Minister of Transport and Communications, Tshenolo Mabeo, and his Permanent Secretary, Neil Fitt, are scheduled to appear before the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Enterprises to explain the illegal award of an P81 million tender at the troubled Air Botswana.
According to evidence given by the Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Air Botswana, Agnes Khunwane, the tender was given a green light by the Ministry, following the dismissal of the board. The parliamentary committee heard that the board was dismissed on the 24th of November, barely nine days after the management tender committee, chaired by the current acting Khunwane had met.
Khunwane further told the committee that subsequent to the dismissal of the board, she sought the guidance of the ministry, of which she was told by the permanent secretary that, in the absence of the board, the ministry will be in charge of all responsibilities which would have been ordinarily the preserve of the board.
The tender, which was for the provision of engine maintenance services, was awarded on what appears to be a selective tendering process. The tender is for the period of three years and was only ratified by the new board in June, about six months after being awarded and executed.
Committee member and legislator for Gabane-Mmankgodi Major Gen Pius Mokgware was curious that the board was dismissed just few days after the management tender committee had met, and raised suspicion that they could have been prior knowledge that the board was likely to reject the awarding of the tender.
Mokgware said it is reported that the then CEO Ben Dahwa had his own misgivings about the awarding of the tender, as the CEO was of the view that its scope did not reflect what Air Botswana needed.
In other startling revelations, the Acting CEO following awarding of the tender wrote the letter to Ministry requesting them to authorise the awarding of the tender to a European based company.
The Chairperson of the Committee, Samson Guma said it would not be wrong for the parliamentary committee to conclude that the decision to fired the board was taken by the minister, in order to take over the its role and award the tender to his preferred company.
Not only did Guma smell a rat on the action of firing the board, but the manner in which the tender was prepared and awarded. Guma said, the CEO failed to state clearly how the Air Botswana arrived at awarding the tender, and that it has violated the public procurement procedures.
Guma is also of the view that the minster and his permanent secretary have acted illegally by assuming the role of the board, as the most appropriate thing to do would have been appointment of the new board to run the affairs of Air Botswana immediately after the dismissal of the one which was in charge.
The committee was not impressed by the causal manner in which, the acting CEO and the ministry have been conducting the affairs of Air Botswana. The committee heard that, most of the communications, which were official, were done in a verbal manner. The acting CEO was informed of the sacking of the Board verbally, and given instruction to carry out in the same manner.
Khunwane, who said, she also took responsibility, for communicating her inquiries to the ministry verbally, rather than putting it in writing. Khunwane also admitted that in the she sidelined the organisation’s legal officer and did not sought his legal opinion when during the tendering process and engagement of the ministry.
Guma contended that, instead of sending a letter the ministry requesting them to authorise the awarding of the tender, the acting CEO of Air Botswana should had instead, wrote a letter, requesting them to reconstitute a board, because there was a decision which required the approval of the board.
Committee member Dr Phenyo Butale said there is a problematic situation at Air Botswana and the crisis was self-created. He said, the Air Botswana act does not envisage a situation of where the organisation at any point will operate without the board. This was also confirmed by parliamentary counsel, who said, the direct involvement of the ministry in the affairs of Air Botswana was illegal.
Mabeo and Fit will also appear before the committee to explain, the recent transaction regarding the trip to Brazil, in which Air Botswana borrowed the ministry P100 000 to pay for travel expenses of one of the employees who joined the duo for the trip. Ministry had promised to reimburse Air Botswana the money, but failed to do it within the standard 90 days period.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”