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.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lemogang Kwape says Botswana has not taken any position regarding the killing of a renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down at his house in Mbabane, Eswatini.
In a brief interview with WeekendPost, Dr Kwape said Botswana has not yet taken any position regarding his death. He said the purported incident should be thoroughly probed before Botswana can form an opinion based on the findings of the inquiries.
“Botswana generally condemns any killing of human life by all means,” says Dr. Kwape. He wouldn’t want to be dragged on whether Botswana will support the suspension of Eswatini from SADC.
“We will be guided by SADC organ Troika if they can be an emergency meeting. I am not sure when the meeting will be called by Namibian president,“ he said.
However, the Namibian president Hage Geingob notes with deep concern reports coming out of Eswatini about the killing of Mr. Maseko. In a statement, he called upon the “Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated, and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice.”
Maseko was chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum which was established as a coalition of non-State actors to advocate for a process of national political dialogue aimed at resolving the security and political challenges confronting the Kingdom.
“SADC expresses its deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Maseko, his friends, colleagues, and to the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini for the loss of Mr. Maseko. In this context, SADC further calls upon the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini to remain calm, exercise due care and consideration whilst the appropriate structures conduct the investigations and bring the matter to completion,” the statement says.
Geingob reiterated the need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country.
Meanwhile political activists are calling on SADC to suspend Eswatini from the block including the African Union as well.
State prosecutor, Seeletso Ookeditse revealed before the Broadhurst Magistrate Jobbie Moilatshimo that the third accused involved in the murder of Barulaganye Aston, has interfered with the State witnesses again.
The second and third accused (Lefty Kosie and Outlwile Aston) were previously accused of interference when they were caught in possession of cellphones in prison. They were further accused of planning to kill the deceased’s brother, who is currently the guardian to the children of the deceased.
Ookeditse indicated that Outlwile had earlier went to challenge the magistrate’s decision of denying him bail at the High Court before Judge Michael Motlhabi.
“The third accused approached the High Court and made a bail application, which was dismissed on the same day,” Ookeditse said.
However, even after the High Court verdict on their bail application, the duo (Kosie and Aston) has once again applied for bail this week.
Ookeditse plead with the court to stop the accused from abusing the court process.
“Yesterday, Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) received papers of his bail application filed before the Broadhurst Magistrates Court. However, the papers do not speak to changed circumstances, therefore this back and forth about bail must be put to a stop,” said the State prosecutor.
While giving evidence before court, the Investigations Officer, Detective Inspector Quite Zhalamonto, said his investigations have proved that there is interference continuing regarding the accused trio.
He told the court that on the 12th of January 2023, he received a report from Thato Aston, who is the son of the accused and the deceased. The son had alleged to the Investigation Officer that he received a call from one Phillip Molwantwa.
According to Zhalamonto, Thato revealed that Molwatwa indicated that he was from prison on a visit to the Outlwile Aston and went on to ask where he was staying and where his siblings (Aston’s children) are staying.
“Thato revealed that Phillip went on to ask if he or his siblings saw their father murdering their mother, and he was referring to the crime scene. Thato told me that he, however, refused to answer the questions as he was afraid especially because he was asked about where him and his siblings stay,” said Zhalamonto.
Zhalamonto alluded to the court that he then went to Orange to confirm the communication between Thato and Molwantwa where he found the case.
“I have arrested Philip yesterday and when I interviewed him, he did not deny that he knows Aston and that he has indeed called Thato and asked questions as to where him and his siblings resides even though he failed to give reasons for asking such questions,” Zhalamonto told the court.
He further revealed that Molwantwa indicated that he had received a call from an unknown man who refused to reveal himself.
“Phillip told me that the unknown man said he was sent by the accused (Aston), and that Aston had instructed him to tell me to check if there was still some money in his bank accounts, and he also wanted to know where the kids were residing, the unknown man even asked him to meet at Main Mall” the Investigation Officer told the court.
He further informed the court that he is working tirelessly to identify the “unknown caller” and the route of the cell number.
Furthermore, the fourth accused, Kebaleboge Ntsebe, has revealed to the court through a letter that she was abused and tortured by the Botswana Police Services. She wrote in her letter that she suffered miscarriage as a result of being beaten by the police.
Ntsebe is on bail, while a bail ruling for Aston and Kosie will be delivered on the 6th of next month
Cattle farmers from Eretsha and Habu in the Ngamiland district, supported by the Community Based Trade (CBT) project, recently generated over P300 000.00 for sales of 42 cattle to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) in Maun. This milestone was achieved through support from various stakeholders in conservation, commodity-based trade and the government, in collaboration with farmers. Ordinarily, these farmers would not have made this direct sale since the area is a designated Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Red Zone.
Traditional livestock farming contributes toward livelihoods and formal employment in the North-West District (Ngamiland) of Botswana. However, primarily due to the increase in FMD outbreaks over the past two decades and predation by wildlife, the viability of livestock agriculture as a source of income has declined in the region. This has led to a greater risk of poverty and food insecurity. Access across the Okavango River (prior to the construction of a bridge) restricted access for farmers in Eretsha. This lack of access hampered sales of cattle beyond Shakawe, further discouraging farmers from investing in proper livestock management practices. This resulted in negative environmental impacts, poor livestock health and productivity.
To address this challenge, farmers are working with a consortium led by Conservation International (CI), with funding secured from the European Union (EU) to pilot a CBT beef project. The project focuses on supporting and enabling communal farmers to comply with standards and regulations that will improve their chances to access markets. An opportunity to earn higher income from cattle sales could incentivize the adoption of restorative rangelands management practices by farmers.
“We spend a lot of money getting our cattle to Makalamabedi quarantine site, the herder spends on average two months taking care of the cattle before they are taken into quarantine – that needs money. All these costs lead to us getting less money from BMC,” said one of the farmers in the programme, Mr Monnaleso Mosanga.
Farmers that participate in the project agree for their cattle to be herded and kraaled communally by fulltime professional herders (eco-rangers). At the core of this pilot is the use of predator-proof bomas (cattle kraals), planned grazing systems and mobile quarantine bomas (electrified enclosures) for the cattle, facilitated in support with the Department of Veterinary Services. The first successful exit from the mobile quarantine bomas in the Habu and Eretsha villages, in December 2022, saw cattle quarantined on-site and directly transported to BMC in Maun. Farmers received almost double the average sales within this region, as costs including transportation to quarantine sites, herder’s fees and other associated costs incurred before qualifying for BMC sales were no longer included.
“This pilot mobile quarantine is leveraging the techniques and protocols we are using at our current permanent quarantine sites, and we are still observing the results of the project. The outcome of this pilot will be presented to the World Organisation of Animal Health to assess its effectiveness and potentially be approved to be used elsewhere,” said Dr Odireleng Thololwane, the Principal Veterinary Officer (Maun).