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Pay back the money – Seretse’s officials told

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.

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Botswana still weighing in on Maseko’s assassination

27th January 2023

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lemogang Kwape says Botswana has not taken any position regarding the killing of a renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down at his house in Mbabane, Eswatini.

In a brief interview with WeekendPost, Dr Kwape said Botswana has not yet taken any position regarding his death. He said the purported incident should be thoroughly probed before Botswana can form an opinion based on the findings of the inquiries.

“Botswana generally condemns any killing of human life by all means,” says Dr. Kwape. He wouldn’t want to be dragged on whether Botswana will support the suspension of Eswatini from SADC.

“We will be guided by SADC organ Troika if they can be an emergency meeting. I am not sure when the meeting will be called by Namibian president,“ he said.

However, the Namibian president Hage Geingob notes with deep concern reports coming out of Eswatini about the killing of Mr. Maseko. In a statement, he called upon the “Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated, and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice.”

Maseko was chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum which was established as a coalition of non-State actors to advocate for a process of national political dialogue aimed at resolving the security and political challenges confronting the Kingdom.

“SADC expresses its deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Maseko, his friends, colleagues, and to the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini for the loss of Mr. Maseko. In this context, SADC further calls upon the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini to remain calm, exercise due care and consideration whilst the appropriate structures conduct the investigations and bring the matter to completion,” the statement says.

Geingob reiterated the need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country.

Meanwhile political activists are calling on SADC to suspend Eswatini from the block including the African Union as well.

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Kopong Murder: Accused interferes with witnesses again!

27th January 2023

State prosecutor, Seeletso Ookeditse revealed before the Broadhurst Magistrate Jobbie Moilatshimo that the third accused involved in the murder of Barulaganye Aston, has interfered with the State witnesses again.

The second and third accused (Lefty Kosie and Outlwile Aston) were previously accused of interference when they were caught in possession of cellphones in prison. They were further accused of planning to kill the deceased’s brother, who is currently the guardian to the children of the deceased.

Ookeditse indicated that Outlwile had earlier went to challenge the magistrate’s decision of denying him bail at the High Court before Judge Michael Motlhabi.

“The third accused approached the High Court and made a bail application, which was dismissed on the same day,” Ookeditse said.

However, even after the High Court verdict on their bail application, the duo (Kosie and Aston) has once again applied for bail this week.

Ookeditse plead with the court to stop the accused from abusing the court process.

“Yesterday, Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) received papers of his bail application filed before the Broadhurst Magistrates Court. However, the papers do not speak to changed circumstances, therefore this back and forth about bail must be put to a stop,” said the State prosecutor.

While giving evidence before court, the Investigations Officer, Detective Inspector Quite Zhalamonto, said his investigations have proved that there is interference continuing regarding the accused trio.

He told the court that on the 12th of January 2023, he received a report from Thato Aston, who is the son of the accused and the deceased. The son had alleged to the Investigation Officer that he received a call from one Phillip Molwantwa.

According to Zhalamonto, Thato revealed that Molwatwa indicated that he was from prison on a visit to the Outlwile Aston and went on to ask where he was staying and where his siblings (Aston’s children) are staying.

“Thato revealed that Phillip went on to ask if he or his siblings saw their father murdering their mother, and he was referring to the crime scene. Thato told me that he, however, refused to answer the questions as he was afraid especially because he was asked about where him and his siblings stay,” said Zhalamonto.

Zhalamonto alluded to the court that he then went to Orange to confirm the communication between Thato and Molwantwa where he found the case.

“I have arrested Philip yesterday and when I interviewed him, he did not deny that he knows Aston and that he has indeed called Thato and asked questions as to where him and his siblings resides even though he failed to give reasons for asking such questions,” Zhalamonto told the court.

He further revealed that Molwantwa indicated that he had received a call from an unknown man who refused to reveal himself.

“Phillip told me that the unknown man said he was sent by the accused (Aston), and that Aston had instructed him to tell me to check if there was still some money in his bank accounts, and he also wanted to know where the kids were residing, the unknown man even asked him to meet at Main Mall” the Investigation Officer told the court.

He further informed the court that he is working tirelessly to identify the “unknown caller” and the route of the cell number.

Furthermore, the fourth accused, Kebaleboge Ntsebe, has revealed to the court through a letter that she was abused and tortured by the Botswana Police Services. She wrote in her letter that she suffered miscarriage as a result of being beaten by the police.

Ntsebe is on bail, while a bail ruling for Aston and Kosie will be delivered on the 6th of next month

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Ngamiland Cattle Farmers Gain Green Zone Revenue

27th January 2023

Cattle farmers from Eretsha and Habu in the Ngamiland district, supported by the Community Based Trade (CBT) project, recently generated over P300 000.00 for sales of 42 cattle to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) in Maun. This milestone was achieved through support from various stakeholders in conservation, commodity-based trade and the government, in collaboration with farmers. Ordinarily, these farmers would not have made this direct sale since the area is a designated Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Red Zone.

Traditional livestock farming contributes toward livelihoods and formal employment in the North-West District (Ngamiland) of Botswana. However, primarily due to the increase in FMD outbreaks over the past two decades and predation by wildlife, the viability of livestock agriculture as a source of income has declined in the region. This has led to a greater risk of poverty and food insecurity. Access across the Okavango River (prior to the construction of a bridge) restricted access for farmers in Eretsha. This lack of access hampered sales of cattle beyond Shakawe, further discouraging farmers from investing in proper livestock management practices. This resulted in negative environmental impacts, poor livestock health and productivity.

To address this challenge, farmers are working with a consortium led by Conservation International (CI), with funding secured from the European Union (EU) to pilot a CBT beef project. The project focuses on supporting and enabling communal farmers to comply with standards and regulations that will improve their chances to access markets. An opportunity to earn higher income from cattle sales could incentivize the adoption of restorative rangelands management practices by farmers.

These collaborative efforts being piloted in Habu and Eretsha villages also include the Pro-Nature Enterprises Project for the People of Southern Africa, funded by Agence Française de DĂ©veloppement (AFD) and Le Fonds français pour l’environnement mondial (FFEM). This complementary funding from AFD and FFEM supports the implementation of the Herding4Health (H4H) model and Rangeland Stewardship Agreements across four rangeland sites in Southern Africa, including Habu and Eretsha, to incentivize best practices that could offer sustainability in the long term for livelihoods, conservation and human-wildlife coexistence.

“We spend a lot of money getting our cattle to Makalamabedi quarantine site, the herder spends on average two months taking care of the cattle before they are taken into quarantine – that needs money. All these costs lead to us getting less money from BMC,” said one of the farmers in the programme, Mr Monnaleso Mosanga.

Farmers that participate in the project agree for their cattle to be herded and kraaled communally by fulltime professional herders (eco-rangers). At the core of this pilot is the use of predator-proof bomas (cattle kraals), planned grazing systems and mobile quarantine bomas (electrified enclosures) for the cattle, facilitated in support with the Department of Veterinary Services. The first successful exit from the mobile quarantine bomas in the Habu and Eretsha villages, in December 2022, saw cattle quarantined on-site and directly transported to BMC in Maun. Farmers received almost double the average sales within this region, as costs including transportation to quarantine sites, herder’s fees and other associated costs incurred before qualifying for BMC sales were no longer included.

“This pilot mobile quarantine is leveraging the techniques and protocols we are using at our current permanent quarantine sites, and we are still observing the results of the project. The outcome of this pilot will be presented to the World Organisation of Animal Health to assess its effectiveness and potentially be approved to be used elsewhere,” said Dr Odireleng Thololwane, the Principal Veterinary Officer (Maun).

Through co-financing of almost P1 billion from the Botswana government and Green Climate Fund, these interventions will be replicated, through The Ecosystem Based Adaptation and Mitigation in Botswana’s Communal Rangelands project, across the country. Both projects aim to improve the economic benefits of cattle owners and multitudes of Batswana households, while contributing to land restoration and climate change efforts by the Botswana government

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