There is a famous African proverb which says when a hyena wants to eat its children; it first accuses them of smelling like goats. The expression could not have been more fitting in describing the conundrum in which the University of Botswana (UB) finds itself in — having to fight a mysterious battle to rediscover its value and where it stands in government future plans, writes ALFRED MASOKOLA.
Assistant Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology Fidelis Molao was probably showing just how far government would go to bury the University of Botswana a few months back. The unapologetic Minister stated rather harshly that: “UB should adapt or die.”
The doctor’s prescription, in the opinion of the Assistant Minister, is what the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) has put on the table as what the country needs in the tertiary education sector; and if the UB does not satisfy that prescription, government would look elsewhere; the most obvious route being privately owned tertiary institutions.
This has infuriated the UB provost. The bitter words to swallow for Vice Chancellor Professor Thabo Fako was being told out of the blue, that the country’s most prestigious learning institution is offering programs which the economy does not desire. Again they were told, vaguely so, to adapt or die.
The first hint of Professor Fako’s aggravation with how things are turning out for UB was last year when he summoned all political parties to a forum at the institution. It is not common that the strategic issues of institutions such as UB could be discussed through such a forum. But Professor Fako, having run out patience and desperate for a solution was convinced it was the most perfect thing to do. Present at the meeting were Mpho Balopi, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) then Secretary General; Dr Phenyo Butale of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and also Member of Parliament for the area and Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang representing Botswana Congress Party (BCP).
Fako’s revelations signalled that the UB was facing a crisis in future and pleaded for an honest apolitical debate on the future of the institution fearing that in the absence of such, the institution would fold, as result of mushrooming private institutions. Prof Fako was not impressed by the discriminatory gesture of offering Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) preferential treatment at the detriment of UB.
Even the BDP vanguard, Balopi was shocked by the state of affairs at UB. His mainstay promise was that he will compile a report and have it submitted to the party leadership with the view of amending the situation. Almost two years later, UB is in a worse crisis than it was a year ago. It is still a mystery what happened to Balopi’s promise. In the absence of that answer, the most two obvious scenarios are that; Balopi compiled the report, submitted to the leadership and it was largely ignored, or marked as not urgent. The second scenario is that Balopi didn’t bother to compile the report at all.
This week, Prof Fako made a daring statement before the parliamentary committee on Statutory Bodies and Enterprises that government should be bold enough to state whether it wants to shut down UB or not, and even said whatever decision government wants to take, it should do so openly, boldly and honestly.
But at government enclave, everyone seems to think that Fako is living in the world of phantasm or has paranoia emanating from the boom in private tertiary institutions. Molao hears no evil and sees no evil in the new government relationship with UB, and to him, Fako is just creating a storm in a tea cup. He pointed out before that UB should not be heavily reliant on government alone at this point but should have in place self- sustenance mechanisms.
“There is nothing wrong with government no longer giving 100 percent subvention. UB should attracting international students, and our view is that they should be self-sustaining now,” Molao told WeekendPost a few weeks ago. The platitude of Molao’s statement however contrasts how the private institutions having been surviving, with government sponsored students being the only source of income for the institutions -the same model UB is expected not to use. Strictly speaking, a lot of them will close shop if the government was to stop sponsoring students at the institutions.
While government has envisaged increasing access to tertiary education, enrolment numbers at the country’s highest learning institution have been dwindling, and Fako has attributed this to the way government chooses to do business. A report, titled “Tertiary Education at a Glance” published by the HRDC earlier this year, indicates that government’s decision through its policy to sponsor students in registered private tertiary institutions in the country has resulted in significant involvement of the private sector in the provision of tertiary education.
The report stated that the enrolment at tertiary level has almost doubled, rising from 31 129 in the 2007/08 financial year to 60 583 in the 2014/15 financial year. During the 2014/15 financial year, out of the 60 583 students enrolled in tertiary institutions, private tertiary institutions accounted for 42.6 percent of the students. A drastic growth experienced by almost all private institutions.
The projections also indicated that the private sector will be enrolling more students than public schools. Amid the rise in enrolment at private tertiary institutions, owners and directors have been laughing all the way to the bank, as the education sector has now been turned into a dread for profit sector.
The ownership of the institutions, their accreditation and accrediting has been at the centre of debate, and so has been their credibility. Early this year, the ministry of Tertiary Education, acting in cohort with HRDC reached a decision that effectively meant that the following courses; Bachelor of Business Administration (Marketing), Bachelor of Business Administration (Management), Business Information Systems, BEd Adult Education, Diploma in Adult Education, BA Humanities, BA Chinese Studies, BA Pastoral Studies, Diploma in Library and Information Studies, BIS Computer Information Systems, BSc Information Technology, Diploma in Population Studies and Diploma in Social Work would not attract government sponsorship this year.
In Fako’s view, the development means, the ministry is signalling the university should completely shut down some faculties, which could mean unplanned loss of jobs for teaching staff. According to him, government should be able to state what it expects from UB as a public institution, without making isolated decisions which impact negatively on the operations of the university.
“My belief is that, if the government no longer wants the university to offer a certain program, that should be an act of policy, and then we phase out the programme in a gradual manner, not just to pullout the plug,” said Fako. Fako said government should understand that the university has already made some commitments by signing contracts with academic staff and such decisions by government continue to sink the university in crisis.
Apart from the dwindling number of students being enrolled at UB as a result of the sponsorship cessation by government for some courses, Ministry of Tertiary Education has also failed to pay University of Botswana tuition fees for three consecutive financial years. Prof Fako also indicated that the major challenge faced by UB is government’s decision not to meet the budget as requested by the institutions. The institution 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.
Fako has openly stated that some private institutions have been given an illusion of being a ‘university’ while in actual fact they are not, given their capacity, resources and the learning environment. “To me a university is a prestigious institution, and the name ‘university’ should be protected. What we are doing is giving children the hope that they are something which they are not,” he said.
The chairman of the committee parliamentary committee, Samson Guma said the confusion caused by the ministry also means that the submissions by the ministry in the National Development Plan 11 is wrong, given that what is allocated to the UB could be inadequate to meet its operational costs in the next coming years.
Fako informed the committee he is preparing a report to be submitted to the ministry, detailing the gravity of the decision taken by government in the last few years and its impact on the university.
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.
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.
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.