A Special Audit on the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI) Lease Office Block at the Central Business District (CBD) has revealed that the Ministry failed to follow due process when acquiring the office and has in fact paid over P2 million to the property owner before signing a Lease agreement on 4th December 2012.
The audit team has recommended that the accounting officers who signed off the cheques to the owner of the building should pay back the money. Examination of records revealed that rental payments for October and November 2012 were paid before the lease agreement was signed on 4th December 2012. It was further revealed that the rental payments were made six months in advance and no justification was given.
Further records indicate that the tender was adjudicated by the Ministerial Tender Committee (MTC) despite the threshold being above P25 000 000. 00 which was then approved threshold. This then indicated that the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) was not involved. The audit team established that the adjudication for a tender worth P60 784 200.00 by the Ministry MTC was not procedural as it was above the MTC threshold.
According to documents supplied by the Audit team, the Procurement Unit personnel were interviewed to establish why the unit failed to advise MTC on proper procurement process and the response was that the Procurement of the Acquisition of the Office Space in CBD plot No 543380 did not originate from its office.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
In 2011 the then Ministry of trade and Industry (MTI) now the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI) took a decision to procure office accommodation for the Ministry headquarters and its five departments so as to reduce costs, enhance operational efficiency and improve service delivery to customers. “The Ministry searched for a suitable accommodation and identified an office block in the CBD, Gaborone, which was recommended by the Ministerial Tender Committee (MTC) for rental, on the advice of the Ministry of Lands and Housing.”
According to the Audit team, the MTC approved the request on the 14th February 2012 and the Lease Agreement was signed in December 2012 for a period of 5 years ending in November 2017, at a monthly rental of P1, 013, 070.00 excluding VAT. This translates to an annual rental of P13, 615, 656.00 and accumulatively, P60, 784, 200.00 for the whole lease period.
Alberta Construction and Engineering Pty Ltd was awarded the tender for the Lease of Office Block situated at plot 54380 at P80/sg.m plus 60 surface parking bays at P250/bay and 75 basement parking at P450/bay per month. The audit examination uncovered some inconsistencies as some critical documents such as ITT, Evaluation report, PPADB form 3 were not availed. The only document that was availed was the Adjudication Summary report dated 26th August 2011.
It also surfaced during the audit that the method of tendering was a Direct Appointment type of procuring, upon inquiry it transpired that the tender was not floated to allow for competitive bidding, revealed the audit. “The client flouted existing PPADB guidelines when procuring office space and this can be attributed to failure to seek advice from relevant procuring personnel. Direct type of procurement method denies other bidders a chance to compete and may create opportunities for corrupt practices and increases potential for disputes by other bidders.”
The Ministry management is of the view that by sending out a “Ministerial Technical Unit to search for an office space” they were following procedure. The MITI management has been warned by the audit team to always adhere to PPADB guidelines and regulations with regard to procurement process to avoid increase in disputes by other bidders. MITI management claimed inexperience and ignorance hence the contentious award to Alberta Construction Pty Ltd. The MITI management claimed that the adjudication was based on the recurrent budget figure – on annual basis. They further stated that the PPADB Act does not explicitly say how the tender should be adjudicated.
THE EYE POPS IN THE LEASE AGREEMENT
The Lease Agreement which was signed on 4th December 2011 but the rental negotiations were concluded in August 2011 and the Ministry only relocated in March 2013. The Audit team observed that the MITI has taken more than a year to sign the lease after the conclusion of the rental negotiations. Upon inquiry on the time taken, it emerged that the identified building was still under construction and the MITI booked it, hence had to wait for it to be completed.
“The MITI’s long wait can be attributed to lack of accountability by the responsible officers. Due care on the construction of the building could have been compromised just to beat the deadline of the handing over of the complete structure,” observed the audit team. Despite awarding the tender as a Direct Appointment, the Ministry management claims that the acquired building was the only one suitable for the MITI as other plots were smaller in size and the other one was too expensive.
The audit team further established that the Lease Agreement states that the rental shall be payable to the lessor quarterly in advance in the months of January, April, July and October in the year. However examinations revealed the rental payments of P6, 488, 471. 65 for six months effecting October 2012 and ending March 2013 was paid in December 2012. There was another payment in March 2013 of P7, 942, 468.80 for seven months effecting April to October 2013. The audit team established that MITI contravened the lease agreement, a situation that could lead to legal complications should there be a dispute.
When asked to account for the violation of the terms of the Lease Agreement, management indicated that they wanted to pay rent when the funds were still available so that they are covered since they did not want to run the risk of defaulting the rentals. The MITI wants the Department of Land to prepare an addendum indicating that the building was handed to them (MITI) in October 2012 not December 2012, a request the Public Accounts Committee finds perplexing.
While concluding that the procurement process was flouted when tendering for the MITI office block and that the PPADB was not involved in the procurement of the office space, the audit has strongly suggested that the rentals paid outside the lease agreement for the months of October and November 2012 should be accounted for by the concerned officers since the Lease Agreement was signed on 4th December 2012 by Principal State Counsel, Onthatile Moagisi Mosiieman and Houshang Mazidi of Alberta Construction Engineering Pty Ltd.
Public Servants should brace themselves for some changes as the government is in an overdrive mode to overhaul the public sector. The government has also set the tone for the looming changes as it has added the public sector to its looming list of major and sweeping reforms.
This is contained in a savingram from the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Emmah Peloetletse’s office showing how the government intends to “take stock” of all reforms in the public sector through the establishment of an inventory. Peloetletse’s savingram addressed to various ministries and the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) reveals that the government is working around the clock to implement some changes in the Public Service.
The savingram reminded Permanent Secretaries of various ministries and DPSM that the public sector reforms unit (PSRU) at the Office of the President is mandated with Coordinating Reforms across the Public Service. “This essentially entails providing the strategic guidance and facilitation in the implementation of reforms across the Public Service. In this endeavour the Unit has in the past with Technical Assistance from European Union developed a template for documenting Reforms in the Public Service and documented ten (10) major reforms across the Public Service,” reads the savingram in part. It added that “The Unit has lately rolled out the Change Management Framework in an effort to facilitate effective and efficient management of change in the Public Service.”
According to the savingram, it has been noted that for a variety of reasons the use of the template for documenting reforms has not been universally used across the Botswana Public Service. It further states that to facilitate the documentation of the reforms it is essential that an inventory of the various reforms across the Public Service (Central Government, Local Government and State Owned Entities) is established.
“By this correspondent we are seeking your assistance in populating the attached template to provide basic information on the various reforms. The PSRU will, through the various Coordination of focal Persons facilitate the full documentation of the reforms once the inventory is established,” the savingram further stated. The copy of the template among others calls on the focal persons to fill out them form under several headings; they include title of reform, start date, reform objectives, reform components, reform components, progress status.
The savingram echoes President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s announcement last year during his state of the nation address that as a nation Botswana has set itself a lofty goal of becoming a high income country by 2036 and has come up with a list of reforms among them digitisation of government infrastructure. He said the path to achieving this goal dictates that, Botswana takes deliberate steps that will transform its institutions; the way Batswana think and the way they act.
“It is with this in mind, that I presented a Reset Agenda in May 2021, with the following priorities: Save Botswana‘s population from COVID-19, by implementing a series of life saving measures that include a successful and timely vaccination programme, Adherence to COVID-19 health protocols remains key and align Botswana Government’s machinery to the Presidential Agenda, to ensure that the national transformation agenda will be embodied in the public service of the day,” said Masisi. He added that, “this will come with significant Government reforms in all public institutions. We need greater agility and responsiveness like never before in the delivery of public services.”
The Presidential COVID-19 Task Force reportedly meddled in the awarding of tenders for COVID-19, a new Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report has revealed.
The Committee expressed concern that it has noted that there are two centres for covid procurement being the Ministry of Health and the Covid Task team in the Office of the President. The report says the Committee questioned the Accounting Officer on why the COVID 19 task team is usurping the powers of the Ministry of Health by engaging in covid procurement when the Ministry of Health is the one which has the experience and mandate of dealing with the pandemic. The report says clarification was also sought on why direct appointment is the preferred method for covid procurement.
“In her response the Accounting Officer stated that the task team was mainly engaged in the procuring of quarantine facilities and was assisting the Ministry of Health due to the heavy workload brought about by the COVID 19 pandemic,” the report says. The report says the Accounting Officer further stated that direct procurement was used because COVID 19 was treated as an emergency and that procurement was mainly from companies that have been traditionally used by the Ministry of Health.
“This however, is not the case as there has been report of new companies being awarded COVID -19 contracts. The use of direct procurement method should only be used in exceptional cases as it’s a non-competitive method which increases the risk of inflated pricing and close relations with particular suppliers to the detriment of others,” the report says.
It says since most covid procurement fell under emergency, there is need for openness and transparency regarding the procurement. The PAC recommended that in order to ensure transparency and accountability all COVID 19 related procurement should be periodically published in the PPADB website giving full details of the companies receiving procurement contracts and the beneficial owners of the companies.
It says with the passage of time the impact of covid is no longer unexpected so direct awards should gradually be abandoned as the medium and long-term needs of the pandemic can now be predicted. “Judgement should be used even during direct awards to ensure that prices are not higher than the market prices,” the report says.
In a related matter, the report says the Central Medical Stores (CMS) was unable to cater for the required quantities of medical supplies with order fulfilments of about 35% resulting in shortages and insufficient drugs to Athlone Hospital and the surrounding clinics. “In his submission the Accounting Officer had indicated that CMS was unable to supply the exact quantities required by the hospital and surrounding clinics due to the fact that supplies from CMS have to be rationed in order to cover other facilities around the country,” says the report.
The committee expressed concern about the inadequate supply of drugs to government facilities which puts the lives of patients at risk due to non- availability of essential supplies. It recommended that the Ministry identifies and prioritise measures that need to be taken to ensure that there is adequate supply of essential medicines which are needed in the public health system.
Meanwhile the report says the Ministry of Health and Wellness coordinates the operations and functions of some institutions which receive government subventions and secondment of staff from the government. These institutions include 10 NGO’s, two mission Hospitals, three mission clinics and two schools of Nursing.
It says in its endeavour to enhance efficiency and effectiveness of government support to NGOs the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development developed some Policy Guidelines for Financial Support to Non- Governmental Organisations. According to the PAC report, the guidelines were meant to ensure that there is consistency, accountability and transparency in administering public funding to NGOs. However, the Ministry of Health did not comply with the very important guidelines.
“The main areas of non-compliance were the following: (i) There was no Evaluation Committee to vet proposals from NGOs, in some instances NGOs had formed part of the evaluation forum when their requests were being considered,” the report says. It says there was continued funding of NGOs even when they failed to submit narrative and financial progress reports; and (iv) Continued funding of NGOs that failed to submit audited financial statements and management letters as required. The Committee expressed concern at the lapses in the administration of grants by the Ministry despite the large sums of public money awarded to these NGOs.
The Kasane Regional Magistrate Court refused this week to rule on whether three Namibians and their Zambian cousin shot dead by members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) were in possession of a rifle or not prior to their deaths.
Ruling in favour of the BDF members, Regional Magistrate Taboka Mopipi who presided over the inquest said, “It is acknowledged that no rifle has been produced before court to confirm that indeed the deceased were armed and or that there was indeed a gun shot.” She said the evidence before the court is that search for the rifle(s) that allegedly triggered the gunfire exchange was done by both Namibia and Botswana SCUBA divers and nothing was found. She said when the said search was done, an area of search was demarcated around the scene area which was partly searched due to water animals such as hippos that launched an attack at the area during the search.
“The search was therefore never concluded. This therefore leaves a gap. To that end, the area not extensively searched, the court cannot make a finding whether the rifle in issue was there or not. This is a very crucial piece of evidence,” added Mopipi. She said the joint search did not conclude the exercise and I cannot properly make a finding of fact adding that that the rifle was there as the BDF allege can therefore not be ruled out.
The deceased are Martin Munilweye Nchindo, Ernest Nchindo, Tommy Sinvula Nchindo and Sivula Munyeme. The four deceased persons died on the night of the 5th November 2020, in the waters of the Chobe River (Southern Channel) near Sedudu/Kasikili Island in Botswana. Mopipi said the incident took place at night, in a gloomy atmosphere and that as at the time, movement in that particular area was restricted and or not permitted.
She said it was the evidence of some of the witnesses that the injuries as observed on the four deceased reflected that they were brutally assaulted and or beaten either before or after being shot. “Their evidence gained support from Witness 34, Dr. Bithoma Thotho Amis who observed post mortem on behalf of the families of the deceased and Government of Namibia. This witness however conceded during cross-examination that the injuries as observed have been caused by other contacts and or impacts such as falling and hitting the hard surface of a wooden canoe,” said Mopipi.
She emphasized that inquest proceedings have very serious consequences and therefore, whatever evidence brought before court must be produced by persons of right qualifications particularly the post mortem report which the court has to rely upon. “The qualification of the expert is crucial in determining the credibility of the report. Upon assessment of both experts, I am inclined to adopt the reports from Witness 18, who is a qualified pathologist. A closer look at the other report indicates that the author, Witness 34 is not a qualified pathologist and it is meddled by issues outside an expert opinion,” she said.
Mopipi said reports compiled by a consultant Forensic Pathologist Dr. Kaone Panzirah-Mabaka show the causes of death as follows; Sivula Munyeme, gunshot injury to the chest and extremities, Martin Nchindo, gunshot wound to the abdomen and pelvis, Ernest Nchindo, multiple gunshot injuries to the chest and extremities and Tommy Nchindo, gunshot wound to the chest and abdomen.
“Medical evidence therefore prove conclusively that the four deceased persons died due to gunshots injuries. It is undisputed that the injuries were inflicted by seven (7) members of the Botswana Defence Force; Lieutenant Moreri Kenneth Mphela, Sergeant Ndingisano Nfazo, Sergeant Puisano Pistor Kgokong, Private Mbikiso Tafila, Private Emmanuel Moganetsi Majuta, Private Barulaganyi Rannosang and Private Oromilwe Motlhabi,” said Mopipi.
Mopipi found that there was a gunshot from the direction of the men to the direction of the BDF section. “The BDF members retaliated and returned fire. This was done in accordance with Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) within the BDF. According to the SOPs, in case a soldier is being fired at, they fire back and do not have to wait for a command,” she said. She added that “The gunfire exchange was brief and after it ceased, they used a torch to light where the men were and established that all the four men were motionless, two in one canoe, one in the other and the other man lying on the edge of the river on the Island.”
She said, “The evidence of the witnesses is that, when they followed the intel, the intent was to conduct an investigation. There was clearly no intent on their part to shoot the deceased, they did that as an act of retaliation.”