whether there have been any discrepancies with the account in the last five years. “If there was no reconciliation prior to this year, would we see an audit of the previous years because FNB has been running this account since 2006?” Kenewendo enquired.

According to Assistant Minister of Tertiary Education, Fidelis Molao, the contract of disbursing allowances to Government sponsored students was started in 2006 and all banks were invited for expression of interest for the student services and only FNBB responded, consequently it was awarded the contract. Since then, it has been renewed for FNBB until an invitation to tender was re-done in 2015. The current contract of disbursing allowances to Government sponsored students by the First National Bank Botswana came into effect on the 1st of January 2016.

“A tender was issued in 2015 and all the major banks in Botswana responded, there was an evaluation and FNB got the contract. So, it is due to come to an end very soon. We want to believe that another contract notice would be issued and have all the banks locally respond and then evaluation would be done and whoever wins would win the tender,” said Molao. Ministry of Tertiary Education is paying P99 000. 00 per month for the services of registering and opening students’ accounts under the appropriate account category and issuing students with ATM cards.

The length of the contract is for 36 months and is expected to terminate on the 31st December 2018 and can be considered for renewal. Prior to 2006, Standard Chartered was the service provider. “FNBB were the least costly and they also met all the required tender specifications,” Molao told parliament.

The Assistant Minister revealed to parliament that, following the realisation that the ministry had not been closely monitoring the account, a team of employees were set up to carry out the monthly reconciliation of the student allowances disbursement account. “The team ensures that they reconcile the funds requested and paid into the students account with the funds actually paid to the individual students. The aim is to ensure that unclaimed funds for whatever reason are paid back into the Government expenditure account rather than being left in the bank account,” he said.

“The reconciliation ensures that the bank account has a zero balance after each month’s payments. This will mean that the funds requested have been used for what they were requested for.” Molao said the accounts’ reconciliation was done on monthly basis, since this financial year (2017/2018). “It is not possible to indicate if any discrepancies occurred in the account in the last five years. This is because the reconciliation process for the account started in April this financial year,” he said, noting that the team is working on the financial years going backwards.

FNBB CHARGES STUDENTS SERVICE FEES   

Kenewendo has also questioned the payment of P99 000.00 per month to FNBB given the fact that the bank has been charging  students service fees, despite the Assistant Minister contending that the bank was not suppose to do so. “You [Asst Min Molao] said there are no service charges to these accounts. Students are paying for every transaction; maintenance costs every month. They are paying P1.00 per transaction from this account. Why are we saying there are no service charges? Why do we pay P99 000.00 if these costs remain transferred to the students?” questioned Kenewendo.

Kenewendo said the anomaly should be corrected to save students from paying the services fees, as the government is already paying that to FNBB. Molao expressed ignorance to the fact that students are charged for every transaction they make, promising that the ministry would follow up the issue and get it sorted, if there is that need.

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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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