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Accountants’ oversight body in questionable deals

Skeletons have started to tumble out of the Botswana Accountancy Oversight Authority (BAOA) closet, as the newly established regulator tasked with reviewing the public sector audits is embroiled in corruption and flouting of procurement procedures practices, Weekend Post has been informed.

 
According to highly placed sources within BAOA, this came to light recently when there was a tender in relation to partitioning of their new offices at Central Business District (CBD). It is understood that the said tender was flouted resulting in other companies querying the outcomes of the tendering processes. This is believed to have brought into question whether BAOA is complying with set tendering processes. Further, it came to light that the organisation was operating without a procurement officer. According to an immaculate source close to developments, this has resulted in tenders being awarded willy-nilly.

“Everyone who wants a tender is allocated willy-nilly. An Information Technologist (IT specialist) is currently acting as a stop gap procurement officer. And it appears they are not ready to hire a qualified procurement officer as they may be benefiting out of the deal,” the source told this publication.   She also added: “there are also many unanswered questions hovering of how the tender of partitioning the new office was handled. “It is understood that, as such the same companies which are linked to the authority’s executives are dominant in providing services such as catering to the organization from time to time.

However when queried about the concern, BAOA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Duncan Majinda downplayed the scenario saying they came up with Procurement and Tender procedures approved by the Board and vetted by PPADB and the procedures are being followed.  “Any non-compliance is enforced accordingly through the normal enforcement procedures of the Authority.” The office is undergoing a new partitioning exercise which has been dragging on for months now; meanwhile the organization is occupying another office and paying high rental fees.

In essence, this means the authority is paying rental for both offices, the one they are occupying at Finance Park and the one under renovation at the CBD. According to sources, the CBD office is BAOA’s new office and they should have already moved in by now. According to the minutes of the last recent meeting the organisation held, passed to this publication, the Director of Finance and Administration reported that the Authority had been occupying the current offices (in Finance Park) for the past four and a half years despite having endured problems such as being stuck in lifts; air conditioners not working and awful rest room smells.

“He reported that the current lease would be coming to an end in December 2017 but with the approval of the Board, the Authority has been able to secure a place in the CBD, behind Masa hotel for its new offices. He stated that if everything goes according to plan some employees would be moving by mid-June 2017 and that by end of June 2017 all employees would have vacated the current premises.” The BAOA CEO played his cards close to his chest when questioned about the costly exercise while falling short of confirming it.

Although they have been renting both buildings for long now, he said that BAOA is only renting only one office at Finance Park but that “we will be moving to Central Business District (CBD) at the end of September 2017”. He added that “the offices at CBD are being prepared for occupation.  As the new building does not belong to BAOA, the costs of partitioning being incurred are a capital cost intended to bring the office to the condition that it can be occupied. Because of the requirements of the City Council and the tendering processes involved this takes a bit of time.”    

Information further reaching Weekend Post suggests that the authority has also been spending irresponsibly by “leasing” a printer for close to 4 years which raises questions of financial management and acumen. The Toshiba printer is estimated to cost P58 000 – the amount that they easily surpassed while they were hiring it. At the moment this publication can confirm that the authority has since bought a new printer last week replacing the one which has been rented, despite costs already incurred while leasing the Toshiba printer.

When justifying the spending, Majinda said a decision to lease or rent any asset in an organization is a function of many variables including availability of funds at the time to make a cash purchase. “Most organizations prefer leasing to outright purchase so it is not a bad thing to lease,” he said.For BAOA, Majinda revealed that with cash savings from the past, it has become possible to acquire some assets for cash this year. “It is important to clarify at this stage that the Authority reviews its business decisions all the time to ensure their continued relevance and business suitability.”

Strong issues of Nepotism and favouritism at BAOA

While Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Kenneth Matambo appointed the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Majinda to the lucrative post, other Executives’ portfolios are said to be marred with controversies of allegations of nepotism and favouritism.
In the web of nepotism and preferential treatment of staff members, it is alleged that the CEO is a long time friend to the Director of Finance and Administration, Limited Nkani. The IT Manager, who acts as a procurement officer, is also said to be linked to one of the senior managers and that they have previously worked together before joining BAOA.

Insiders say three Accountants were poached from Delloitte, and most of the staff employed are also said to be having a background of association (with each other) somehow. “The CEO and PA to CEO as well as an Accountant are all from Botswana Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA),” the source highlighted.      

Ex-DIS officer bullying staff members

An ex Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) officer who is now a Human Resource Manager at the BAOA (names withheld), is said to be maltreating staff members. It is understood that she comes with cases hanging on her head from her previous employer, DISS. “In the web of associates she also came to BAOA through the Director of Finance and Administration.” While at DIS, sources at the BAOA said she left many cases unresolved involving millions as back pays for staff. “She intimidates staff members. She boasts of how she hires and fires staff members,” the source alleged.  

That notwithstanding, Majinda told this publication that the authority is not aware of any nepotism and favouritism in human resource issues. “The Authority condemns such practices in the strongest possible sense and if it exists, as you allege, it would be uprooted at the earliest notification,” he emphasized.  

Salary structure questionable

According insiders, there is also no salary structure and the top executive management gets lucrative salaries while the lower band gets very low salaries. In terms of the salaries, some staff members with Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) qualification are said to be getting less than an employee with Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).  In addition salary bands of drivers are said to be almost equivalent to qualified accountants who are employed on temporary basis.

However the BAOA CEO said they have gone through an elaborate salary grading exercise approved by experts (Tsa Badiri) and based on the Hay Grading System.  Every position at BAOA, he added, has been graded and hay points have been attached which determine the positioning of individuals based on their skills and expertise. “All entrants are scrutinized and placed accordingly in their respective grades and promotions then follow in the normal course of events.” According to Majinda the Authority is a parastatal and as such complies with Government policy on salaries and wages.

“The Authority’s salary structure is tagged to the Government salaries and was appropriately approved. Allowances are paid when applicable and no staff is disadvantaged. A salary structure is, therefore, available and applies to all members of staff,” he explained.  

Anti-media tactics at organisation

The Public Relations Unit is said to be placed under the auspices of the HR department and not as an independent entity – an anomaly which staff also make an issue with. The authority is said to have censored the staff members from engaging with the media or leaking information that may help the organisation with governance and transparency issues. To buttress the speculation, this week upon Weekend Post inquiries on the state of affairs at the organisation, the management moved swiftly to induce staff members to sign Secrecy forms to compel them not to leak information.

The secrecy clause which has also been passed to this publication states that: “all information obtained during the course of employment with the Authority is confidential, and the strictest secrecy shall be observed by a staff member in regard to confidential information acquired during the course of his duties. A staff member shall not communicate or allow being communicated to any un-authorized person, any information made available to them in their capacity as staff members of the authority unless instructed to do so by the authority’s management, or a court of law.”

It continues: “any breach in terms of this section shall be treated as a serious offence and a staff member concerned is liable for dismissal without notice (summary dismissal), and in addition may be charged with an offence in terms of the Employment Act.” In addition, following this publication’s inquiries (which they later responded to), the organization also re-scheduled a planned staff meeting at the eleventh hour which was to address some staff grievances.

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Mowana Mine to open, pay employees millions

18th January 2022
Mowana Mine

Mowana Copper Mine in Dukwi will finally pay its former employees a total amount of P23, 789, 984.00 end of this month. For over three years Mowana Copper Mine has been under judicial management. Updating members, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Executive Secretary Kitso Phiri this week said the High Court issued an order for the implementation of the compromise scheme of December 9, 2021 and this was to be done within 30 days after court order.

“Therefore payment of benefits under the scheme including those owed to Messina Copper Botswana employees should be effected sometime in January latest end of January 2022,” Kitso said. Kitso also explained that cash settlement will be 30 percent of the total Messina Copper Botswana estate and negotiated estate is $3,233,000 (about P35, 563,000).

Messina Copper was placed under liquidation and was thereafter acquired by Leboam Holdings to operate Mowana Mine. Leboam Holdings struck a deal with the Messina Copper’s liquidator who became a shareholder of Leboam Holdings. Leboam Holdings could not service its debts and its creditors placed it under provisional judicial management on December 18, 2018 and in judicial management on February 28, 2019.

A new company Max Power expressed interest to acquire the mining operations. It offered to take over the Mowana Mine from Leboam Holdings, however, the company had to pay the debts of Leboam including monies owed to Messina Copper, being employees benefits and other debts owed to other creditors.

The monies, were agreed to be paid through a scheme of compromise proposed by Max Power, being a negotiated payment schedule, which was subject to the financial ability of the new owners. “On December 9, 2021, Messina Copper liquidator, called a meeting of creditors, which the BMWU on behalf of its members (former Messina Copper employees) attended, to seek mandate from creditors to proceed with a proposed settlement for Messina Copper on the scheme of compromise. It is important to note that employee benefits are regarded as preferential credit, meaning once a scheme is approved they are paid first.”

Negotiated estate is P35, 563,000

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Councilors’ benefits debacle-savingram reveals detail

18th January 2022

A savingram the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development sent to Town Clerks and Council Secretaries explaining why councilors across the country should not have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term has been revealed.

The contents of the savingram came out in the wake of a war of words between counselors and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The councilors through the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) accuse the Ministry of refusing to allow them to have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term.

This has since been denied by the Ministry.  In the savingram to town councils and council secretaries across the country, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja states that, “Kindly be advised that the terminal benefits budget is made during the final year of term of office for Honorable Councilors.”  Keaja reminded town clerks and council secretaries that, “The nominal budget Councils make each and every financial year is to cater for events where a Councilor’s term of office ends before the statutory time due to death, resignation or any other reason.”

The savingram also goes into detail about why the government had in the past allowed councilors to have access to their terminal benefits before the end of their term.  “Regarding the special dispensation made in the 2014-2019, it should be noted that the advance was granted because at that time there was an approved budget for terminal benefits during the financial year,” explained Keaja.  He added that, “Town Clerks/Council Secretaries made discretions depending on the liquidity position of Councils which attracted a lot of audit queries.”

Keaja also revealed that councils across the country were struggling financially and therefore if they were to grant councilors access to their terminal benefits, this could leave their in a dire financial situation.  Given the fact that Local Authorities currently have cash flow problems and budgetary constraints, it is not advisable to grant terminal benefits advance as it would only serve to compound the liquidity problems of councils.

It is understood that the Ministry was inundated with calls from some Councils as they sought clarification regarding access to their terminal benefits. The Ministry fears that should councils pay out the terminal benefits this would affect their coffers as the government spends a lot on councilors salaries.

Reports show that apart from elected councilors, the government spends at least P6, 577, 746, 00 on nominated councilors across the country as their monthly salaries. Former Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso once told Parliament that in total there are 113 nominated councilors and their salaries per a year add up to P78, 933,16.00. She added that their projected gratuity is P9, 866,646.00.

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Households spending to drive economic recovery

17th January 2022

A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.

The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.”  According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.

“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.

Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions.  It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.

“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.

Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.

Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.

According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.”  Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.

It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from.  “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.

Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems.  It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation.  Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.

It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.

“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions.
Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.

“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions.  Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”

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