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MPs quiz ‘incompetent’ senior Gov’t officials

Ministry of Transport and Communications top officials this week came under fire after having failed to furnish the parliamentary committee on Works, Transport and Communications with information pertaining to the ministry’s ongoing projects.

The projects worth over P2.5 billion include the Kazungula Bridge, Mohembo Brige, Charleshill- Ncojane Road and the dual-carriage Gaborone-Boatle interjection road. The seemingly ill-prepared team, led by Deputy Permanent Secretaries Ephraim Baleseng and Orapeleng Mosigi responsible for Information Communication Technology (ICT) and Transport respectively were eventually dismissed, and told to go and prepare for a second appearance before the committee.

The officials were expected to furnish the committee with information relating to ongoing projects with regard to; value of ongoing projects, contractors undertaking them, completion date, progress, as well as cost overruns. The duo failed to provide such information in most of the projects citing ‘lack of preparedness’ as their excuse. They further blamed the committee of informing them late about their scheduled appearance.  

The duo was delegated by the substantive accounting officer Kabelo Ebineng, who could not make it as he was said to be held up due to undisclosed commitments. Ebineng, through his deputies requested for a re-scheduling, something that was received with mixed feelings from the committee members.The committee, chaired by Ramotswa legislator Samuel Rantuana was not impressed by the submission. The most resolute committee member was Ghanzi North legislator, Noah Salakae who was of the view that the duo should be dismissed from their responsibilities.

“I am wondering if indeed we have hired the right people. This is basic information in your ministry that you should know, otherwise you are not the right people,” he said.    “Can we trust you with the responsibility of leading this ministry?” he asked rhetorically. “You are clueless about what is going on in your ministry.” Salakae, was against the decision to send the officials back in order to go and prepare for a second appearance as he contended that doing so would be neglecting his oversight duties as a legislator.

“One of my duties as a legislator is to ensure that we have the right people in positions of responsibility. I have nothing against you, I do not hate you, but I do not think you are the right people,” he said. Dr Phenyo Butale, a committee member who is also MP for Gaborone Central said failure by the two deputy permanent secretaries to furnish the committee with basic information, which they should ordinarily have easy access to showed negligence. “If you do not have this information who else should know?” he asked, “Do you really monitor these projects?”

Dr Butale said the information they were trying to source out from the accounting officers was and basic not technical. “Even your junior officers should know this,” he stated. Ronald Shamukuni, legislator for Chobe also expressed his disappointment hinting that the responses from the accounting officers was clear indication that ministry executives never hold strategic meetings to brief each other on the projects under the ministry.

Shamukuni said it was evident the officials were not working as a team, hence their being unable to provide information pertaining to projects in their ministry in the absence of the permanent secretary, who is the substantive accounting officer. Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Reggie Reatile and legislator for Boteti East Sethomo Lelatisitswe were of the view that the officials be dismissed to go and prepare for an appearance to be scheduled by the committee. “I have been trying to listen to the accounting officers, and had prepared several questions for them but based on their presentation, it’s clear nothing is going to come out. I suggest they go back to prepare themselves,” he stated.

Lelatisitswe said to give the committee the respect it deserves the permanent secretary, should ensure that he personally appears before the committee at the next meeting. He said the excuse of being held up was not good enough as far as oversight over billions of public funds is concerned. “In the past, in other committees ministers were forced to cancel their trips to appear before parliamentary committees,” he said. “He must cancel whatever he is doing when he is summoned to appear before this committee because he is the accounting officer. We are talking about billions of public funds not thousands and we should be serious with it.”

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13 AUGUST 2022 Publication

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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

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.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

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.

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