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Botswana looks to the stars with SKA

Prof. Philip Diamond the SKA Director-General

On Monday the 4th of July at the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) global headquarters in the UK, Prof. Philip Diamond the SKA Director-General announced the addition of a new precursor telescope located in South Africa.

SKA is a large multi radio telescope project primarily being built in South Africa and Australia and is anticipated to be complete by 2025.

Other outstations will be built in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia; all equipped with radio telescopes contributing to the network. Once complete SKA will be the most advanced radio astronomy array, fifty times more sensitive than any other instrument and ten thousand times faster.

The first telescope to ever be turned towards the heavens was made by Galileo Galilei, with it he was the first to see craters in the moon. Galileo also observed that the Earth and all the other planets circle the sun, he made this observation at a time when celestial bodies were thought to orbit the Earth.

There is no telling what SKA will show us but expectations are plenty. Einstein’s theory of general relativity will be tested, billions of galaxies mapped out to the very edge of the observable universe and the processes leading to the birth and evolution of galaxies will be studied.

Most exciting of all; SKA will be able to look closer at Sun-like stars where Earth-like planets or moons are most likely to have environments favourable for the development of life. This combined with an ability to search for complex organic compounds will make the search for life outside the planet Earth a reality.

These functions outlined on the official SKA website are not exhaustive. A greater appreciation of this technology and the implications it brings comes with a greater understanding of space related sciences. With that in mind Botswana is making preparations to train Batswana scientists, so that when the SKA project is implemented in Botswana in 2023 they will be in a position to make use of the advantages offered by hosting radio telescopes.

In a published press release in April this year the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) announced that the institution would host Botswana’s radio-astronomy training facility.

The funding to setup this facility comes from the Newton Fund, an initiative established by the British Council in 2014 to promote economic development and welfare by strengthening science and innovation capacity. Dr. Mhlambululi Mafu in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at BIUST will lead the training facility project.

The new telescope granted precursor status by SKA is the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (HERA). Precursors are telescopes located at future SKA sites and serve as a form of prototype for future SKA telescopes.

The scientific goal of HERA is detecting the Epoch of Reionisation signal. Detecting this signal will give insight on many fundamental questions in cosmology, such as properties of the first galaxies, formation of very metal poor stars and many other important research topics in astrophysics which will give a view on what the universe looked like when it was half a billion years old. For now the world continues to watch and to wait, and recall the words of a Roman philosopher named Seneca who lived 2000 years ago.

“The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things which now lie hidden. A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject… And so this knowledge will be unfolded only through long successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them… Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced.”

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Government sitting on 4 400 vacant posts

14th September 2020
(DPSM) Director Goitseone Naledi Mosalakatane

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.

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FNBB projects deeper 50 basis point cut for Q4 2020

14th September 2020
Steven Bogatsu

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.

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Food suppliers give Gov’t headache – report

14th September 2020
Food suppliers give Gov’t headache

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.

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