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.”
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.