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Parley probes Transport Ministry projects

P320 million cost overruns in audited road works

Two public road works completed recently, have attracted the attention of the Office of the Auditor General after the cost overruns amounted to over P320 million.      

The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament last week, held value for money audits, in the process questioning the cost overruns where The Department of Roads is said to have over expended P300 million in two road projects that were completed recently.

The Western bypass-Metsimotlhabe road project which was initially priced at about P400 million ended up costing the ministry about P644 million. While the Gaborone-Tlokweng border gate road was estimated at about P376 million but ended up drawing more than P454 million from the government coffers.

In both projects, the consultancy fees doubled from initial contract cost to final cost with, Tloweng road consultancy fees raking in P20,1 million from P9,8 million while the Western bypass-Metsimotlhabe road fees reached P21 million from the initial P8,9 million.

PAC members were uncomfortable with the use of consulting engineers who design and then go on to supervise road works.

While the parliamentary committee would have liked to see some segregation of roles in the projects, the accounting officer at the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Permanent Secretary, Goitsemang Morekisi said that: “When the one who designed the road works, does not supervise the project, the new supervisor will in turn, say that they did not design it and will not accept responsibility or they will also want to make changes to the designs; so it is a challenge there. But we are not saying that it is not possible for roads designed by one to be supervised by another.”

In an interview with BusinessPost, Morekisi, said that as a Ministry, they acknowledge that cost overruns of projects have been a concern, but the advice from the Office of the Auditor General, is already helping to define and tighten processes.

“It is about expertise in the design stage,” adding that, “We do not want to crowd out the private sector; what we need to do is that our staff supervises the supervising contractors,”

The PAC (Public Accounts Committee) felt that consulting engineers were in a position to delay projects and stretch their earnings.

“Rather than to have our own people there, we should have only one engineer on site supervising say 30 people at the works,” said Morekisi.

“The engineer recommends to the Roads department, if there is need for a review of contract pricing, that is why we are saying that we as the permanent secretaries will now be involved in approving these reviews; that is where we have been lacking and the audit has advised that we tighten up there,” said Morekisi. She admitted that internal processes often delay projects from the design stage to the implementation stages.

In future, consultants will be held to account for cost overruns, Morekisi affirmed.


 Morekisi said there are other factors that contributed to cost overruns including the raising of value added tax from 10 to 12 percent as well as the intermittent workers strikes in neighbouring South Africa that affect timely procurement of materials.  

“Because of the strikes that happened in South Africa, we had problems in getting bitumen from that side and that also contributed to the escalation of prices,”
Morekisi noted that the parliamentary committee emphasised the need to review cost projections of projects that were on hold, after the global recession hit, as there will be a need to adjust for inflation. This is meant to avoid distortion of project price projections that add to cost overruns.

MOHEMBO AND KAZUNGULA

The long planned Mohembo Bridge on the North Western tip of Botswana, had good social benefits but the economic value was difficult to justify for financiers. “Looking at the social benefits of the Bridge which will connect some villages such as Seronga, with others, we looked at how we can scale down the designs and make it more affordable and now it will be going to tender,” said permanent secretary, Morekisi. The 1162 metre bridge will be the longest in the southern Africa region when completed.


“The Kazungula Bridge project consists of three parts; the bridge, the Botswana side and the Zambian side.”


“While Zambia can get concessionary financing from the likes of African Development Bank, we as a middle income country had to access funding from JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency),” said Morekisi.


“During the opening of tenders, there were three companies that satisfied the tender requirements for the final shortlist, a Korean company, a Chinese company and a Japanese company,” she explained.


“There was a seven month delay, when the Japanese insisted on the disqualification of the other companies, even when they satisfied the criteria.”


Construction of the much anticipated P1.4 billion Kazungula Bridge is also expected to get under after delays due to financing. With the start of National Development Plan 11 next year, the construction will get under, said Morekisi. The project was meant to start early in 2015 after the two hosting countries, Botswana and Zambia, signed a contract agreement with the contractor, Daewoo Engineering and Construction.
 

vmatumo@weekendpost.co.bw

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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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