The Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) founding CEO, Abel Modungwa leaves the organisation a happy man after maintaining his integrity and frustrating spurious cash chasing entrepreneurs who see the tertiary education sector as a quick buck avenue.
Having transformed the higher education set-up in Botswana despite what he calls “efforts to frustrate me” by some high ranking officials and those with political connections, Modungwa says his successor will roll on clean wheels. In an interview this week, Modungwa did not bar any holds, and in a tell-all way spewed venom, calling out those who had tried to oust him through unorthodox means. The malign of Modungwa’s reputation was attracted, he said, by his role of being a regulator in the tertiary education sector.
Here is why Modungwa believes he was a targeted man: Botswana’s tertiary education sector has seen unprecedented boom in the last 10 years. During the 2014/15 financial year, of the 60 583 student enrolled in tertiary institutions, 95 per cent were reported to be government sponsored. This has consequently resulted in tuition fees and allowances spent by government on sponsored students averaging P2 billion in the last seven years. Private tertiary institutions which are springing up now and then compete for these government sponsored students. They conjure programmes frequently so that they attract more students, and Modungwa’s BQA has to accredit the programmes.
It is now common knowledge that the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology has also drastically reduced the number of students sent to study abroad. During the 2007/08 financial year 2706 students were sent to study abroad compared to only 204 during the 2014/15 financial year.
The fact that Botswana is the highest spender on education in proportion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the region but remain inferior to countries like South Africa, Namibia and Mauritius in terms of access to tertiary education, is also an attraction to tertiary education entrepreneurs. Modungwa categorically states that whoever is at the helm of a regulatory body like the BQA will face all sorts of challenges. But he had not projected that his name will be marinated with false corruption allegations by tertiary education entrepreneurs who are frustrated by the system of accreditation.
Modungwa, who vacated the BQA top office on the 10th of this month after his two year contract elapsed, said for over 17 years as the leader of the parastatal some individuals’ orchestrated plans to oust him through unconventional means. The outgoing CEO confirms that he has survived a number of trumped up tips to the DCEC.
The ever composed Bobonong born leader also said that the numerous investigations by the Directorate on Corruption Crime and Economic (DCEC) could not unearth any corruption because he was an innocent man. He said the DCEC has not found any link or evidence associating him with corrupt dealings. “That post is tough you need to be vigilant and avoid taking anything that comes your way especially from your customers. I have been investigated by DCEC on numerous occasions but I prevailed because there was nothing to suggest any corruption on my part,” he told this newspaper.
He said the investigations were as a result of allegations levelled against him by institutions and or individuals. “Being a regulator is not an ordinary task if you accredit this one and not the other they report you to DCEC that you could be in some underhand dealings. But I have always reasoned with the law and prevailed.”
But Modungwa has a word or two directed at government. He said he had established a cordial relationship with his former employer, although there were always differing points on some matters. “We had a cordial relationship, but here and there we disagreed but we always found common ground,” he said.
However, the outgoing BQA Chief Executive borrowed from the veteran politician, Daniel Kwelagobe’s script by declaring that those in leadership must go back to the drawing board. Modungwa who will now be a full-time pastor reckons the government should introspect and go back crossroads to realign certain things. He shared that there was need for introspection and crossover, cementing his views with biblical references, especially the book of Mark 4: 35 (“let us cross over to the other side”).
“This verse urges us to cross over to the other side where there is no corruption, injustice, and excessive self-interest. I am concerned about the seeping culture of injustice, unfairness, corruption, and lack of integrity that is taking root in our country.” Although he pleaded not to cite any examples, he says he was worried by the direction this country had taken, especially the growing trend of poor governance.
Before the formation of BQA, that during the days of the Botswana Training Authority (BOTA), Modungwa told this newspaper that it was common practice for private and public institutions to offer practical subjects, yet they had no proper laboratories and equipment for students to carry out such practical training. He said this situation led to graduates who were not job-ready – we had to fix this, he said.
“There were many fly-by-night institutions. It was common for students to pay fees, and never know what happened to the institution that had promised to be the gateway to their success.” This, he said, forced the authority to develop a database of registered and accredited institutions.
According to Modungwa, who served public institutions for 35 years, employers were not happy because they would employ these seemingly well-trained graduates who, it turned out, could not do the work – and had to be taught practically everything on the job, and yet they had received formal training. “BQA therefore had to ensure compliance to the accreditation requirements and emphasized practical’s for practical courses,” he asserted.
Under the leadership of Modungwa, BQA has sailed through turbulent waters but achieved its mandate. The Authority has a big task – and in that journey the Modungwa led institution has closed down up to 30 non-compliant tertiary education providers. BQA, as a regulatory body was established to improve the quality of teaching and learning through the establishment of the overarching National Credit and Qualifications Framework (NCQF) and a common quality assurance platform for all qualifications.
This called on the leadership to coordinate the development of a seamless Education and Training System that was robust and meets the needs of learners and of both local and international markets. Modungwa’s visionary leadership has seen him being the current Secretariat and member of the Interim Board of Southern African Quality Assurance Network (SAQAN). Modungwa leaves BQA when it has almost filly transitioned to a new phase of its mandate. During the recent countrywide tours, BQA took the opportunity to introduce Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), a new programme the Authority will roll out next year.
The tour was aimed at educating the public about the transitional arrangements that BQA is undergoing. BQA embarked on its second country tour, starting 6th November 2017 to 18th November 2017, following the first one in August. According to Modungwa, RPL is a process by which learning and experience of a candidate, irrespective of how it was obtained, is compared with the learning outcomes or units standards required for a specific qualification.
He said this is critical in an outcome-based education system where a learner accumulates credits through formal, informal and non-formal learning. As a parting shot, Modungwa advised the general public was advised to verify that the education training providers they enrol with are registered by BQA and that their programmes are accredited.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.