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Thursday, 18 April 2024

P600 million goes missing at Education Ministry

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Ministry of Education and Skills Development spent P600 million on yet to be established expenditure without the authority of parliament. This has in turn caused the ministry to fail to pay University of Botswana (UB) subvention and tuition fees, among other things.


The ministry which has since been split into two ministries; Ministry of Basic Education and Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology’s unexplained spending has put the future of the country’s highest learning institution in dire financial crisis. According to Chief Finance Officer from the former ministry, Olga Mutloane, at one point during the 2015/16 financial year it came to the attention of senior officials that the ministry will experience ‘budget deficit’ and sought the assistance of Ministry of Finance and Economic Development .


The ministry of finance then declined to offer MoE a lifeline and instead recommended that it seeks funds from within the institutions which fall under its auspices. Mutloane informed the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Enterprises recently that at that point UB was one of the institutions which had enough to sustain itself for another financial year.


“We could not ask UB to write a cheque or transfer money to us since the money was instead going to be directed to the Consolidated Fund,” she explained and added that, “We agreed instead to withhold money which was due to UB for tuition fee and subvention in order to avoid the anticipated deficient.”


Part of the agreement was that, the ministry will then at one point, in the next financial year pay back the money which was due to the UB. The ministry however defaulted on its promise and only paid part of the money a few weeks ago when it became evident that UB will have its coffers dried up by the end of year.  


The chairman of the Committee, Samson Guma had told the ministry that it was being economic with the truth by suggesting that the ministry at one point was going to experience budget deficiency, something which he said is impossible. “Only government can have budget deficient, not individual ministries,” he said. “All ministries’ expenditure is something which is budgeted for and approved by parliament. You were in that deficient (state) because you had an unauthorised expenditure.”


The Tati West legislator stated that the ministry has violated the law by failing to adhere to the budget as approved by parliament. He said since the Ministry of Education’s budget including that of UB was approved by parliament, it was illegal for the ministry not to release the funds as envisaged by the approval of the budget.


“As a seconded Ministry of Finance official you have to know this,” he said. “You do not have those powers to withhold and change a budget approved by parliament.” Guma said parastatals cannot bail their parent ministries and noted the ministry can only get an additional funding through supplementary budget.  


Mutloane could not divulge where the money was directed to, but concurred with Guma that the ministry performed an unauthorised expenditure. Guma said the ministry should take the blame for the confusion at the UB because of the decisions it continues to make, firstly by failing to pay tuition fee due to the university and secondly by underfunding the university contrary to the institution’s request.


Guma further suggested to UB Vice-Chancellor Professor, Thabo Fako, to be robust if he desires to be heard. He said the approach which the university is currently using will not bear fruits hence the need to change the tactics. Guma even recommended that UB should consider kicking out government sponsored students from class if government fails to pay tuition fee as it has an obligation to do so.


“If you kick out privately sponsored students for not paying their tuition fee why don’t you apply the same rules to government sponsored students,” he questioned. “You are running an institution sir, you have rendered a service and government has an obligation to pay for the services,” Guma added.


UB requires over P1 billion to cover operational costs, but in the last three years the institution has received less than what they have requested forcing it to exhaust its reserves. In the last three years, the university received P776 million, 714 million and 703 million in the financial year under review.
The institution’s Vice Chancellor, Prof Fako revealed that the financial crisis is worsened by dwindling number of students being enrolled at the institution as a result of the sponsorship cessation by government for some courses and government’s decision not to meet the budget as requested by the institution.


Fako is set to meet the minister of newly created ministry responsible for UB and other tertiary institutions, Dr Alfred Madigele. The meeting as per Fako’s revelation is to have a genuine and candid dialogue about the future of UB.

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Nigerians, Zimbabweans apply for Chema Chema Fund

16th April 2024

Fronting activities, where locals are used as a front for foreign-owned businesses, have been a long-standing issue in Botswana. These activities not only undermine the government’s efforts to promote local businesses but also deprive Batswana of opportunities for economic empowerment, officials say. The Ministry of Trade and Industry has warned of heavy penalties for those involved in fronting activities especially in relation to the latest popular government initiative dubbed Chema Chema.

According to the Ministry, the Industrial Development Act of 2019 clearly outlines the consequences of engaging in fronting activities. The fines of up to P50,000 for first-time offenders and P20,000 plus a two-year jail term for repeat offenders send a strong message that the government is serious about cracking down on this illegal practice. These penalties are meant to deter individuals from participating in fronting activities and to protect the integrity of local industries.

“It is disheartening to hear reports of collaboration between foreigners and locals to exploit government initiatives such as the Chema Chema Fund. This fund, administered by CEDA and LEA, is meant to support informal traders and low-income earners in Botswana. However, when fronting activities come into play, the intended beneficiaries are sidelined, and the funds are misused for personal gain.” It has been discovered that foreign nationals predominantly of Zimbabwean and Nigerian origin use unsuspecting Batswana to attempt to access the Chema Chema Fund. It is understood that they approach these Batswana under the guise of drafting business plans for them or simply coming up with ‘bankable business ideas that qualify for Chema Chema.’

Observers say the Chema Chema Fund has the potential to uplift the lives of many Batswana who are struggling to make ends meet. They argue that it is crucial that these funds are used for their intended purpose and not siphoned off through illegal activities such as fronting. The Ministry says the warning it issued serves as a reminder to all stakeholders involved in the administration of these funds to ensure transparency and accountability in their disbursement.

One local commentator said it is important to highlight the impact of fronting activities on the local economy and the livelihoods of Batswana. He said by using locals as a front for foreign-owned businesses, opportunities for local entrepreneurs are stifled, and the economic empowerment of Batswana is hindered. The Ministry’s warning of heavy penalties is a call to action for all stakeholders to work together to eliminate fronting activities and promote a level playing field for local businesses.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s warning of heavy penalties for fronting activities is a necessary step to protect the integrity of local industries and promote economic empowerment for Batswana. “It is imperative that all stakeholders comply with regulations and work towards a transparent and accountable business environment. By upholding the law and cracking down on illegal activities, we can ensure a fair and prosperous future for all Batswana.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Merck Foundation and African First Ladies mark World Health Day 2024

15th April 2024

Merck Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA Germany marks “World Health Day” 2024 together with Africa’s First Ladies who are also Ambassadors of MerckFoundation “More Than a Mother” Campaign through their Scholarship and Capacity Building Program. Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation emphasized, “At Merck Foundation, we mark World Health Day every single day of the year over the past 12 years, by building healthcare capacity and transforming patient care across Africa, Asia and beyond.

I am proud to share that Merck Foundation has provided over 1740 scholarships to aspiring young doctors from 52 countries, in 44 critical and underserved medical specialties such as Oncology, Diabetes, Preventative Cardiovascular Medicine, Endocrinology, Sexual and Reproductive Medicine, Acute Medicine, Respiratory Medicine, Embryology & Fertility specialty, Gastroenterology, Dermatology, Psychiatry, Emergency and Resuscitation Medicine, Critical Care, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Neonatal Medicine, Advanced Surgical Practice, Pain Management, General Surgery, Clinical Microbiology and infectious diseases, Internal Medicine, Trauma & Orthopedics, Neurosurgery, Neurology, Cardiology, Stroke Medicine, Care of the Older Person, Family Medicine, Pediatrics and Child Health, Obesity & Weight Management, Women’s Health, Biotechnology in ART and many more”.

As per the available data, Africa has only 34.6% of the required doctors, nurses, and midwives. It is projected that by 2030, Africa would need additional 6.1 million doctors, nurses, and midwives*. “For Example, before the start of the Merck Foundation programs in 2012; there was not a single Oncologist, Fertility or Reproductive care specialists, Diabetologist, Respiratory or ICU specialist in many countries such as The Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Guinea, Burundi, Niger, Chad, Ethiopia, Namibia among others. We are certainly creating historic legacy in Africa, and also beyond. Together with our partners like Africa’s First Ladies, Ministries of Health, Gender, Education and Communication, we are impacting the lives of people in the most disadvantaged communities in Africa and beyond.”, added Senator Dr. Kelej. Merck Foundation works closely with their Ambassadors, the African First Ladies and local partners such as; Ministries of Health, Education, Information & Communication, Gender, Academia, Research Institutions, Media and Art in building healthcare capacity and addressing health, social & economic challenges in developing countries and under-served communities. “I strongly believe that training healthcare providers and building professional healthcare capacity is the right strategy to improve access to equitable and quality at health care in Africa.

Therefore, I am happy to announce the Call for Applications for 2024 Scholarships for young doctors with special focus on female doctors for our online one-year diploma and two year master degree in 44 critical and underserved medical specialties, which includes both Online Diploma programs and On-Site Fellowship and clinical training programs. The applications are invited through the Office of our Ambassadors and long-term partners, The First Ladies of Africa and Ministry of Health of each country.” shared Dr . Kelej. “Our aim is to improve the overall health and wellbeing of people by building healthcare capacity across Africa, Asia and other developing countries. We are strongly committed to transforming patientcare landscape through our scholarships program”, concluded Senator Kelej.

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Interpol fugitive escapes from Botswana

15th April 2024

John Isaak Ndovi, a Tanzanian national embroiled in controversy and pursued under a red notice by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), has mysteriously vanished, bypassing a scheduled bail hearing at the Extension 2 Magistrate Court in Gaborone. Previously apprehended by Botswana law enforcement at the Tlokweng border post several months earlier, his escape has ignited serious concerns.

Accused of pilfering assets worth in excess of P1 million, an amount translating to roughly 30,000 Omani Riyals, Ndovi has become a figure of paramount interest, especially to the authorities in the Sultanate of Oman, nestled in the far reaches of Asia.

The unsettling news of his disappearance surfaced following his failure to present himself at the Extension 2 Magistrate Court the preceding week. Speculation abounds that Ndovi may have sought refuge in South Africa in a bid to elude capture, prompting a widespread mobilization of law enforcement agencies to ascertain his current location.

In an official communiqué, Detective Senior Assistant Police Commissioner Selebatso Mokgosi of Interpol Gaborone disclosed Ndovi’s apprehension last September at the Tlokweng border, a capture made possible through the vigilant issuance of the Interpol red notice.

At 36, Ndovi is implicated in a case of alleged home invasion in Oman. Despite the non-existence of an extradition treaty between Botswana and Oman, Nomsa Moatswi, the Director of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP), emphasized that the lack of formal extradition agreements does not hinder her office’s ability to entertain extradition requests. She highlighted the adoption of international cooperation norms, advocating for collaboration through the lenses of international comity and reciprocity.

Moatswi disclosed the intensified effort by law enforcement to locate Ndovi following his no-show in court, and pointed to Botswana’s track record of extraditing two international fugitives from France and Zimbabwe in the previous year as evidence of the country’s relentless pursuit of legal integrity.

When probed about the potential implications of Ndovi’s case on Botswana’s forthcoming evaluation by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Moatswi reserved her speculations. She acknowledged the criticality of steering clear of blacklisting, suggesting that this singular case is unlikely to feature prominently in the FATF’s assessment criteria.

 

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