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Botswana civil society Umbrella body faces closure

The umbrella of NGO’s, Botswana Council of Non-Governmental organisations (BOCONGO) is facing closure, Weekend Post has learnt.  

Following a recent resignation of Executive Director, Bagaisi Mabilo, this publication has established that the organisation is currently facing a “leadership vacuum.”

In addition, as it stands, all four currently remaining staff members including Communications Officer, Administration Assistant, Accounts Assistant as well as Front-desk Officer have been counselled to also “exit” BOCONGO at any-time.

In fact the board has resolved not to extend their staff contracts. It is the reason why the board went on to suspend the then Executive Director, Mabilo – who defied the resolution – although she later resigned citing professional integrity. The staff is at the mercy of the board which is determined to release them as the organisation board and Secretariat have reached “irreparable differences.”

The turn of events have compelled some members of the umbrella organisation to pour their hearts out by registering their concerns at the debacle currently engulfing the organisation they call “theirs” as its “membership driven.”

Director of Peddys Widows Forum, a member organisation of BOCONGO, Pednah Mogomotsi stated in a communication to other members that she “can confirm that for the last four months Peddy’s Widows Forum (PWF) has been providing counselling to the staff of BOCONGO. This counselling came as a result of board’s decision to dismiss and not renew contracts of staff members.”

The resolution not to renew BOCONGO Secretariat staffs’ contracts was taken at a board retreat of March this year in Maun.

According to Mogomotsi, the secretariat staff had expressed quite a number of abnormalities that were transpiring at the Secretariat and felt they were being displaced with ulterior motives of creating jobs for some of the board members.

The BOCONGO member continued, “I am equally concerned with the manner in which the Secretariat is being governed. There is lot of interference from the board members in particular the chairperson.”

It is said that this interference has resulted in abuse of power and verbal harassment.

“Fellow members we need to speak against misgoverning of BOCONGO. We cannot allow this organisation to function in a manner that will disgrace us as members, and this nation. We have a responsibility as members and therefore I agree with Mr Kingston Mmolawa that a special meeting of members be called,” Mogomotse pleaded.

Mmolawa who is Executive Director of Food Bank Botswana (FBB), another BOCONGO member, had earlier written in a letter to colleagues that they should rise and save good reputation of the organisation and advised that “the current state of affairs warrants a special/extraordinary general meeting.”

As a member he also cautioned that he is worried that if it is allowed to continue then it will set a bad precedence. Under the headline “warning!! Our BOCONGO under siege” he cautioned, “we cannot have a situation where Directors are chased willy-nilly.”

Mmolawa said the board need to account to them and he wondered if any of them as BOCONGO members have given them the mandate to the drastic decisions that are clearly leading to the “collapse of the organisation.”

He then asked: “this state of affairs then jeopardises the entire planned change process and raises more questions than answers. Do we really need to change BOCONGO or we need change of mind set in leadership.”

This comes at a time when BOCONGO board has proposed to change BOCONGO constitution, name, missions and visions, objective statements and current structures of the umbrella body of the NGO’s, an action which is shunned by some members. They cite no enough consultation to the far-reaching changes.

The FBB Director said he learnt that the staff at the Secretariat live under constant fear as some board members would routinely come and remind them that as far as they are aware there is no staff at the Secretariat.

“The staff morale has visibly gone down as they are no longer focusing on their core mandate but battling for their survival,” Mmolawa explained.  

What has led to the deteriorated relationship?

BOCONGO staff members have also stated in a letter directed to board members that the Secretariat has become extremely hostile and had asked that measures be taken to address the situation.

“We feel we have needlessly been subjected to a systematic campaign of harassment, bullying and humiliation, due to the board’s failure to undertake any preventive measures to ensure a working environment, free from such at a time the E.D Ms Mabilo first reported her ordeal to the board in her letter dated 9 July 2016,” the staff members stated in a collaborative letter that broke the camel’s back. Since the letter was written, it is said that no action was taken.

Therefore the employees said it can accordingly be argued that what is happening now between the board Chairperson and E.D (and by extension the whole Secretariat) is a direct result of inaction by the board.

“It is our contention that Mr Motsumi’s leadership and his defiance to observe basic principles of governance pose a profound danger to the image of the civil society and its capacity to attract donor funding in future,” further reads the letter and added that, “We have observed that, that boardroom bullying and abuse of Executive Directors, particularly female ED’s, by board members in the civil society is on the rise and Ms Mabilo is just one of the victims of this evil phenomenon.”

One of the employees who has worked with BOCONGO for more than 10 years, Maitio Setlhake highlighted that the current board is the most secretive and controversial he has ever worked for. He defended the notion that the staff is resistant to change.

“We are not resistant to change as reported in the newspapers. We like change and we embrace it. Change is good. Nonetheless, if it is rushed, concealed and driven by hatred and anger, change can come handy with devastating consequences which includes manipulation by partisan political agendas, loss of membership and a “sure collapse of the organisation.”

According to the president and Chief Executive Officer of GovernanceMatters.Com Les Stahlke who was a consultant who also drafted BOCONGO constitution and the board’s governance manual as well as facilitating the board’s strategic plan between 2012 and 2015, BOCONGO has gone too far now, he said.

“From this great distance, it seems that this conflict has gone on far too long it threatens to do great harm to the vital mission of BOCONGO. The hole that is being dug by this conflict is not a diamond mine or a refreshing water well. It is a grave. BOCONGO must not be allowed to come to harm over this.”

He said he supports the call for a special meeting of the BOCONGO members, and that special meeting must be chaired by a neutral person, a lawyer or judge whom they respect, not any board member or chairperson who is a party in the conflict.  

“You elected this board including the chairperson, and you can un-elect them, if your examination of them determines they should be replaced, clearly, there must be an investigation from outside,” Stahlke said.

He also mentioned that this is a rare time in the history of BOCONGO, one that cannot be wished away.

“When a board can no longer hold itself or its chairperson accountable, fairly and firmly, the members must step in to save the organisation from conflict that, if you do nothing, will take many years to recover,” the President and CEO of GovernanceMatters.com pointed out.

BOCONGO flouted tendering processes?

According to a classified letter from the then Executive Director Ms Mabilo, which she wrote to the board’s tender committee, there was a concern and a conflict from the chairperson, Mr Motsumi regarding the tendering for the BOCONGO change management consultancy.

When justifying the concern, the E.D said EXCENTRE is a company owned by Mr April, an acquaintance to Mr Motsumi and she said this was declared at the tender committee meeting of the 29th June 2016 by Motsumi.

Bagaisi revealed that at the drafting stage of the terms of reference, she was referred to Mr April (a would be bidder at the time) by Mr Motsumi, to have a debriefing with him inter alia on what BOCONGO intended to do in respect of the change management consultancy, where BOCONGO needed to go, what components would be ideal for change and what the cost implications would be.

As a result of interaction with Mr April, she said certain information was availed to her which she then used to draft the terms of reference for the change management consultancy.

“At all times, my interactions with Mr April were monitored by Mr Motsumi to a point where he would call me and ask me if I thought he could be the right candidate for the job. My response was that ‘I am not an expert in the area but it seemed as though he had knowledge of what should happen.’”

She added that the BOCONGO chairperson further said to her that he wanted them to agree on whether Mr April could do the job.

Mabilo continued: “I mentioned to him that the procurement regulations require for a tender process to take place and therefore Mr April could not be handpicked and given the job. In response Mr Motsumi said he was aware of this,” She further explained.

The BOCONGO Secretariat boss pointed out that, in declaring his interest to the Tender Committee, the Chairperson did not disclose that he had recommended Mr April to provide administrative information to the Secretariat regarding the drafting of the terms of reference and cost of the change process.

“He knowingly withheld information that he (Mr Motsumi) referred EXCENTRE to the Secretariat for administrative purposes. An arrangement that could be interpreted as having given EXCENTRE an unfair advantage over other bidders who also demonstrated a high level of technical expertise in the field.”

She reminded the chairperson that, mind you, we are being monitored by European Union (EU)/ Non State Actors (NSA) every quarter for the funds that we received from them, and this may arise as a red flag in the tender process that may even result in expense being disallowed.

Mabilo stated further: “as a licensed governance trainer, failing to inform you of this and to let this happen under my watch would be a serious betrayal of my conscious and professional aptitude.”

It is understood that Mr Motsumi further volunteered himself to be in the board tender committee at the last board meeting of 26th May 2016. She added: “though he excused himself from the scoring, Mr Motsumi maintained the role of chairperson in the committee, which is my view is a highly influential position, more so that he rejected some of the recommendations coming from one committee member, including my advice to re-advertise the change management consultancy tender.”

According to the former BOCONGO Executive Director, she felt Motsumi had substantial influence to the outcome of selecting EXCENTRE, and in her view, did not declare all the information as he should have done as a conflicted member and chairperson of the tender committee.   

“I also believe that having declared his interest, and knowing the trails of events as they unfolded, it would be prudent for Mr Motsumi to have completely recused himself from the entire tendering process both as chairman and member of the tender committee.”

“I would like to indicate to you once again,” she said, “that there is a need for vigilance in handling a matter such as this one, where donor money is involved, and therefore you as the tender committee must have all the information prior to making a final decision on the tender.”

When reached for comment the BOCONGO Chairperson, Motsumi had not responded to inquiries on the matter at the time of press.

However recently in an interview with Weekend Post, Motsumi indicated that there was extensive consultation where members throughout the country identified changes that needed to be made.

“The Board then presented the proposed Strategy at the last Annual General Meeting which members endorsed and adopted subject to a few changes.”

He said matters of organisational transformation and their impact on Staff will be discussed internally and with other relevant bodies such as the Labour Department to ensure that they are implemented in a fair manner, according to our laws and that any anxieties or concerns by Staff are managed in the best manner possible through the structures we have set up. So, this is still very much an internal process whose detail cannot be divulged,” he said.

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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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