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Batswana Sue SA Finance Minister

More than twenty Botswana citizens who were active in the struggle for liberation against apartheid have dragged the South African government to court in a class action that seeks to overturn the decision by the Special Pension Administration to reject their applications for special pension, amid allegations of fraud, corruption and maladministration of the multibillion Rand Special Pension fund.



Cited as respondents before the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria are; the National Treasury, Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene, Special Pensions Appeal Board and the Government Pensions Administration. The Applicants accuse the Administration of administrative bungling, incompetence and conflict of interest.

They will argue that one senior staff member of the National Treasury's special pensions is not a fit and proper person to hold his current position because of his criminal record, after being found guilty of statutory corruption for stealing by servant under the prevention of corruption act and parole infringement.

He reportedly bought a R4 million house while working for the fund under mysterious circumstances even though he does not have the means to do so.

Court papers indicate litigants will further argue that Jonathan suffers from conflict of interest because he worked for VENDZULU – a consultancy firm that was previously engaged by the Administration for capacity building.

A confidential report prepared by a task force to sniff out rampant looting and maladministration of the fund reported that a consultancy employ(ed) their own staff under the Special Pensions programme, yet their personnel was paid separately by the Special Pensions, resulting in massive financial gain to the consultancy. 

The consulting group also reportedly advertised a critical post, staffed it with unqualified personnel of their choice and trained these employees afterwards to fit the profile of the posts. The finding appears to refer to Jonathan as well because even though he did not meet the specified requirements for the position, he was recruited by the consulting group and later taken for short training tailor made to meet the job profile and competencies for the job.

Millions of Rands have reportedly been looted through massive fraud using ghost beneficiaries and stealing from deserving cases by the staff of the Administration. Batswana applicants who clearly met the requirement for pension suspect they are likely to have been defrauded in the same manner after their applications were approved but the money later diverted.



The Applicants, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, are challenging both the decision of the Special Pension Administration and the Special Pension Appeals Board to reject their applications on the basis amongst others, that their applications were submitted late after the cut-off date of 31 December 2006, failed to provide proof of full time service and further that they should also apply to the Department of Home Affairs to determine their eligibility for South African citizenship. 



The Applicants argue to the contrary that the grounds advanced by the administration and the board were fatally flawed, spurious, arbitrary, capricious and failed to take into account relevant factors nor were they rationally connected to the information before the court or the reasons  given and therefore were unreasonable because no reasonable person could have arrived at such a decision. 



They accuse the Administration of administrative bungling because the reasons to provide full time service are not the true reasons for rejecting their applications and neither were their applications submitted late.

To the contrary, the adjudicators who considered their applications had in fact conceded that there were in full time service and they met the requirement for eligibility for South African citizenship because they were either South African by birth and descent or at one time held South African citizenship.

They want the court to review and set aside the decision not to award them Special Pension as it unfairly dismisses their contribution to the struggle for the liberation of South Africa. The Pensions appeals board’s decision to dismiss the application of the applicants also affects many other citizens of Botswana and Namibia.



They applied for Special Pension in 2006 but their applications were either lost or misplaced by staff at the South African High Commission in Gaborone.

This has been confirmed in an affidavit by the former First Secretary of the Commission Nathaniel Serache who in an affidavit before the court stated that "unfortunately the forms were misplaced by members of staff at the South African Commission in Gaborone where I served as First Secretary while preparing the office where the forms were kept for a new staff member to occupy the office", he further confirmed that the Applicants indeed filled out the Special Pension applications forms that went missing.



While their applications were rejected inter-alia on the grounds that they had not approached the Department of Home Affairs to determine their eligibility for South African citizenship, the applicants dismiss the contention as flawed and baseless because "other Botswana citizens have had their special pension paid, without requiring material proof of their citizenship, and without the requirement of completing the determination of citizenship status."

These include among others, Mrs GMJ Mokgosi of Pitsane in Barolong Farms, David Modikwagae Aphiri of Mochudi, Michael Kitso Dingake of Bobonong, Fish Keitseng of Kanye, and Motsamai Mpho of Maun. However, the applications of many other equally deserving  applicants either bona fide SA citizens or those eligible for South African citizenship and with an impeccable track record of having been at the fore-front of the liberation struggle such as that of Frank Ikaneng Modise who was exiled in the UK were rejected.



This is despite the fact that Frank Modise together with Fish Keitseng were MK veterans and together hosted Nelson Mandela in Lobatse in 1962. Modise was co-founder and organizer of the then United Tobacco Workers Union, a former affiliate of COSATU. 

He was engaged in full time service for the ANC, played a major role in the Zeerust uprising of the 1950s, coordinated its legal defence and conducted underground operations in support of the detainees of the Zeerust uprisings at the courts in Zeerust, Rustenburg and Pretoria.

He was detained and tortured on many occasions by the apartheid police before fleeing via Botswana to the UK where he continued be central in arranging humanitarian, financial, logistical, and educational opportunities for many South African refugees and the ANC. Modise later passed on in London as a result of complications consistent with the injuries he sustained due to torture at the hands of the apartheid police. 



By contrast, Mrs Mokgodi was awarded a service period of 25 years after the Special Pension Administration accepted and was convinced that she was engaged full time in the service of a political organization in terms of Section 1 of the Special Pension Act 69 of 1996.

The Applicants on the other hand maintain they have locus standi to bring the matter before the court because they have exhausted all local remedies and it has become apparent that there is no other reasonable and effective manner in which the challenge can be made particularly since the applicants have tried various political means to obtain clarity as to the procedural fairness, lawfulness and reasonableness of the DHA decision.



The Applicants hope the court will make an order equally applicable to other applicants in a similar position and other potential applicants who might not be part of the court process in the public interest so that their contribution to the struggle is not denied and trampled upon through unlawful administrative action.

They also want the Administration’s decision that Batswana and Namibian Applicants should submit a determination of citizenship to the Department of Home Affairs before the Board could consider their appeals to be reviewed and set aside and declared unlawful.

According to them, the delay in bringing the case before the court is an indication of how difficult it can be to challenge the Administration's decision for rejecting their applications for Special Pension.

Most of the applicants do not have the financial means to obtain legal representation since alternative amicable settlements have failed. The court process therefore provided that the only opportunity to challenge the administration’s decision of the Board was by providing evidence in court.

“Other special pension applicants have not had that opportunity and some have passed away and their dependents may not be able to act on their behalf,” they maintain. They fought against apartheid and made real sacrifices towards achievement of South Africa's democracy by risking their personal safety in order to further the cause of freedom and equality in South Africa.



In 2011, Finance Minister Nene was forced to retract his statement following public outcry after he lied to the Parliament standing committee on finance claiming "considerable progress" and that the special pension unit had drastically reduced the backlog for pension applications citing misleading and inflated numbers.

Parliament was informed by Jonathan of many cases of fraud and corruption in the form of fake biographies which were referred to the Special Investment stagnation Unit and the Hawks. 

A special task force investigation corruption revealed how virtually the whole Bizana community, in the Eastern Cape were defrauded and denied the opportunity to apply for pensions by a syndicate made up of Administration officials who used extortion, selling application forms at R500 each.

The Administration failed to take action against officials involved claiming the syndicate did not defraud the state but applicants despite operating as representatives of the fund. The task force opined that fraudulent activities continued unabated among the Administration personnel but no measures were taken to address the problem.

The Administration officials reportedly frustrated the Hawks investigations by refusing to produce all relevant documents. The criminal syndicate of the administration officials was able to produce fake ID documents, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates and using false bank accounts. At least R1 million was intercepted by the task force before it was transferred into a bank account by the syndicate.

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Botswana’s development agenda in jeopardy

21st September 2020
Botswana’s-development-agenda-in-jeopardy--water-construction

Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review indicates that Botswana will fail to meet some of its Vision 2036 targets, particularly unemployment reduction and reaching high-income status.

The report says this is mainly due to the slow economic growth that the country is currently experiencing. This Quarterly Economic Review focuses on the 2020 Budget Speech.

The first paper reviews the entire budget with its key observations being that this budget is prepared as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act; the priorities it seeks to address are drawn from Vision 2036 and the eleventh

The 2020 budget Speech, which was the maiden speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, and the first after the 2019 general elections, was delivered to Parliament on the 4th of February 2020.

It has been well received by the labour unions, business community, and the public at large as well as international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It mainly derived its support from key facets including, emphasis on changing the business-as-usual approach to development; outlining the transformation agenda; fiscal reform that minimizes the negative impact on economic development and human welfare, competiveness and the decision to implement the 2019 negotiated and agreed public sector.

The budget’s progress review shows that economic growth was consistent with the NDP 11 projections, with growth of around 4 percent. At this growth rate, the country would neither ascend to a high-income status nor reduce unemployment towards the Vision 2036 target of a single digit.

Simple calculations of this review confirm that the economy will need to grow the Vision 2036’s target of 6 percent over the next 16 years for per capita income to increase from around USD 8,000.00 to above USD 12,000.00 in current prices.

Further, the population is anticipated to grow by only 2 percent per annum.

For this reason, the focal areas for the forthcoming FY’s budget include measures to increase economic growth towards an average of 6 percent per annum.

Economic diversification is reportedly progressing fairly well. The report says, the share of the non-mining private sector in value added has risen to 66 percent in 2018 from to 63 percent in 2015.

The sectoral pattern of growth showed that the performance of services sector (particularly transport & communications, trade, hotels & restaurants, and finance & business services) has been the silver lining and that of mining sector was subdued whilst the utility sector disappointed.

The drive towards the service sector of the economy, especially to low-productivity activities (tourism, public administration, wholesaling and retailing) does not bode well for the country’s development aspirations.

In the previous versions of this Quarterly Review, it was noted that there is need for the rethinking of economic diversification. Since the country’s domestic market is small, it is inevitable that economic diversification not only focus on broadening the product mix, but also the composition of exports and markets.

This understanding of economic diversification has not been embraced by this year’s budget. Consequently, Botswana’s exports are still overwhelmingly diamonds, which means that the rest of economic sectors are still highly dependent on foreign-exchange earnings from diamonds. Thus, “the transformation programme requires a review of the country’s entire ecosystem”.

The budget review of the economic context also depicts that an economy with positive medium-term prospects, with growth expected to recover to 4.4 percent in 2020 from the expected growth of 36 percent in 2019 largely due to faster growth of services sectors and, thereafter, to slow-down to 4 percent in 2021.

These projected growth rates are comparable to those of the IMF staff’s baseline scenario of 4.2 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2021. Thus, the business-as-usual scenario produces growth rates that are still too low to achieve Botswana’s development objectives and create enough jobs to absorb the new entrants into the labour market.

Trade tensions between the two major markets for diamond exports, viz., the United States of America and China, is one of the factors that are cited as contributing to, indeed, undermining not only the domestic growth, but also the fiscal position.

Another notable downside risk to both global and domestic growth is outbreak of the coronavirus in China around January 2020. This has been declared as a global health emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Chinese authorities have ordered city lockdowns and extended holidays, of course, at the expense of near- term economic growth, according to the new Stanbic Bank Botswana report.

According to Nomura Holdings Inc., fewer migrant workers returned for work than in previous years and business activities have been slow to pick up. The havoc wreaked by the virus on the world’s second largest economy is likely to spill over to the global economy. In fact, it has resulted in a glut in crude oil and, thereby placed oil markets into a contango, i.e., a market structure where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts.

It also presents significant risks one of Botswana’s main drivers of economic growth, diversification and foreign exchange earnings. According to the Financial Times (February 13, 2020), Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018. Regardless of whether the growth materializes, the projected domestic growth rate would not transform the economy to a high-income one.

Progress towards reduction of unemployment, to a target of single digit, and poverty and achieving inclusive growth has also been relatively slow, the Stanbic Bank Botswana Review says.

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OP leases Orapa House

21st September 2020
Orapa House

Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MOPAGPA) has through the Office of the President (OP) proposed to avail Orapa House for use by private training institutions as well as research institutions involved in the area of technology development.

For a very long time the monumental building located in the heart of the city has been a white elephant, despite government purchasing it for nearly P80 million from De Beers in 2012.

However, government has now identified a productive use for the iconic building. “The overall vision is for the building to be transformed into a hub for digital technology research and development to be carried-out by institutions, such as; Limkokwing University, BIUST, BITRI and other relevant stakeholders.”

The decision was taken as government traverse a new path of transforming the economy from a mineral led economy to a knowledge based economy through the promotion of research and innovation. However, the facility will need major maintenance to be carried-out in order to meet the requirements of the proposed change in use.

“The work will include provision of laboratories, work stations, production areas and seminar rooms; audio visual centre, high speed internet connectivity, exhibition areas and offices,” reads the proposal note for the development.

These developments will be done through the refurbishment and maintenance of the main building, workshop, and ablution block, gate house, parking area, grounds, and access control and security service.

“There will be minimal modifications to the structure as it stands. The project is estimated to cost approximately P50, 000, 000,” says the report. In this regard, it is said, the initial scope of the OP facility will be modified to accommodate the envisaged digital technology research and development hub.

With funds needed to improve the building, OP has requested that; “the 2020/21 annual budget provision for Orapa House will need to be increased by P37,500,000 from P2,500,000 to P40,000,000 to kick start the maintenance works.” Funds will be sourced from the projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19 protocols during the 2020/21 financial year.

The building has been a thorny issue for government for years. Initially, OP was expected to move there but the move never materialised. At one point it was a question of whether the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development were planning to override a decision by Parliament which rejected the proposal to buy Orapa House under the belief that government may be buying its own property. The building was to be bought at a negotiated cost of P79 million.

Again in 2012, Government had wanted to buy Orapa House for a negotiated P79m but the Finance and Estimates Committee of Parliament had rejected the request because of the inconsistencies realised in the supporting documents of the proposed procurement. The valuation of the building was put at P74 million.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing had initially offered De Beers P73, 000,000 as the purchase price. However, De Beers countered with P85, 000,000. On negotiation and converging of the minds, the selling price was finally agreed at P79, 000,000.

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Sad state of Brigades: dumped and ignored!

21st September 2020
Brigades

Auditor General, Pulane Letebele, has expressed discontentment at the worrying and deteriorating state of brigades in the country.

In an audit inspection which was carried out at Tshwaragano Brigade in Gabane, a number of observations showed weaknesses and shortcomings in the conduct of the financial affairs of the institution.

According to Letebele’s report, former students of the brigade had been engaged to carry out maintenance works on the school premises, comprising of painting, tiling, plumbing and electrical works, which covered the period from July 2017 to June 2018.

Although the agreed maintenance period had elapsed, the works had not been completed because of unavailability of funds and this situation had persisted up till the time of inspection in November 2019.

Auditor General says arrangements should have been made in time for funds to be available to complete these relatively minor works even before the works commenced.

Various contractors had been engaged for clearing the bush and for the supply of concrete stones, pit and river sand and hiring equipment for digging the trench towards the construction of an auto mechanics workshop, the report said.

It stated that the cost of services and supplies provided totalled P117 949.80. However, despite the services and the supplies having been paid for, the construction works had not commenced for a long period afterwards, resulting in the trench filling back in.

The audit inquiries had not elicited satisfactory responses as both the institution and the Ministry had not accepted the responsibility for the project, although orders for the provision for the supplies had been made. For their part, the Ministry had stated that they had sub warranted funds for the purchase of porta cabins.

Letebele indicated that it is therefore confusing that a project which is critical to the functioning of an institution such as this one would commence without a well-defined plan.

Furthermore, the accounting and maintenance of records for the supplies items were not of the standard prescribed by the Supplies Regulations and Procedures in that the supplies ledger cards, the main accounting records for Government assets, were not properly maintained for the recording of receipts and issues.

This had resulted in significant discrepancies between physical and ledger balances, while in other instances the supplies items had not been recorded at all.

The report says 24 of the 91 new computers found in the computer laboratory at Kumakwane ABC campus were not recorded anywhere, as were the other computers in the storeroom which could not be counted due to the disorderly storage conditions.

The institution had entered into a contract agreement with a security company for the provision of security services at Tshwaragano Brigade, ABC and Horticulture campuses at Kumakwane for a 2-year period which ended in June 2018, WeekendPost learnt.

After the contract expired in June 2018, an extension was granted till the 30th September 2018. Since then, there has been no security service coverage for the institution to-date. According to Auditor General, in the face of prevailing crimes, it is of paramount importance that government properties be protected by provision of security services at all times.

At Tlokweng Brigade, it was noted that the kitchen staff were working under difficult conditions as the kitchen facilities and equipment, such as the cold room, tilting pot, food warmers and solar power for hot water were dysfunctional. The kitchen roof was leaking and men’s restrooms was not working. All these need to be brought to a reasonable and functional state of repair.

The kitchen staff should use a purpose-designed Rations Ledger for the recording of receipts and issues of foodstuffs to reflect the usage of those items. As far back as 2014 the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services had found that the house occupied by the bursar was uninhabitable on account of structural defects, the report said.

A site visit during the audit had established that the house was indeed unfit for occupation as there were cracks on the walls, power switches were not working and the roof was leaking. On a sadder note, there were a number of finished items of clothing, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets from students’ practical exercises from the Fashion Design Textiles Workshop.

Auditor General shared her take on this, saying: “I have not been able to ascertain the policy on the disposal of products from these practicals. A trace of 103 green acid-proof overalls which had been purchased in August 2018 had indicated that there was no record of these items having been recorded or issued, nor were they available in stock. I was not able to obtain any explanation for this situation.”

Kgatleng brigade was also audited and inspected by Auditor General who observed that the brigade has 26 institutional houses at Bokaa, both old campus and new campus. Some of these houses are very old and dilapidated, with two declared uninhabitable. The condition of the houses is a clear indication of lack of care and maintenance of these properties.

At the time of the audit, there was no contractor engaged for the provision of security guard services at the new campus, after expiry of the previous one in July 2019.  It is hoped that steps would be taken to safeguard the security of the premises and government properties against any acts of hooliganism.

In August 2019, there was a break-in at the electrical and at the plumbing maintenance workshops and a number of high value items, such as drilling machines, bolt cutters, spanners and cables, were stolen. The break-in and theft were reported to the police.

“However, at the time of writing this report I was not aware of the outcome of the police investigation, nor of any loss report submitted in terms of the Supplies Regulations and Procedures,” Letebele said.

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