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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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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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