The umbrella of NGO’s, Botswana Council of Non-Governmental organisations (BOCONGO) is facing closure, WeekendPost 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 WeekendPost, 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.
While it takes a lot to penetrate and thrive in the male dominated political space in Botswana, Block 3 Ward councillor Motamma Horatius, is one of the few females defying the odds.
Driven by passion, Horatius has always worn many hats and today she has become one of the few women who are thriving in the political space in Botswana. Prior to pursuing politics, she was an active participated in the creative space.
Horatius, a beauty queen, notably famous for her reign as Miss World Tourism Botswana represented Botswana in a television show famously known as Big Brother Africa. During her stay in the house, she got termed darling of the continent for an outstanding performance that promoted unity, humility and culture.
After serving for some time in public space, and making a name for herself as well as serving as a brand ambassador she decided to step in a career that will forever challenge her. This was after she had travelled the world and demonstrated her unique leadership skills and brilliance.
“I stopped and asked myself why am I not incorporating this brilliance back home. And wherever you go worldwide Botswana with all her faults is a beacon of hope in everything. And even successful countries came here to benchmark and implemented our policies and are flourishing such as Rwanda. So I decided to join active politics and go straight to the ruling party to add a youthful feel to an already existing force and help modernise it to serve better not from afar but from within,” she clarified.
“So my ample experience in civic leadership across countries around the world catapulted me to join active politics because I wondered, if I can do as much as an individual even across nations, how much can I do whilst in office, locally. And I chose to start from the ground up, in order to avoid leaving the locals behind.”
The stern and tenacious young leader, currently sit as the Chairperson of Finance Committee at Gaborone City Council, and also chairs Performance Monitoring Committee.
While a typical girl would dream of becoming either a nurse or choose a ‘girl’ orientated deemed career, she had a heart for politics from a very young age. By the time she left the creative space, she had already made a name for herself, that she needed no introduction.
“I had to acknowledge first that I am a woman, and being a woman means you have to work 200 percent more than your male counterparts. So it took sleeplessness nights, and a massive amount of working smart to win legitimately,” she said.
She acknowledges that she faced a lot of challenges during the 2019 elections which she had to overcome through the assistance of her loved ones and family.
“Politics is expensive but I managed by God’s grace, family, friends, acquaintances and good Samaritans but my mind helped. I am a very good planner when it comes to execution,” she said.
“Another hurdle is, being a young woman, I had conceived during the time of primary elections; so campaigning whilst expectant, managing your emotions through betrayals, insults, stress, house-to-house then giving birth and having to hit the ground in less than two weeks having given birth via C-section, was a hurdle I overcame by God’s mercy and I am thankful to my family for helping me with the kids because politics means a lot of time away from home.”
“Another hurdle was to portray an all rounded culturally grounded Motswana woman soft but yet stern, respectful but can articulate issues well. Because even though we are civilized our society still upholds unwritten yet practiced values of what a woman is and what a man is, and if you defy societal expectations, it judges you harshly. But thankfully I remained focused on who I was and didn’t try alternate anything When I lost some of the original members of my campaign team. The pain was deep. But I wiped my tears. Soldiered on, and God increased twice the initial number.”
At some point she had to face demeaning words from other male contestants, but the best to do at the time was to shun negativity and stay focused. Male intimidation never tugged her down.
“My experience with 2019 elections was rather inclined to learning as it was my first time running for office as a politician, so I wanted to see if really hard work has results because I always hear stories of how people are bought,” she said.
“So since I was not buying anyone, I was on a learning curve to test my hard work style of delivery against what is believed out there. So it was exciting and again I say it was a learning curve as most NGOs fighting to increase women participation in politics were continuously training us.’
Despite everything she feels women political participation in Botswana is still low. She has pleaded with the media to cover them more often as she believes maybe it will help more women to run for office.
Botswana has few women in parliament, giving men dominance in policy decisions. In a 63-seat parliament, Botswana has only seven female MPs, four of them being specially elected lawmakers.
According to the 2019 edition of the biennial Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Map of Women in Politics. Among the top African countries with a high percentage of women in ministerial positions are Rwanda (51.9%), South Africa (48.6%), Ethiopia (47.6%), Seychelles (45.5%), Uganda (36.7%) and Mali (34.4%).
The lowest percentage in Africa was in Morocco (5.6%), which has only one female minister in a cabinet of 18.
Other countries with fewer than 10% women ministers include Nigeria (8%), Mauritius (8.7%) and Sudan (9.5%).Other African countries with high percentages of women MPs include Namibia (46.2%), South Africa (42.7%) and Senegal (41.8%), according to the report.
Though a slight increase, Botswana is still lagging behind when it comes to women political participation.
According to a report made by IEC for the 2019 elections, there is 11.1% women representation in parliament. There has been a 1.6% slight increase from the 2019 election compared to the 2014 elections.
According to United Nations, there are two main obstacles that prevent women from participating fully in political life.
These are structural barriers, whereby discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s ability to run for office, and capacity gaps, which occur when women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders.
As it stands though, Botswana has continued to recognize gender equality as central to socio-economic, political and cultural development through its National Vision 2036.
Following the adoption of the National Policy on Gender and Development in 2015, the National Gender Commission was established in September 2016, to monitor implementation of the policy.
Government ministries and departments have moved to cut expenditure in the last quarter of financial year in order to survive the economic hardship occasioned by the covid-19 pandemic. Since the outbreak, Government and the private sector have been hard hit financially due to limited economic activity brought about by government response to fighting the pandemic.
In an urgent savingram by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Molefi Keaja addressed to all council secretaries and town clerks, the government informs that it is facing unprecedented budgetary challenges for Financial Year 2020/2021.
“This has necessitated measures to be put in place to conserve cash and ensure that government is able to honour its financial obligations in the remaining (3) months of the financial year,” said the savingram dated 24 December 2020.
The Government has cut all travel by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) including State owned entities (SOEs) and Local Authorities until the next financial year in April 2021. It has also taken a decision that all meetings, interviews, seminars, workshops, conferences, retreats, annual ceremonies and hospitality events should be conducted virtually, which save on the cost of securing venues, conference facilities and meals/refreshments.
“No replenishment of refreshments for the Executive Cadre (E2 salary scale and above) until the end of the financial year,” Keaja directed. Last year government also resolved that due to the financial effects of Covid-19 the government will no longer recruit for any jobs during the 2020/2021 financial year.
The Cabinet directed that the 2020/2021 provision for vacancies be withdrawn from Ministries, Departments and Agencies recurrent budgets to cater for supplementary estimates. According to the saving gram then by the Directorate on Public Service Management (DPSM) said the country faces fiscal challenges which have been accentuated by the emergence and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amongst key ministries and departments affected were the Botswana Defence Force, National Strategy Office, Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS), Commissioner of Police, Commissioner of Prisons, Clerk of National Assembly and the Directorate on Corruption & Economic Crime (DCEC).
It further deliberated that all various institutions that had begun recruitment for existing vacant positions be frozen for the remaining period of the 2020/2021 financial year. “Since funds for the vacancies will only be recruited in the next financial year 2020/20121, Ministries, Department and Agencies are advised to discontinue recruitment into such vacancies until 1st April 2021. Those who are already at an advanced stage of recruitment process are advised to withhold appointments until further notice.”
The Director of Directorate on Public Service Management (DPSM), Goitseone Mosalakatane, told the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in September that despite the high unemployment rate, they cannot hire for the posts because part of the funds have been withdrawn to fight the Coronavirus.
With just a few days into the New Year, Covid-19 seems to be taking its toll and its effects will be felt vastly in the long run. Countries worldwide, including Botswana are injecting in millions of money in the fight against the deadly virus therefore placing immense uncertainty on country’s economy.
When delivering his speech at last year’s State of Nation Address President Mokgweetsi Masisi said during 2020, the domestic economy was expected to contract by 8.9 percent indicating that this is attributed to an expected sharp decline in major sectors such as mining, (minus 24.5 percent); trade, hotels and restaurants (minus 27.4 percent); construction (minus 6 percent); manufacturing (minus 3.9 percent); and transport and communications (minus 2.5 percent).
However, he assured that the economy is expected to rebound during 2021, with overall growth projected at 7.7 percent. The anticipated recovery will be driven by a rebound in growth of some major sectors such as mining (14.4 percent), trade, hotels and restaurants (18.8 percent), and transport and communications (4.2 percent).
Furthermore, Masisi pointed out that the recovery will also be supported by the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan currently being implemented by Government. “It is critical to note that these projections are dependent on, among others, the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.
These containment measures have the effect of reducing spending by firms and households and causing supply-chain disruptions. Beyond this, the recovery phase will be influenced by confidence effects on households and businesses; sectoral transformation and changes in work patterns; as well as prospects for the recovery of global financial markets and commodity prices.”
Emphasising this, he explained that despite the challenges of COVID-19 there still remains the delicate balance of opening the economy whilst containing the disease burden. “Inflation according to the latest data from Statistics Botswana, inflation fell significantly from 2.2 percent in September 2019 to 1.8 percent in September 2020, remaining below the lower bound of the Bank of Botswana’s medium-term objective range of 3 to 6 percent,” he said.
The significant decline in inflation mainly reflects the downward adjustment in fuel prices in June 2020. However, inflation may rise above the current forecasts if the international commodity prices increase beyond current projections and in the event of upward price pressures occasioned by supply constraints due to travel restrictions and lockdowns.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) last year had to cancel its elective congress due to the strict measures that had to be put in place due to Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.
Two other party events Women’s Wing Congress including the much anticipated victorious election celebration were also postponed due to the pandemic as gatherings were cancelled indefinitely. However the BDP is adamant that the party will be able to hold its National Congress and all other events that had been frozen this year.
Speaking to this publication chairman of BDP Communication & International Relations Sub-Committee Kagelelo Kentse said that the party was readying itself for the congress with the main objective being to review resolutions that were taken at their 38th National Congress in Mochudi in 2019. Emphasising this, Kentse said it was commendable that most of the resolutions taken in 2019 have by far been fulfilled.
Moreover, he said it would mean a lot for the party to be able to meet at the congress, this he said would give them the opportunity to introspect and reflect with regards to their manifesto. In 2019 the BDP made about eleven resolutions of which five of these were resolved and gazetted. The abridged resolutions were that the amendment of the law to allow agricultural land owners to use up to 50 percent of their land for non-core purposes, to amend the law to cancel transfer duty on property transferred between the spouses.
President Masisi also passed a law to allow married couples to be independently allocated land and increase threshold for non-payment of transfer on property acquired from P250k to P750k. On the resolution in the tourism sector, Kentse said efforts are very advanced to have local play a part. He said there is ongoing work with the Ministry of Lands on concessions that will be allocated to citizens.
According to the BDP communications chair the Ministry of Tourism has availed more opportunities in dams for tourism thus far, having already issued expression of interest for Letsibogo, Dikgatlhong, and Gaborone dams. Citizens are said to have applied for tenders which are currently under evaluation. There are about 45 campsites set aside for citizens in game reserves and forest reserves for tourism.
The resolution on the declaration of assets and liabilities law which was passed and amended this year, was supported by all legislators including those from opposition. Emphasising this he explained that contentions were on issues to do with valuations, and leaders have started declaring.
With the Congress comprising of the elective congress, the BDP is yet to embark on it an objective Kentse said is on their to do list this year even though the calendar of events has not yet been made. The elective congress has aroused interest, especially the Secretary General position which has attracted a number of participants of which observers believe will accord the incumbent, Mpho Balopi, the current secretary general, the opportunity to buy time if at all he will seek re-election in the position.