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BCA’s P160 million makeover on slippery grounds

The government’s move to transform the beleaguered Botswana College of Agriculture (BCA) into a sound, fully-fledged new university is said to be marred with mismanagement of resources and generally poor management.


It is understood that although the transformation agenda will cost the new institution a whooping 160 million pula to make it become an agricultural university of international repute, there are strong rumours doing the rounds inside the corridors of the BCA that the money is being spent willy-nilly. The transformation exercise, sources say, is treading on thin ice.


Of the 160 million pula earmarked for the university, 70% of the total is from government coffers, while BCA will contribute 30% which will be generated from student fees and revenue from the farm produce. The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) has also allocated the College a substantial 10 million pula as part of the transformation exercise.  


When explaining the plump budget of the transformation, BCA Acting Principal Dr. Mataba Tapela, who also oversees the massive project, told Weekend Post that the budget in part will be used for recruitment of principal officials i.e. Vice Chancellor and the Deputies, Consultancies to develop the structure, Conditions of Service, Development of Faculties, Consultations, Benchmarking and Rebranding and Marketing.


This publication has gathered that there is growing animosity between the BCA management and employees with regard to the hefty transformation budget and the way it’s being spent. “So much is happening in the College: there is mismanagement of resources and generally poor management which has been going on for some time now,” an inside source, who preferred anonymity for fear of victimisation pointed out to this publication.


“As for the transformation money, part of the management is running around retreats with their chosen few and having cocktails and after parties at every opportunity,” he lamented.

    
According to the insider, he believes the BCA Executive management is made up of people who lack the understanding of the basic principles of management.


“There are so many unresolved issues, some basic, which they continually fail to address. If things are left as they are, the college will never reach its goal of transforming to a reputable university. The government is losing money already, and this can be addressed by engaging experienced consultants to assist us to transform.”


Weekend Post has established that currently there is an ongoing benchmarking exercise that saw the College spending close to an astonishing 1 million pula (only for benchmarking) and, this did not go down well with some staff members at the agricultural college.


It is understood that a union representative who went to enquire on what was happening was also given a slot to join the team to America and has since kept quiet. It is said that this has in turn divided the union committee members and  meetings are no longer convened as the representative now says members are now ‘jealous’ of him.


The inside source also asserted that more shocking is the terms of reference for the benchmarking teams: “how do you benchmark records management in America. And worst of all is that, no records management unit employee is involved in the exercise.” Conversely Dr. Tapela said that the Records Management employee who is among the Benchmarking team is a member nominated by the Union to represent the Staff Union.


More information turned up by Weekend Post suggests that the team is mostly made up of staff members who are not even performing at their respective offices and the criteria used is not known.


“Even the composition of the transformation team is shocking as the team is made up of people who are not and have never been exposed to such a huge project, but are loyal of the Acting Principal. The Governing Council is never given detailed information, and ends up making un-informed decisions that do not help the college,” he maintained.


Some BCA employees are said to be generally not happy with the transformation exercise and believe they are being neglected on the process.


Information reaching this publication further indicates that: “the Acting Principal has divided the employees and taken a leading hand in transforming the college on his own. No consultation was ever done with staff, except one or so general meetings in which staff members were told about the bill, but never had an opportunity to be consulted during the development of the draft.”


In justifying the costly benchmarking, Dr. Tapela said that there was the first phase which was benchmarking desktop to understand the best practices across the world, and then there was the second phase which consisted of regional travel to universities in Malawi, South Africa, Namibia. The third phase is travel to top universities in America, Europe and Australia, he added.


The international benchmarking team, he said consists of representatives from the Governing Council, Executive management, Academic Division, Administrative Division, and the Staff Union. The international benchmarking trips are on-going and will be completed at the end of October 2015.


The Acting principal emphasized that the objectives of the benchmarking exercise are to undertake: functional benchmarking – which focus on functional areas in the benchmarked university such as Human Resources, Finance, Information and Communication Technology, and Institutional Planning, and secondly, Process Benchmarking – which focuses on improving specific critical processes and operations especially in Academic Affairs and Student Services.


“These are critical areas that are core to smooth function of the new university and therefore have been given priority,” he stressed.


However, according to Dr. Tapela, the transformation team is at different levels being the Core Team, the Reference Committee, the Governing Council Transformation Sub-Committee and the Governing Council. “These are the people who drive the Vision and have professional expertise in Academic, Human Resource, Finance, Information Technology, Student Affairs etc.”


He pointed out that where expertise lacks, Consultants are engaged, for example, in the development of the schemes of service and conditions of service. Benchmarking also plays an important role to guide on the best practices across the world, he said.


However the Acting Principal insisted that there was a thorough consultation with all stakeholders. He asserted that the Transformation Plan was developed through a process of upward and downward consultation of staff representatives, student representatives, the Governing Council and the public.


“The structure of the development team consisted of a Core Team which did the drafting and reported to a Reference Committee of more than 50 people composed of representatives from Academic Staff, Support staff, the Staff Union and Students.”  


He also said that the general staff was periodically updated during staff meetings. The most recent consultation and update was from the 10th-12th September, 2015 when workshops were conducted for different groups of staff in Setswana on the first day, and English on the second day, he recalled.


The third day, he said was dedicated to student consultations and the program included transformation updates, consultations, change management and motivational presentations.


“These platforms provided opportunity for staff and students to express their concerns, suggestions and recommendations. The proceedings were recorded and recommendations duly considered. Other platforms include departmental boards, and open fora.”


Dr. Tapela said other consultation with concerned stakeholders (including University of Botswana) and planning for the new Faculties is on-going, and four Faculty conveners have been appointed to facilitate establishment of new faculties and rationalization of academic staff.


The BCA Acting Principal also revealed that a consultancy to review the proposed University structure, develop job profiles, grade positions and propose a remuneration structure will be completed next year (2016) in January.


The transformation will see the new institution operating as an independent entity from the University of Botswana. BCA currently enrolls around 1 000 students and the number is anticipated to heighten to an estimated 5 000 at the new BUAN. It is anticipated that a full rollout of the Transition will commence at the beginning of the 2016/17 financial year.


The (BUAN) Bill establishing the new university was passed by parliament on 16 July 2015, and this publication has gathered that President Ian Khama has since assented to the Bill and the College expects the new BUAN Act to commence on 1st December 2015.


BCA was established on 31st May 1991 through Act no. 9 of the Parliament of Botswana. The Act abolished the then Botswana Agricultural College (BAC) which had existed since 1967.


The new university is also believed it will address the national development priorities of food security, rural development, economic diversification, youth empowerment and sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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