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Botswana Railways vulnerable to fraud – Audit

A recent audit report on the Botswana Railways (BR) points to violations of International Accounting Standards (IAS), poor internal controls and disregard for laid down company procedures and policies. All these maladies have exposed the organisation to incorrect information that distorts its financial position, and more worryingly left the company vulnerable to fraud.

The auditors took concern with what appeared to be a large variance between the financial statement presented and the trial balance, querying as to why there seems to be an overstatement of the operating costs and understatement of Administration, Marketing and Other Expenses, relative to the figures shown in the trial balance.

The operating costs were overstated by P2 867 550.18 and the Administration, Marketing and Other Expenses understated by P2 869 759.25. The differences, according to the auditors, could be the opposite of true and fair representation of the financial statements.

In response to the query,  The management of BR posited that the difference were due to them rounding off figures to the nearest thousand, however they admitted to wrongfully classifying certain classes and they countered by offering new figures which have been reclassified accordingly albeit lower than what they had initial claimed.

As one peruses the audit report it then becomes clearer as to why there has been errors and misstatements that passed through without being identified and corrected. The auditors laid bare their concern regarding an internal audit plan which was not fully executed due to understaffing.

The BR organisational structure entails four employees under the Internal audit manager, but that was not the case as they lost two internal auditors in 2014, one in August and the other in November, leaving internal controls lax as planned audits could not be completed. It took BR an average of 4 months to appoint each internal auditor, effectively meaning the internal audit was understaffed for 8 months. In mitigation, the BR says all areas which were not audited for the financial year under review have been carried forward to 2015/2016 and are in the process of being finalised.

NO REGARD FOR INTERNATIONAL ACCOUNTING STANDARDS

The audit report has also uncovered what seemingly appears to be lack of regard for International Accounting Standards (IAS) as BR violated the standards on more than one occasion. In one instance, the auditors noted that the lack of adherence to some provisions of IAS 20 meant that the Deferred Grants account is misstated by the unrecognised costs related to the items that the grants were intended for. The auditors also found out that the railway company was in violation of IAS 2, the fundamental principle being that inventories are required to be stated at the lower of cost and net realisable value.

A discussion between auditors and management revealed that all inventory is stated at cost. The closing balance for inventories was P73, 267, 796.97, none compliance to IAS 2 means that the inventory may be overstated. In perhaps the most perplexing violation of the basic IAS 1 which governs the presentation of financial statements, BR failed to separate deferred lease rental into current and non-current liabilities resulting in long term liabilities overstated by P1 175 000.00, which should have been classified as current liabilities.

In several findings, the auditors picked up cases of misallocation of assets which could result in misstatements. The Asset Replacement Reserve (Equity) account is represented by the Asset Replacement Fund Investment (Asset) account. It was revealed that in the reserve account funds not utilised stood at P52 808 610.03 as at 31 March 2015, however the investment account as at the same date shows that the funds available are P25 111 653.72, leaving a difference of P27 696 957.21, which lead the auditors to posit that there is a possible misstatement of that difference in the reserves account.

Furthermore they advised the BR management to reconcile the two accounts by updating the reserve account with the transactions that occurred since the account was last updated so it reflects the actual funds available to the company. The management said it will refer back to its journal to equate the two. Similarly, the auditors’ report that the General Insurance Reserve Account and the Accident Reserve Account have balances of P57 508 459.96 and P25 111 653.72, which means the transactions that appear occur in the Accident reserve fund are not captured in the General Insurance Reserve account resulting in the account to be stagnant from previous period hence a possible overstatement of about P32 396 806.24. Management has since undertaken to equate the two accounts so they reflect the true funds available.

LACK OF PROPER CONTROLS AT BOTSWANA RAILWAYS

The lack of proper controls at BR, particularly on procurement could put them in a collision path with their suppliers. In the Audit report, it was revealed that BR risks running out of fuel due to late delivery from suppliers, moreover it was revealed that on two occasions they received more fuel than they have ordered, in other instances the quantity delivered did not match the invoice order, with some extra quantity not paid for.

This opens the organisation to unnecessary liabilities and expenses as well as disputes with suppliers. In another startling revelation, the BR purchased goods worth P239, 217.56 in August 2013 of which auditors found the goods are still yet to be reported as received. Furthermore there is no documentation indicating any follow up attempts by BR for the delayed delivery of goods.

In a shocking twist, it was noted that BR has not adhered to the Finance and Accounts Manual which requires the supplies department to take a physical count of stock items on a regular basis such that all items are counted at least once a year, and some are counted frequently. Therefore stocks worth P8, 848, 152.47 were not counted, leaving the country vulnerable to misstatements of true value as some of the uncounted stock could have been damaged or stolen.

Further compounding the matter was the likelihood that BR could have lost some assets as the organisation again went against its Finance and Accounts Manual Volume which allows for the verification of fixed assets to be undertaken every alternate year under the guise of Chief Internal Auditor and representatives of the concerned departments. This is done to verify actual assets in hand and value.

But it was revealed to the auditors that BR did not carry out physical asset verification exercises in 2013/2014 and 2014/2015. Therefore the condition and existence of some assets cannot be ascertained. It was also noted that BR has no asset management policy hence assets maybe be over-valued by obsolete assets and inventory.

ACCUMULATION OF NEGATIVE LEAVE BALANCES

In an apparent violation of the General Condition of Service, chapter 10, paragraph 1(a) which act as a guide to leave days other than sick leaves, it was found that five employees have negative leave balances, which BR is still to provide reasons for the accumulation of negative leave balances. The audit report notes that provision for leave Pay has therefore been understated by P236, 697.43 due to negative leave balances.

According to the auditors, BR’s revenue system has several shortcomings; it has a weakness of freezing and hanging on invoices while the user is still transacting, in some cases counter sales report omits invoices that have been processed during the day resulting in cash deposit being more than the counter sales report, and even for invoices that have been printed, sometimes they don’t appear in Small Bank report such that cash deposited for the day is more or less than the invoices processed for the day.

The system is also known to prevent an invoice from showing in both the counter sales report and the Small Bank report. As a result, the system opens the organisation to various risks. “Completeness of revenue cannot be ascertained when there are gaps in invoice sequence and sales report and revenue cut-off is challenged due to some invoices showing on later periods,” stated the report.

Other controversial findings in the audit report have put sharp focus on the finance department’s lackadaisical approach in handling of accounts, sparking fear of possible embezzlement and fraud. The fears arise as a result of the organisation’s poorly prepared bank reconciliations. As per normal procedure, monthly bank reconciliations are prepared by an accounts officer, then proceed to be checked by the supervisor or the financial accountant who then passes it to the finance manager to review the bank reconciliation.

However, the findings point to a different reality as eight bank accounts belonging to the organisation have been checked but not reviewed. “It was discovered during audit that these controls are not consistently adhered to as shown,” noted the report which then proceeded to warn BR that fraud and misappropriation of funds may not be detected if controls are not adhered to.

The report also revealed that some supporting documents differ from bank reconciliation, in this case the bank reconciliation and the cash book reconciliation statement had variances that were picked by auditors. The cash book reconciliation is a system generated report that shows unpresented cheques, unpresented deposit and the month end balance.

The unpresented cheques and unpresented deposit figures in the bank reconciliation should be same as those in the cashbook reconciliation statement but the differences for unpresented deposit for January was at P251, 198.87 while the unpresented cheques for the same period showed a difference of P250, 913.88.

POORLY MAINTAINED ACCOUNTS

Furthermore, some accounts have not been properly maintained giving leeway to funds misappropriation. In one case it was found that the interbank transfer clearing account for the month of March 2015 was not maintained, the account should have a zero balance at any point but it had P139, 080.24, prompting auditors to say cash recorded in this account might not belong to Botswana Railways.

Another account was poorly maintained as it had gone for months with neither bank reconciliation nor cash book reconciliation to support bank reconciliation as a result amounts might have been incorrectly recorded in the wrong account and wrong period. There was a wrong classification concerning the Sea Rail Botswana account which classified the amount of P1, 732, 741.2 as cash at the bank and on hand even though this money had been transferred into another Sea Rail account in Namibia, a subsidiary of Botswana Railways.

Therefore there was a misstatement in the Botswana account while the one in Namibia was understated.  

Botswana Railways also fumbled in other financial transactions, the spotlight being on accounts payable control among other transactions. It was revealed in the audit report that the payable control was overstated by P398, 250.50 as the money was paid out to the supplier but yet it was still reflected as outstanding. Moreover a payment that was made to the tune of $10, 491.61 was shown as being outstanding despite it being paid.

The railway company also failed to convert a provisional amount of R13, 835, 174.84 to pulas thus the overstatement of the sundry creditors account due to the difference between the rand and the pula equivalent. It has since been revealed that the organisation’s policies have not been followed especially by the tender committee which has the habit of acting beyond its scope.

The committee can only deal with tenders up to the limit of P250, 000.00 but it has since been revealed that they engaged a leading audit firm for services totalling P296, 926.56, a clear violation that flies in the face of the organisation’s laid down procedures. “If policies are not followed, the organisation may be susceptible to fraud and mismanagement of funds” read part of the report. It has been noted that there is no documentation to substantiate the engagement of that particular audit firm.

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Gov’t has no budget for Magosi’s SADC chase

12th April 2021
Elias Magosi

Despite the government of Botswana’s ambition to have one of its own to lead Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) since its establishment in 1980, the Presidency says there is no budget specifically dedicated to the campaign.

The Government has released the name of Permanent Secretary to the President, Elias Mpedi Magosi, as the candidate for the SADC Executive Secretary position. Magosi is expected to face off with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) candidate, Faustin Mukela. The position will become vacant in August this year.

However, despite the optimism the Botswana Government has not yet set aside a budget to assist Magosi to win against the seemingly DRC giant. “We all know that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the country’s ability to effectively fund any new project. This campaign is not an exception. As such, we do not have any budget for the campaign. However, we have so far managed to take advantage of His Excellency the President’s working visits to the neighbouring countries to also carry out the campaigns,” Press Secretary to the President, Batlhalefi Leagajang, explained.

Botswana has housed SADC since the establishment of the then SADCC in 1980, but has never occupied top most leadership positions at the SADC Secretariat.  “We therefore, strongly believe that we should also have an opportunity to contribute to the management of our regional body as it continues to drive the important issues of regional integration industrialization and socio-economic development.

This will also profile Botswana as a strong advocate of regional integration,” he responded to this publication’s questionnaire as to why the Government wants to occupy the plum post. SADC is a Member State driven organization. As such, Leagajang said, needs a well-grounded Executive Secretary with a blend of management and leadership acumen; a transformational leader with political awareness and integrity; private and public sector experience; a deep culture of corporate governance; as well as strategic agility and result-oriented consummate diplomat.

“These are the unique attributes of our candidate,” he said. So far President Mokgweetsi Masisi has visited nine out of 16 SADC member states on a working visit and also taking an opportunity to present to them his candidate.

“The countries have appreciated this effort and we remain hopeful. However, it is important to note that this is a democratic and competitive process which must be respected,” he responded when asked about the reception and assurances from various countries to cast a vote for Magosi.

In 2018, when Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi challenged for the Africa Union (AU) Chairperson, the government appointed former President Festus Mogae to be the campaign leader. Does the Government have anyone apart from Masisi to help with the campaign?

“The campaigns for the candidate are strictly led by the Government of Botswana. Since this is a candidate for Botswana, not just the Government, it will be appreciated if all Batswana, including the media, could also shoulder the responsibility to campaign for the candidate in their own spheres of influence,” Leagajang responded.

While there are sceptics on Magosi winning against the DRC man, the Government is confident and believes that with the unique traits that he possess, Magosi stands a chance. He is said to be a strong advocate of justice and fairness as he has played this role in his current role as PSP and in his previous roles as PS and in the private sector. He has helped individuals and companies to find justice and fairness in most of their dealings with Government.

Magosi is also said to be a proponent of corporate governance and which he has relentlessly pursued in most of his career including in Government and other sectors. A strong believer in following laid down procedures and laws. “He carries a variety of skills as an HR expert with experience in different sectors, a strategist and an Organization development specialist.

His experience and exposure spans government, parastatal, private sector and at regional level as well, thus making him a suitable candidate for the regional role. He has worked with governments, businesses, development partners and politicians and is comfortable navigating through all of them,” Leagajang concluded.

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Mzwinila’s P4.3 Billion gamble to keep water flowing

12th April 2021
orth-South-Carrier

The Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, Kefentse Mzwinila looked a politician set to shoot the moon as he laid bare his billions of pula development agenda recently in Parliament.

His Ministry’s combined Recurrent and Development Budget Proposals for the 2021/ 2022 Financial Year is pegged at Four Billion, Three Hundred and Sixty – Five Million, two Hundred and Nineteen Thousand, Five Hundred and Sixty Pula (P4, 365, 219, 560). This is a budget 38.3% more than the allocation for the 2020/2021 Financial Year.

Mzwinila preluded his request to parliament with a demonstration that his Ministry has no champagne taste on a beer budget – indicating that his ministry’s expenditure at the end of February 2021P2.111 Billion or 96% of development budget; and P910 million or 90% of the recurrent budget.

Notwithstanding the budget dust, the Minister justified this year’s increase in the Ministry’s total budget. He attributed the escalation to the commencement of major projects under the water sector. These include the implementation of the North South Carrier (NSC) 22.2 covering various sub projects. Mzwinila noted that these are all public value projects which are aimed at improving the lives of Batswana.

Mzwinila’s Ministry has projected that the sum of Nine Hundred and Sixty –Three Million, Nine Hundred and Forty – Seven Thousand, Five Hundred and Sixty Pula (P963, 947, 560) be permitted for the Recurrent Budget and stand part of the 2021 / 2022 Appropriation Bill ( No. 1 of 2021).

“55% of the Recurrent Budget is geared towards the Revenue Support Grant for 12 Land Boards and their subordinate authorities while the sum of P5 Million is allocated to the Real Estate Advisory Council (REAC). The remaining 44% is proposed for the Ministry Departments.”

The sum of Three Billion, Four Hundred and One Million, Two hundred and Seventy –Two Thousand Pula (P3, 401, 272, 000), for the Development Budget was approved and stand part of the same schedule of the appropriation (2021/2022).

When breaking down the Development Budget, Minister Mzwinila noted that Water Supply and Sanitation projects will account for P1.098 Billion to finance the Maun Water and Sanitation project, Molepolole Sanitation projects and the Shakawe Water Treatment Plant Rehabilitation.

With all the implementation bottlenecks troubling several projects in the country, Mzwinila had to satisfy the question of whether his Ministry demonstrated a dire need for the budget with reference to its execution of the budget for the financial year 2020/2021 and its delivery of strategic initiatives and projects?

Mzwinila’s pitch found favour with parliament and his ministry will get an aggregate budget of P3.198 Billion for the 2020/ 2021 Financial Year. Within this allocation, P2.188 Billion is for the Development Budget and P1.010 Billion will cover the Recurrent Budget.

The Minister revealed his strategic interventions for land management, water and sanitation services. Highlighting that efforts by Government to provide serviced residential land to citizens on the waiting list are being hampered by limited resources. He shared that his ministry needs P94 Billion to cover such costs which will directly link to water, sewage, roads, electricity, telecommunications and storm water drainage leading to the allocation of 4 587 plots on un-serviced land.

The minister projected that 22 952 un-serviced residential plots are planned to be allocated in the next financial year. However, there is a trend where allocated land remains fallow and undeveloped which raises misgivings that the requests could have been made on speculative plans.

Mzwinila noted that in the spirit of forging stronger International connections, the Ministry will in June 2021 sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Land matters between Namibia and Botswana with the aim of opening doors to the creation of Dry Ports in the country, facilitate international trade through Walvis Bay Sea Port.

Botswana is already challenged by scarcity of naturally occurring water resources due to the aridity of the country creating persistent water shortages. The type of infrastructure required to improve national water security is a true reflection of intensive investment needed in the water sector The Minister stressed.

“An emerging issue such as the COVID -19 pandemic poses serious challenges as the control of the virus requires reliable water supply. In an effort to mitigate the challenge, the Ministry has undertaken extensive bowsing throughout the country which included the provision of additional capacity for supplementary bowsing to areas with pervasive water shortages, plus an additional forty one (41) un-gazetted settlements.

Operational costs due to bowsing were at an average of P6 Million per month before the COVID-19 pandemic and increased to an unsustainable amount of the order of P13 Million per month, since the beginning of the State of Emergency in April 2020,” the minister shared.

Through the support of a World Bank Loan, the Ministry is implementing several initiatives under the Botswana Emergency Water Security and Efficiency (BEWSE) project. Through BEWSE the Raw Water Pricing and Abstraction Strategy will assess the pricing of water in a manner that enables the provision of water to support new economic development, the strategy is planned to be completed in June 2021.

The Ministry has commenced the development of a long term National Water Security Strategy to improve resilience to climate change impacts. The strategy development entails prioritization of the proposed future mega water transfers such as the Chobe – Zambezi water transfer, the Atlantic Ocean water transfer to Botswana through Namibia and Lesotho – Botswana water transfer.

Following the signing of the tripartite Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa in November 2017 for the Lesotho –Botswana Water Transfer project, a 24 months contract for a combined prefeasibility and feasibility study for the development of a bankable Lesotho – Botswana Water Transfer project feasibility study was signed and is to be completed in 2022.

One of the Ministry’s famous major water supply projects such as the North South Carrier (NSC) 2.2 has experienced hiccups; having tenders for contract 1 (Masama to Mmamashia Pipeline) and Contract 2 (Mahalapye to Masama Pipeline) cancelled due to budgetary constraints.

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Will Botswana’s Climate Change policy climax?

12th April 2021
Botswana Climate

The Botswana Climate Change policy draft of 2021 was tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Philda Kereng for consideration and adoption.

The policy attempts to indicate the country’s environmentally conscious development agenda as Substantial resources are being dedicated to research and policy efforts to mitigate climate change and support adaptation to the current and future impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Kereng indicated that Botswana is not immune to the impacts of climate change and it continues to delay the country’s national development efforts and that the key economic development sectors dependent on the climate system have recorded declines over the years due to the variability of the rainfall and other climatic conditions. Experts elsewhere have pointed out that lack of consideration of population dynamics hampers the development of stronger, more effective solutions to the challenges climate change poses – hopefully this policy if effectively implemented could partly answer this question.

Kereng underscored that sectors such as agriculture, water, bio diversity, health and tourism have suffered the most and the consequences of these have contributed significantly to the decline of livelihoods in Botswana especially in rural areas.

To respond to the changing climate, Botswana has embarked on sectoral reform such as climate smart agriculture, poverty alleviation initiatives, building resilience on the economic productive sectors, diversification of tourism for the improvement of livelihoods and income generation, local economic development and sustainable environment.

The efforts require a coordinated mechanism that will provide an enabling environment for an integrated approach to the formulation and implantation of development plans and socio economic related policies in Botswana that are responsive to the changing climatic conditions.

Minister Kereng explained the draft policy is characterized by an inclusive and integrated approach to social, economic development and governance modalities that would enable the country to achieve a sustainable development pathway. It provides opportunities for improved livelihoods through creation of green jobs, development and transfer of relevant technologies as well as creation and ease of access to both local and international markets. It also commits the government, private sector and non-state actors to adopt adaptation and mitigation measures that would facilitate sustainability and building of resilience of all sectors.

While Members of Parliament were trying to comprehend the policy, this publication got in touch with Green Botswana to solicit their views on the policy draft. Ms. Sela Motshwane, the Founder of the Trust highlighted that “the Climate Change policy was meant to be read in August 2019. It is long overdue, and we all need to see it and understand it in full.

I understand the current budget does not allow for a full implementation- but I could be wrong. More funds could have been allocated since. I think generally, Batswana need to understand fully what this means to our daily lives. I believe the true understanding is by policy drafters and the Ministry of Environment only.”

In the same vein, Green Botswana Trust took to the streets to provide a community solution to climate change on World Health Day (Wednesday). Green Botswana held a “Free Trees for Babies” at Extension 2 Clinic where fruit trees were gifted to parents, expectant mothers, 25 health workers, police officers and the prison officers who had accompanied prisoners to the clinic.

Motshwane said: “The decision to do the “Free Trees for Babies” by gifting fruit trees was to raise awareness to our imminent food security issue as stated by the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Mr. Thabang Botshoma and encourage the general public to plant a tree so that we can reach our SGD Goal 13 : Climate Action. The trees gifted are to be named after the baby recipient”.

Green Botswana is calling for the urgent action from government and members of the public to create a culture of community accountability and collegiality in moving Botswana towards climate action and sustainability. To achieve the 2030 Paris Agreement Pledge, it will take all citizens and not just the government to reach goals.

Parliament resolved to adopt the Botswana Climate Change Policy, 2021.

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