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P65 million rent deal back to haunt Trade Ministry

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI), Peggy Serame came under fire this week over failure to act on the instruction of the  Public Accounts Committee (PAC) regarding the acquisition and rent of Ministry’s headquarter buildings.  

The ministry is accused of flouting procurement rules by bypassing Public Procurement and Assets Disposal Board (PPADB) and ignoring the latter’s guidelines.

When the matter resurfaced at the ongoing PAC deliberations, the permanent secretary, Serame had to answer to the Committee as to why she had failed to instigate an investigation into the matter, as was instructed by the PAC last year.

PAC learnt this week that Serame had not made any effort to investigate the acquisition of her ministry’s offices, prompting the PAC members to consider instituting own investigations on the matter to identify key players in the authorisation of the deal.

The acquisition of the office, the PAC learnt, was done without following the procurement rules which limit Ministerial Tender Committees (MTC) from adjudicating any tender beyond its threshold of P25 million. The MTI headquarters building was acquired on lease basis at the tune of P65 million.

MTI moved into the building in 2013, at the time when Dorcas Makgato was at its helm. Makgato is now Health Minister. The office is located at the Central Business District (CBD), where the Ministry of Trade currently operates.

The accounting officer, Serame told PAC that the ministry did not launch a probe into the matter because she was of the view that PAC did not expect her to be the one looking into the matter. However PAC member Dithapelo Keorapetse stated that Serame, as accounting officer, was liable to do such and report back to the PAC.

According to the PPADB Act, public procurements beyond the limits of the MTCs are sent to PPADB for adjudication which has the right to approve or reject them based on the factors prevailing.

PAC also established that the acquisition of the office space was done without an invitation to tender, raising eyes bows on how the ministry was able to identify the building without expressions of interest from property owners.

PAC members doubt DCEC role

Biggie Butale, Member of Parliament for Tati West and committee member questioned the involvement of Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) as he remarked their coming on board under the pretext of investigating was a bluff while in fact they are trying to deploy delaying tactics and conceal the matter.

“I am sorry to say this as a member of the ruling party. We are not children, we can see, we know what the DCEC is doing,” he stated.

“Why is it that we see in the accounting officer’s report that the DCEC only came on board in February this year? Unless P65 million means nothing to you, the PAC cannot just allow this matter to go through without answers.”

DCEC has found itself at odds with parliament over investigations, with the former accusing the latter of interfering in its investigations. MPs on the other hand are of the view that DCEC is compromised, and cannot investigate scandals involving ministries, ministers in particular.

MP for Selebi Phikwe West, Keorapetse had wanted for the accounting officer to reveal the name(s) of people who authorised the procurement which violated the rules.

“We want to know why and who took this decision? You [accounting officer] are obviously privy to such information and you are trying to protect the person responsible,” he said.

Keorapetse was also of the view that the purported investigation launched by the DCEC should not deter PAC from probing and requesting to be furnished with the required information.

“We are not going to stop and hope that DCEC will investigate the matter, otherwise we will just be here doing nothing while everyone who asks is referred to DCEC,” he said.

Ignatius Moswaane, MP for Francistown West was convinced that there is criminal activity surrounding the procurement of the office in question and requested that the accounting officer, who was ordered to re-appear before the committee with explanations, to bring all documents necessary which led to procurement of the office building.

Moswaane said the accounting officer’s decision not to act on the matter following recommendation by PAC to do so in the last sitting, is a clear sign that accounting officers are taking for granted the PAC as an oversight institution.

It is becoming common that ministries procure office space without following proper procurement rules. In 2011, Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security also went ahead to procurer office space without authorisation of neither MTC nor PPADB. PAC went on to recommend rescission of the decision and an investigation into the matter.

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Botswana still weighing in on Maseko’s assassination

27th January 2023

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lemogang Kwape says Botswana has not taken any position regarding the killing of a renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down at his house in Mbabane, Eswatini.

In a brief interview with WeekendPost, Dr Kwape said Botswana has not yet taken any position regarding his death. He said the purported incident should be thoroughly probed before Botswana can form an opinion based on the findings of the inquiries.

“Botswana generally condemns any killing of human life by all means,” says Dr. Kwape. He wouldn’t want to be dragged on whether Botswana will support the suspension of Eswatini from SADC.

“We will be guided by SADC organ Troika if they can be an emergency meeting. I am not sure when the meeting will be called by Namibian president,“ he said.

However, the Namibian president Hage Geingob notes with deep concern reports coming out of Eswatini about the killing of Mr. Maseko. In a statement, he called upon the “Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated, and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice.”

Maseko was chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum which was established as a coalition of non-State actors to advocate for a process of national political dialogue aimed at resolving the security and political challenges confronting the Kingdom.

“SADC expresses its deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Maseko, his friends, colleagues, and to the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini for the loss of Mr. Maseko. In this context, SADC further calls upon the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini to remain calm, exercise due care and consideration whilst the appropriate structures conduct the investigations and bring the matter to completion,” the statement says.

Geingob reiterated the need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country.

Meanwhile political activists are calling on SADC to suspend Eswatini from the block including the African Union as well.

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Kopong Murder: Accused interferes with witnesses again!

27th January 2023

State prosecutor, Seeletso Ookeditse revealed before the Broadhurst Magistrate Jobbie Moilatshimo that the third accused involved in the murder of Barulaganye Aston, has interfered with the State witnesses again.

The second and third accused (Lefty Kosie and Outlwile Aston) were previously accused of interference when they were caught in possession of cellphones in prison. They were further accused of planning to kill the deceased’s brother, who is currently the guardian to the children of the deceased.

Ookeditse indicated that Outlwile had earlier went to challenge the magistrate’s decision of denying him bail at the High Court before Judge Michael Motlhabi.

“The third accused approached the High Court and made a bail application, which was dismissed on the same day,” Ookeditse said.

However, even after the High Court verdict on their bail application, the duo (Kosie and Aston) has once again applied for bail this week.

Ookeditse plead with the court to stop the accused from abusing the court process.

“Yesterday, Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) received papers of his bail application filed before the Broadhurst Magistrates Court. However, the papers do not speak to changed circumstances, therefore this back and forth about bail must be put to a stop,” said the State prosecutor.

While giving evidence before court, the Investigations Officer, Detective Inspector Quite Zhalamonto, said his investigations have proved that there is interference continuing regarding the accused trio.

He told the court that on the 12th of January 2023, he received a report from Thato Aston, who is the son of the accused and the deceased. The son had alleged to the Investigation Officer that he received a call from one Phillip Molwantwa.

According to Zhalamonto, Thato revealed that Molwatwa indicated that he was from prison on a visit to the Outlwile Aston and went on to ask where he was staying and where his siblings (Aston’s children) are staying.

“Thato revealed that Phillip went on to ask if he or his siblings saw their father murdering their mother, and he was referring to the crime scene. Thato told me that he, however, refused to answer the questions as he was afraid especially because he was asked about where him and his siblings stay,” said Zhalamonto.

Zhalamonto alluded to the court that he then went to Orange to confirm the communication between Thato and Molwantwa where he found the case.

“I have arrested Philip yesterday and when I interviewed him, he did not deny that he knows Aston and that he has indeed called Thato and asked questions as to where him and his siblings resides even though he failed to give reasons for asking such questions,” Zhalamonto told the court.

He further revealed that Molwantwa indicated that he had received a call from an unknown man who refused to reveal himself.

“Phillip told me that the unknown man said he was sent by the accused (Aston), and that Aston had instructed him to tell me to check if there was still some money in his bank accounts, and he also wanted to know where the kids were residing, the unknown man even asked him to meet at Main Mall” the Investigation Officer told the court.

He further informed the court that he is working tirelessly to identify the “unknown caller” and the route of the cell number.

Furthermore, the fourth accused, Kebaleboge Ntsebe, has revealed to the court through a letter that she was abused and tortured by the Botswana Police Services. She wrote in her letter that she suffered miscarriage as a result of being beaten by the police.

Ntsebe is on bail, while a bail ruling for Aston and Kosie will be delivered on the 6th of next month

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Ngamiland Cattle Farmers Gain Green Zone Revenue

27th January 2023

Cattle farmers from Eretsha and Habu in the Ngamiland district, supported by the Community Based Trade (CBT) project, recently generated over P300 000.00 for sales of 42 cattle to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) in Maun. This milestone was achieved through support from various stakeholders in conservation, commodity-based trade and the government, in collaboration with farmers. Ordinarily, these farmers would not have made this direct sale since the area is a designated Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Red Zone.

Traditional livestock farming contributes toward livelihoods and formal employment in the North-West District (Ngamiland) of Botswana. However, primarily due to the increase in FMD outbreaks over the past two decades and predation by wildlife, the viability of livestock agriculture as a source of income has declined in the region. This has led to a greater risk of poverty and food insecurity. Access across the Okavango River (prior to the construction of a bridge) restricted access for farmers in Eretsha. This lack of access hampered sales of cattle beyond Shakawe, further discouraging farmers from investing in proper livestock management practices. This resulted in negative environmental impacts, poor livestock health and productivity.

To address this challenge, farmers are working with a consortium led by Conservation International (CI), with funding secured from the European Union (EU) to pilot a CBT beef project. The project focuses on supporting and enabling communal farmers to comply with standards and regulations that will improve their chances to access markets. An opportunity to earn higher income from cattle sales could incentivize the adoption of restorative rangelands management practices by farmers.

These collaborative efforts being piloted in Habu and Eretsha villages also include the Pro-Nature Enterprises Project for the People of Southern Africa, funded by Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and Le Fonds français pour l’environnement mondial (FFEM). This complementary funding from AFD and FFEM supports the implementation of the Herding4Health (H4H) model and Rangeland Stewardship Agreements across four rangeland sites in Southern Africa, including Habu and Eretsha, to incentivize best practices that could offer sustainability in the long term for livelihoods, conservation and human-wildlife coexistence.

“We spend a lot of money getting our cattle to Makalamabedi quarantine site, the herder spends on average two months taking care of the cattle before they are taken into quarantine – that needs money. All these costs lead to us getting less money from BMC,” said one of the farmers in the programme, Mr Monnaleso Mosanga.

Farmers that participate in the project agree for their cattle to be herded and kraaled communally by fulltime professional herders (eco-rangers). At the core of this pilot is the use of predator-proof bomas (cattle kraals), planned grazing systems and mobile quarantine bomas (electrified enclosures) for the cattle, facilitated in support with the Department of Veterinary Services. The first successful exit from the mobile quarantine bomas in the Habu and Eretsha villages, in December 2022, saw cattle quarantined on-site and directly transported to BMC in Maun. Farmers received almost double the average sales within this region, as costs including transportation to quarantine sites, herder’s fees and other associated costs incurred before qualifying for BMC sales were no longer included.

“This pilot mobile quarantine is leveraging the techniques and protocols we are using at our current permanent quarantine sites, and we are still observing the results of the project. The outcome of this pilot will be presented to the World Organisation of Animal Health to assess its effectiveness and potentially be approved to be used elsewhere,” said Dr Odireleng Thololwane, the Principal Veterinary Officer (Maun).

Through co-financing of almost P1 billion from the Botswana government and Green Climate Fund, these interventions will be replicated, through The Ecosystem Based Adaptation and Mitigation in Botswana’s Communal Rangelands project, across the country. Both projects aim to improve the economic benefits of cattle owners and multitudes of Batswana households, while contributing to land restoration and climate change efforts by the Botswana government

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