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BDP MPs reject Khama package

President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) caucus for Members of Parliament held on Tuesday this week discussed the proposed the Presidents (Gratuity, Pensions and Retirement Benefits) Bill, 2016 and President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama’s proposal did not get much love from mostly the party’s backbenchers.

On 24th March 2016, government published the Presidents (Gratuity, Pensions and Retirement Benefits) Bill, 2016. Through this Bill, government intends to amend the Presidents (Pensions and Retirement Benefits) Act, 1998 (hereinafter referred to as the Act).

Information reaching this publication suggests that the BDP MPs did not even want to deal with the contents or the merits of the proposed Bill. Instead they made it clear to President Khama that if he wants them to deliberate on his request, he should first address the plight of civil servants, Dikgosi, Members of Parliament, Councillors and Dikgosi. A handful of those who voiced out indicated that these four groups have been asking Government to review their conditions of service but with no success.

Members of Parliament including Polson Majaga of Nata-Gweta and Kosta Markus of Maun East made it clear that they will not support the Bill if it does not address the other four groups. The Maun West MP made it known that the President is in office by virtue of MPs being elected from their respective constituencies. He is reported to have stated that if he had failed to win the Maun West constituency this could have hampered Khama’s chances of being President therefore MPs and Councillors as well as the ordinary voters who are also civil servants should also be considered for improved packages.

Majaga pointed out that Khama will not be president in 2019 when they go for the polls against the opposition. He said it is important that they support a Bill that they will be in a position to explain to the voters during campaigns. He is also reported to have stated that there is nothing in place for the retiring Vice President, Ministers and Members of Parliament. Weekend Post learns that Majaga called for a holistic approach to the correction of benefits for the civil service, ministers, MPs, Councillors and then the retirement package of the president.

Tati East Member of Parliament Samson Guma Moyo also objected to the proposed law. He was concerned that there are groups that have been urging government to refine their conditions of service but nothing has been done to date.

It has emerged that although cabinet had approved the proposed Bill, only one minister spoke in defense of the proposed law. One insider indicated to this publication that ministers could have chickened out of speaking for the proposal because of the “riotous” manner of the debates.

However it is expected that President Khama will bring the proposed law back to the BDP caucus for approval before it goes to Parliament for debate. The opposition has already made it clear that it will not support the proposed law hence the need for Khama to get the support of his own party Members of Parliament. The opposition and some of the BDP backbenchers are of the view that the Bill is self-serving and tends to breach some of the country’s practices where a person will be entitled to both pension and gratuity, they argue that a person should only claim one of the two.  

Why BDP MPs shun the proposed Bill  

Government recently announced a 3 percent salary hike for Civil Servants which was shunned by public service trade unions. Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) even challenged it in court because it argued that it was not agreed at a legally recognized bargaining structure. On the other hand Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) relegated it to a bonus award.

Dikgosi during their July sitting have made it abundantly clear that they want government to review their conditions of service. Chairman of Ntlo Ya Dikgosi, Kgosi Puso Gaborone is expected to have handed a proposal to the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development as per the request of members of Ntlo Ya Dikgosi.

Members of Parliament are also up in arms demanding that their conditions of service be reviewed and be aligned to those of the SADC region. Over a period of time a number of assessments in relation to Members of Parliament’s packages have been carried out but nothing has come out of such initiatives. At some point President Khama had accused some MPs who were pushing for salary increase for behaving like vultures. MPs last year had their salaries increased by about 35 percent, which to some was still small adjustment in comparative terms.  

Councillors are concerned that there appears to be no one speaking for them when it comes to conditions of service. They point out that they do the most work at ward level and during the campaigns but when it comes to being paid they are the least rewarded. Through their Association, the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) they have tried to lobby for improved conditions of service, but at the time when Members of Parliament got a 35 percent salary increase, councilors got roughly 18 percent salary increase. Councillors still earn less than P10 000 a month.  

The proposed law in brief  

The Bill seeks to amend section 3 of the Act by introducing the payment of gratuity. It provides that “the President shall upon dissolution of Parliament, or immediately upon ceasing to hold office as such, be entitled to receive a gratuity equal to 30 percent of his or her current monthly basic salary multiplied by the number of months completed by him or her as President.”

Under the Act, “a tax free monthly pension equivalent to the monthly basic salary attached to the office at the time that that person ceased to hold office, or 80% of the incumbent President’s salary, whichever is greater, is payable. This pension benefit will also be retained under the amended Act.

Further, a surviving spouse of a person, who has held the Office of President- “(b) who dies after ceasing to hold office shall be paid a tax free monthly pension at the rate of 50 percent of the pension that that person would have received but for the occurrence of such death”

Section 4(2) of the Act provides that “without prejudice to the provisions of subsection (1), any surviving spouse shall be paid a tax free annual pension of P 98, 268.00 provided that the President may, by order, amend this subsection by increasing the amount of pension payable thereunder.”    

The Bill also seeks to repeal section 6(2) of the Act which provides that “if a person who ceases to be President directly or indirectly holds any paid office, in the service of the State, or in the employment of any person, any pension or benefits to which such person is entitled under this Act shall be suspended for the period that that person holds such office.”

Repealing section 6(2) of the Act will in effect allow a retired President to be paid monthly pension, for example, even if he or she is employed by government, the private sector or international organizations. Clearly, this is unjust because by its very nature pension is only payable to one who is no longer in employment.

The Bill also seeks to amend the schedule of benefits provided for in terms of section 3(b) of the Act. Paragraph 2(a) of the schedule is amended by giving the retired president the option to choose between having an office, where he or she prefers, of the standard and size specified by the President or receiving office accommodation allowance using the prevailing Gaborone market rental rates.

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Botswana’s development agenda in jeopardy

21st September 2020
Botswana’s-development-agenda-in-jeopardy--water-construction

Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review indicates that Botswana will fail to meet some of its Vision 2036 targets, particularly unemployment reduction and reaching high-income status.

The report says this is mainly due to the slow economic growth that the country is currently experiencing. This Quarterly Economic Review focuses on the 2020 Budget Speech.

The first paper reviews the entire budget with its key observations being that this budget is prepared as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act; the priorities it seeks to address are drawn from Vision 2036 and the eleventh

The 2020 budget Speech, which was the maiden speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, and the first after the 2019 general elections, was delivered to Parliament on the 4th of February 2020.

It has been well received by the labour unions, business community, and the public at large as well as international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It mainly derived its support from key facets including, emphasis on changing the business-as-usual approach to development; outlining the transformation agenda; fiscal reform that minimizes the negative impact on economic development and human welfare, competiveness and the decision to implement the 2019 negotiated and agreed public sector.

The budget’s progress review shows that economic growth was consistent with the NDP 11 projections, with growth of around 4 percent. At this growth rate, the country would neither ascend to a high-income status nor reduce unemployment towards the Vision 2036 target of a single digit.

Simple calculations of this review confirm that the economy will need to grow the Vision 2036’s target of 6 percent over the next 16 years for per capita income to increase from around USD 8,000.00 to above USD 12,000.00 in current prices.

Further, the population is anticipated to grow by only 2 percent per annum.

For this reason, the focal areas for the forthcoming FY’s budget include measures to increase economic growth towards an average of 6 percent per annum.

Economic diversification is reportedly progressing fairly well. The report says, the share of the non-mining private sector in value added has risen to 66 percent in 2018 from to 63 percent in 2015.

The sectoral pattern of growth showed that the performance of services sector (particularly transport & communications, trade, hotels & restaurants, and finance & business services) has been the silver lining and that of mining sector was subdued whilst the utility sector disappointed.

The drive towards the service sector of the economy, especially to low-productivity activities (tourism, public administration, wholesaling and retailing) does not bode well for the country’s development aspirations.

In the previous versions of this Quarterly Review, it was noted that there is need for the rethinking of economic diversification. Since the country’s domestic market is small, it is inevitable that economic diversification not only focus on broadening the product mix, but also the composition of exports and markets.

This understanding of economic diversification has not been embraced by this year’s budget. Consequently, Botswana’s exports are still overwhelmingly diamonds, which means that the rest of economic sectors are still highly dependent on foreign-exchange earnings from diamonds. Thus, “the transformation programme requires a review of the country’s entire ecosystem”.

The budget review of the economic context also depicts that an economy with positive medium-term prospects, with growth expected to recover to 4.4 percent in 2020 from the expected growth of 36 percent in 2019 largely due to faster growth of services sectors and, thereafter, to slow-down to 4 percent in 2021.

These projected growth rates are comparable to those of the IMF staff’s baseline scenario of 4.2 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2021. Thus, the business-as-usual scenario produces growth rates that are still too low to achieve Botswana’s development objectives and create enough jobs to absorb the new entrants into the labour market.

Trade tensions between the two major markets for diamond exports, viz., the United States of America and China, is one of the factors that are cited as contributing to, indeed, undermining not only the domestic growth, but also the fiscal position.

Another notable downside risk to both global and domestic growth is outbreak of the coronavirus in China around January 2020. This has been declared as a global health emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Chinese authorities have ordered city lockdowns and extended holidays, of course, at the expense of near- term economic growth, according to the new Stanbic Bank Botswana report.

According to Nomura Holdings Inc., fewer migrant workers returned for work than in previous years and business activities have been slow to pick up. The havoc wreaked by the virus on the world’s second largest economy is likely to spill over to the global economy. In fact, it has resulted in a glut in crude oil and, thereby placed oil markets into a contango, i.e., a market structure where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts.

It also presents significant risks one of Botswana’s main drivers of economic growth, diversification and foreign exchange earnings. According to the Financial Times (February 13, 2020), Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018. Regardless of whether the growth materializes, the projected domestic growth rate would not transform the economy to a high-income one.

Progress towards reduction of unemployment, to a target of single digit, and poverty and achieving inclusive growth has also been relatively slow, the Stanbic Bank Botswana Review says.

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OP leases Orapa House

21st September 2020
Orapa House

Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MOPAGPA) has through the Office of the President (OP) proposed to avail Orapa House for use by private training institutions as well as research institutions involved in the area of technology development.

For a very long time the monumental building located in the heart of the city has been a white elephant, despite government purchasing it for nearly P80 million from De Beers in 2012.

However, government has now identified a productive use for the iconic building. “The overall vision is for the building to be transformed into a hub for digital technology research and development to be carried-out by institutions, such as; Limkokwing University, BIUST, BITRI and other relevant stakeholders.”

The decision was taken as government traverse a new path of transforming the economy from a mineral led economy to a knowledge based economy through the promotion of research and innovation. However, the facility will need major maintenance to be carried-out in order to meet the requirements of the proposed change in use.

“The work will include provision of laboratories, work stations, production areas and seminar rooms; audio visual centre, high speed internet connectivity, exhibition areas and offices,” reads the proposal note for the development.

These developments will be done through the refurbishment and maintenance of the main building, workshop, and ablution block, gate house, parking area, grounds, and access control and security service.

“There will be minimal modifications to the structure as it stands. The project is estimated to cost approximately P50, 000, 000,” says the report. In this regard, it is said, the initial scope of the OP facility will be modified to accommodate the envisaged digital technology research and development hub.

With funds needed to improve the building, OP has requested that; “the 2020/21 annual budget provision for Orapa House will need to be increased by P37,500,000 from P2,500,000 to P40,000,000 to kick start the maintenance works.” Funds will be sourced from the projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19 protocols during the 2020/21 financial year.

The building has been a thorny issue for government for years. Initially, OP was expected to move there but the move never materialised. At one point it was a question of whether the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development were planning to override a decision by Parliament which rejected the proposal to buy Orapa House under the belief that government may be buying its own property. The building was to be bought at a negotiated cost of P79 million.

Again in 2012, Government had wanted to buy Orapa House for a negotiated P79m but the Finance and Estimates Committee of Parliament had rejected the request because of the inconsistencies realised in the supporting documents of the proposed procurement. The valuation of the building was put at P74 million.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing had initially offered De Beers P73, 000,000 as the purchase price. However, De Beers countered with P85, 000,000. On negotiation and converging of the minds, the selling price was finally agreed at P79, 000,000.

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Sad state of Brigades: dumped and ignored!

21st September 2020
Brigades

Auditor General, Pulane Letebele, has expressed discontentment at the worrying and deteriorating state of brigades in the country.

In an audit inspection which was carried out at Tshwaragano Brigade in Gabane, a number of observations showed weaknesses and shortcomings in the conduct of the financial affairs of the institution.

According to Letebele’s report, former students of the brigade had been engaged to carry out maintenance works on the school premises, comprising of painting, tiling, plumbing and electrical works, which covered the period from July 2017 to June 2018.

Although the agreed maintenance period had elapsed, the works had not been completed because of unavailability of funds and this situation had persisted up till the time of inspection in November 2019.

Auditor General says arrangements should have been made in time for funds to be available to complete these relatively minor works even before the works commenced.

Various contractors had been engaged for clearing the bush and for the supply of concrete stones, pit and river sand and hiring equipment for digging the trench towards the construction of an auto mechanics workshop, the report said.

It stated that the cost of services and supplies provided totalled P117 949.80. However, despite the services and the supplies having been paid for, the construction works had not commenced for a long period afterwards, resulting in the trench filling back in.

The audit inquiries had not elicited satisfactory responses as both the institution and the Ministry had not accepted the responsibility for the project, although orders for the provision for the supplies had been made. For their part, the Ministry had stated that they had sub warranted funds for the purchase of porta cabins.

Letebele indicated that it is therefore confusing that a project which is critical to the functioning of an institution such as this one would commence without a well-defined plan.

Furthermore, the accounting and maintenance of records for the supplies items were not of the standard prescribed by the Supplies Regulations and Procedures in that the supplies ledger cards, the main accounting records for Government assets, were not properly maintained for the recording of receipts and issues.

This had resulted in significant discrepancies between physical and ledger balances, while in other instances the supplies items had not been recorded at all.

The report says 24 of the 91 new computers found in the computer laboratory at Kumakwane ABC campus were not recorded anywhere, as were the other computers in the storeroom which could not be counted due to the disorderly storage conditions.

The institution had entered into a contract agreement with a security company for the provision of security services at Tshwaragano Brigade, ABC and Horticulture campuses at Kumakwane for a 2-year period which ended in June 2018, WeekendPost learnt.

After the contract expired in June 2018, an extension was granted till the 30th September 2018. Since then, there has been no security service coverage for the institution to-date. According to Auditor General, in the face of prevailing crimes, it is of paramount importance that government properties be protected by provision of security services at all times.

At Tlokweng Brigade, it was noted that the kitchen staff were working under difficult conditions as the kitchen facilities and equipment, such as the cold room, tilting pot, food warmers and solar power for hot water were dysfunctional. The kitchen roof was leaking and men’s restrooms was not working. All these need to be brought to a reasonable and functional state of repair.

The kitchen staff should use a purpose-designed Rations Ledger for the recording of receipts and issues of foodstuffs to reflect the usage of those items. As far back as 2014 the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services had found that the house occupied by the bursar was uninhabitable on account of structural defects, the report said.

A site visit during the audit had established that the house was indeed unfit for occupation as there were cracks on the walls, power switches were not working and the roof was leaking. On a sadder note, there were a number of finished items of clothing, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets from students’ practical exercises from the Fashion Design Textiles Workshop.

Auditor General shared her take on this, saying: “I have not been able to ascertain the policy on the disposal of products from these practicals. A trace of 103 green acid-proof overalls which had been purchased in August 2018 had indicated that there was no record of these items having been recorded or issued, nor were they available in stock. I was not able to obtain any explanation for this situation.”

Kgatleng brigade was also audited and inspected by Auditor General who observed that the brigade has 26 institutional houses at Bokaa, both old campus and new campus. Some of these houses are very old and dilapidated, with two declared uninhabitable. The condition of the houses is a clear indication of lack of care and maintenance of these properties.

At the time of the audit, there was no contractor engaged for the provision of security guard services at the new campus, after expiry of the previous one in July 2019.  It is hoped that steps would be taken to safeguard the security of the premises and government properties against any acts of hooliganism.

In August 2019, there was a break-in at the electrical and at the plumbing maintenance workshops and a number of high value items, such as drilling machines, bolt cutters, spanners and cables, were stolen. The break-in and theft were reported to the police.

“However, at the time of writing this report I was not aware of the outcome of the police investigation, nor of any loss report submitted in terms of the Supplies Regulations and Procedures,” Letebele said.

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