Following presentations of the National Development Plan 11 and the State of the Nation Address by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Kenneth Matambo and President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama respectively, some Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) backbenchers have expressed misgivings on the state of the economy and challenged the system to address public concerns.
Member of Parliament for Tati East Samson Guma Moyo revisited the then Leader of Opposition Dumelang Saleshando’s motion of Declaration of assets by senior government officials and political office bearers. Guma Moyo argues that such a law would go a long way into bringing about public confidence and trust in public office bearers and political leaders.
Driving his message home, Guma Moyo explained: “I talk about this matter because I am a victim of circumstances and as a public figure, and all of us in this House, and we are custodians of people’s values and assets. I keep using this term again and again. When there are perceptions that we have become corrupt and our names at times are dragged into courts, it is a matter that should worry me as a person. That allows me to examine myself. It does not matter how many times I defend myself, but that perception still sits and then it cuts across everybody and all of us as politicians.
We have been seen as people that cannot be trusted. What then should we be doing and I keep repeating this again and again, the need for us to bring the Declaration of Assets Bill is key. It has to come in urgently, it protects all of us; we are responsible for the nation. We should be trusted but what does that Bill say? I am not saying everything of us must be made public but there must be a way in which we must actually account for how we make our work because most of the wealth that we generate comes from this economy; we know that the e know that the economy of Botswana is largely driven by Government and the need for us to be trusted is key.”
According to Guma Moyo who is also the chairperson of Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises & Statutory Bodies, the public always questions the independence of awarding Government tenders from political offices , raising eyebrows about business interests of people holding such offices.
“There is a lot of talk amongst the public about corruption and embezzlement of taxpayers’ money, recently I found myself being a victim of this circumstance, If we want to clear the air and regain public confidence, then we must have a Declaration of Assets Bill enacted into a law as soon as yesterday, It would do us lots of good if the public had a trail of our assets,” he said.
Reports from parliament also reveals that Guma wants senior government officials and all those holding key positions in state owned enterprises and Parastatals to declare their assets and business interest to avoid conflict of interest. On another hot potato subject, Guma Moyo indicated that he is a serious supporter of the direct election of the President. “We are a Republic, we are not a Kingdom.
It is always important that all leaders are elected by the people. The situation where there is an automatic succession makes me feel uncomfortable because then the leaders are imposed on us by most probably the President that leaves. Even the one that is elected to succeed you can never be sure whether he will succeed at times because that is how the setup is,” he said.
DIRECT ELECTION OF PRESIDENT | INDEPENDENT PARLIAMENT
Guma Moyo said there is need to review the constitution and allow the President to elect even members of the Cabinet across the country and let the Members of Parliament remain in Parliament and the Executive remain in the Executive. “It is something that both of us have to look into carefully.” He argued that Parliament must be very strong on its own, free from the Executive interference.
He said the role of Parliament should be purely legislation and oversight, “and we move away from the issues that we are now critically involved in developmental issues and the implementation of projects. That has never been the intention of the Constitution, it compromises all of us. When the President has to pick people from Parliament, then there is always an expectation all the time that, “I also have to be put there” and we are putting the President in a very difficult situation when there are capable men and women out there that can even do a far much better job than MPs sitting here.
Then also restricting the President to appoint his vice within ourselves. We need to look at these issues. A House like this must debate laws, look into culture and values. If you have a House that does not speak freely about issues that are being seen out there as critical and then we choose to talk about what we want to talk about and leave people out there, we are deceiving ourselves.”
ON THE ECONOMY | UNEMPLOYMENT
Debating the state of the economy, Guma Moyo said the country is at a stage where unless Government urgently addresses the issues affecting the economy, “we are sitting on a time bomb in particular with the youth.” He said gone are the days when a university kid goes out of school he knows he is going to get a job. There is no guarantee today even if you have got Masters or PhD in whatever discipline that there is going to be job.
What then does it mean to us? We need to change the mind-set and create an economy that on itself creates jobs and then we need to look into what is it that we could focus on. This economy can only create jobs through sectors like agriculture and mineral beneficiation. That is where you unpack unemployment. We are a nation, even if you go into a supermarket, just go and look at it, only five (5) per cent of the products that you see in a supermarket comes from this country, the rest is imported.”
He said it is important to look at the import bill, unpack it, change it, “but before we do that, we need to look at the infrastructure that assists us to grow agriculture. Gone are the days when we should be looking at infrastructure that assists us to win constituencies. That one, that is constituency based, is wrong. It should be an infrastructure that assists to grow this economy.
There will come a time even when there are projects in your constituency, you will be the only one elected and one day you would not be in Government, both sides of the aisle, because there will be no economy. The agricultural sector, the food sector is key. A population of 2,5 million or 2,2 million cannot feed itself, with all the water being there.”
MEPHATO REATILE – ABOLISH BMC MONOPOLY
Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Mephato Reatile could not hide his disappointment with the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) and immediately wants abolition of the beef monopoly. “When we look at Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), we have protected it so much with the policies and laws governing such companies but currently there is none of the citizens who is proud of the Company because of the current state it is in, those who were in the management of the BMC way back, and have benefitted from it, are either old or some have passed on.
Those who are around do not see the value of the BMC because we have managed to babysit the company for quite some time, and they cannot even think for themselves since the government is always there to rescue, the money is always there for them to use, they are given guarantees to take loans from the banks. The time to abolish monopoly at BMC, is not tomorrow but today because when we abolish the BMC monopoly we will be opening gates, the people who will be marketing the beef from their abattoirs where the market is are Batswana,” he said.
Reatile reasoned that if Batswana are allowed to market their beef, they will be creating employment. He said BMC alone cannot grow and cannot create employment even if it could get another market for its goods somewhere. “We already know that it has decided to engage Global Protein Solutions (GPS) Food Group . GPS is the one that markets the BMC beef yet it was used to market products of a competitor to BMC which is the Namdeb.
The time has come – and even the Namdeb has since parted ways with the GPS, but we are still stuck with it yet it is not effective. I have met with a lot of Batswana who have sourced market for the BMC meat outside and they are consulting with the BMC and negotiating with the company so that it gives them meat to sell, but rather than them being given quotations, GPS has to come into the picture and presented sky rocketed prizes, therefore given this situation, there is no how our meat could get market from outside the country.”
Reatile said the BMC should have found out how Namibia Allied Meat Company (NAMCO) got to access the United States of America market. “If the NAMCO has managed to penetrate the American market Mr Speaker, yet we always attend summits and our meat always wins with good ratings when we reach the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), it shows that Botswana is doing well. On the marketing part, we are failing and it clearly indicates that there is a problem. The thing is that, the Meat which is rated and gets good ratings, is not a product of the BMC, it is a product of the cattle owned by Batswana.”
MINING IS NOT DOING WELL
Reatile observed that the BCL and Tati nickel mines are not the only ones affected by dipping commodity prices leading to closure of mines. He said the Mowana mine has been closed for close to 13 months now, and it is to undergo liquidation as well. “The mine workers have not yet received their benefits since the closure of the mine. What I believe should happen, since there are investors who have shown interest to buy the mine, it means that by January the plant will start to run, then the government should do something.
It is therefore imperative that the Government does something since investors are already there, and they have agreed that they will release the money after they have been assured of the quality of plants that are here because they are not hesitant on their reserve bank. It is just a matter of how good the infrastructure is. The government has to therefore take it upon herself to find money to pay off the Mowana mine employees because the money will be paid through the investors once cleared off and then the government could benefit from the mine. We cannot address a challenge for a mine which has recently been closed while we have a mine which has been closed for quite some time now,” he observed.
BUTI BILLY WANTS KHAMA TO ACCOUNT
Francistown East Member of Parliament, Buti Billy was also in his element when responding to the State of the Nation Address. Billy wants President Khama to answer to Parliament. According to Billy the time has come for the President to sit and listen to debates and responses especially to connected to his presentations in Parliament.
“It is undemocratic for the President to deliver SONA and leave it to Members of Parliament to debate and deliberate on it without his audience,” he said. The MP said the current practice kills Botswana’s democracy hence the president must be compelled to account and answer to questions from legislators. He is of the view that this will strengthen democracy as MPs themselves account to the general public who actually voted them to power.
NDB IS WASTE OF TAXPAYERS’ MONEY – MARKUS
Another BDP backbencher Konstantino Markus of Maun East constituency poured scorn on the National Development Bank (NDB) and labelled it a total waste of public money. The Lorato Morapedi led state owned lender is currently bankrupt and owes taxpayers over P300 million worth of unserviced loans. The Maun East Legislator said this when responding to SONA last week in Parliament.
Markus argues that with current business structure and leadership the state owned bank will remain useless and bankrupt. “The situation is worsened by the bank’s high interest rate, NDB’s assets and liabilities should be ceded to the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) which is performing much better,” he said. The MP added that with the current negative bank account of the NDB it will be a great loss for the government to privatize or commercialize the bank to external investors.
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.
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.
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.