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.
The United States (US) will on the 3rd of November 2020 chose between incumbent Donald Trump of the Republicans and former Vice President Joe Biden of the Democrats amid the coronavirus pandemics, which has affected how voting is conducted in the world’s biggest economy.
Trump (74) seeks re-election after trouncing Hillary Clinton in 2016, while Biden (77) is going for his first shot as Democratic nominee after previous unsuccessful spells.
US Presidents mostly succeed in their re-election bid, but there have been nine individuals who failed to garner a second term mandate, the latest being George W H. Bush, a Republican who served as the 41st US President between 1989 and 1993.
Dr Mark Rozell, a Dean of the School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia describes the complex US electoral system that will deliver the winner at the 3rd November elections.
“The founders of our Republic de-centralised authority significantly in creating our constitutional system, which means that they gave an enormous amount of independent power and authority to State and local governments,” Dr Rozell told international media on Elections 2020 Virtual Reporting Tour.
Unlike parliamentary democracies, like Botswana the United States does not have all of the national government elected in one year. They do not have what is commonly called mandate elections where the entire federal government is elected all in one election cycle giving a “mandate” to a particular political party to lead, and instead US have what are called staggered elections, elections over time.
The two house Congress, members of the House of Representatives have two-year long terms of office. Every two years the entire House of Representatives is up for re-election, but senators serve for six years and one third of the Senate is elected every two years.
For this election cycle, US citizens will be electing the President and Vice
President, the entire House of Representatives and one third of the open or contested seats in the Senate, whereas two thirds are still fulfilling the remainder of their terms beyond this year.
An important facet of US electoral system to understand given the federalism nature of the republic, the US elect presidents State by State, therefore they do not have a national popular vote for the presidency.
“We have a national popular vote total that says that Hillary Clinton got three million more votes than Donald Trump or in Year 2000 that Al Gore got a half million more votes than George W. Bush, but we have what is called a State by State winner takes all system where each State is assigned a number of electors to our Electoral College and the candidate who wins the popular vote within each State takes 100 percent of the electors to the Electoral College,” explained Dr Rozell.
“And that is why mathematically, it is possible for someone to win the popular vote but lose the presidency.”
Dr Rozell indicated that in 2016, Hillary Clinton won very large popular majorities in some big population States like California, but the system allows a candidate to only have to win a State by one vote to win a 100 percent of its electors, the margin does not matter.
“Donald Trump won many more States by smaller margins, hence he got an Electoral College majority.”
Another interesting features by the way of US constitutional system, according to Dr Rozell, but extremely rare, is what is called the faithless elector.
“That’s the elector to the Electoral College who says, ‘I’m not going to vote the popular vote in my State, I think my State made a bad decision and I’m going to break with the popular vote,’’ Dr Rozell said.
“That’s constitutionally a very complicated matter in our federalism system because although the federal constitution says electors may exercise discretion, most States have passed State laws making it illegal for any elector to the Electoral College to break faith with the popular vote of that State, it is a criminal act that can be penalized if one is to do that. And we just had an important Supreme Court case that upheld the right of the states to impose and to enforce this restriction”
There are 538 electors at the Electoral College, 270 is the magic number, the candidate who gets 270 or more becomes President of the United States.
If however there are more candidates, and this happens extremely rarely, and a third candidate got some electors to the Electoral College denying the two major party candidates, either one getting a majority, nobody gets 270 or more, then the election goes to the House of Representatives and the House of Representatives votes among the top three vote getters as to who should be the next President.
“You’d have to go back to the early 19th century to have such a scenario, and that’s not going to happen this year unless there is a statistical oddity, which would be a perfect statistical tie of 269 to 269 which could happen but you can just imagine how incredibly unlikely that is,” stated Dr Rozell.
BLUE STATES vs RED STATES
Since the 2000 United States presidential election, red states and blue states have referred to states of the United States whose voters predominantly choose either the Republican Party (red) or Democratic Party (blue) presidential candidates.
Many states have populations that are so heavily concentrated in the Democratic party or the Republican party that there is really no competition in those states.
California is a heavily Democratic State, so is New York and Maryland. It is given that Joe Biden will win those states. Meanwhile Texas, Florida and Alabama are republicans. So, the candidates will spent no time campaigning in those states because it is already a given.
However there are swing states, where there is a competition between about five and 10 states total in each election cycle that make a difference, and that is where the candidates end up spending almost all of their time.
“So it ends up making a national contest for the presidency actually look like several state-wide contests with candidates spending a lot of time talking about State and local issues in those parts of the country,” said Dr Rozell.
High Commissioner of the Federal Government of Nigeria to Botswana, His Excellency Umar Zainab Salisu, has challenged President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi to move swiftly and lobby Africa’s richest man, Nigerian Billionaire, Aliko Dangote to invest in Botswana.
Speaking during a meeting with President Masisi at Office of President on Thursday Zainab Salisu said Dangote has expressed massive interest in setting up billion dollar industries in Botswana. “We have a lot of investors who wish to come and invest in Botswana , when we look at Botswana we don’t see Botswana itself , but we are lured by its geographic location , being in the centre of Southern Africa presents a good opportunity for strategic penetration into other markets of the region,” said Salisu.
As murder cases and violent incidents involving couples and or lovers continue to be recorded daily, Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Dr Unity Dow has called for more funding of non-governmental organizations and accelerated action from government to come up with laws that could inhibit would-be perpetrators of crimes related to Gender Based Violence (GBV).
Just after Dr Dow had deposited her views on this subject with this reporter, a young man in Molepolole opened fire on a married woman he was having an affair with; and ended her life instantly. While it is this heinous cases that get projected to the public space, the former minister argues that the secrecy culture is keeping other real GBV cases under wraps in many spaces in the country.
The former Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said there is GBV all the time in all kinds of places. “We have become accustomed to stories of rapes, marital rapes, defilement of children, beatings and psychological violence and even killings,” she said.
Gender-based violence is a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality, Dow is worried that there is absolutely no social punishment for perpetrators; they will continue to have the same friends, jobs, wives, homes, as before. Yet another factor, she said, is that there is little or no “justice” for victims of GBV.
The renowned activist said justice for GBV victims is not just the jailing of the perpetrator. “Justice for victims means an agile, victim-friendly, accessible (time, money and procedures) and restorative justice system.”
Asked what could be leading to a spike in Gender Based Violence cases or incidents, she observed that there is no one factor to which this spike can be attributed. “The most obvious factor is stress as a result of economic distress and or poverty. Poverty makes one vulnerable and open to compromises that they would otherwise not make. For perpetrators with anger management issues, economic stress leads to lashing out to those closest to them. Another factor is the disintegration of families and family values,” she opined.
According to Dow, no government anywhere in the world is doing enough, period. “We know the places and spaces where women and girls are unsafe. We know the challenges they face in their attempts to exit those spaces and places.” The former Judge of the High Court said GBV undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in the culture of silence.
Asked what could be done to arrest GBV cases, Dow said it is critical to involve and fund civil society organizations. She observed that much of the progress done in the area of women’s human rights was during the time when Botswana had strong and funded civil society organizations.
“The funding dried up when Botswana was declared a middle-income country but unfortunately external funding was not replaced by local funding,” she acknowledged.
Further Dow said relevant government institutions must be funded and strengthened.
“Thirdly, create a society in which it is not okay to humiliate, rape, beat or kill women. You create this by responding to GBV the same way we have responded to livestock theft. We need to create agile mechanisms that hear cases quickly and allow for the removal of suspected perpetrators from their homes, work places, boards, committees, etc.”
The former Minister said the much anticipated Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Gender Based Violence will have its work cut out for it. According to Dow, GBV is not just a justice issue, it’s not just a gender issue, but rather an issue that cuts across health, education, labour, economic, housing and politics. “As long as any one believes it is someone else’s problem, we will all have the problem,” she said.
In her view, Dow said every work, educational and other place must have a GBV Policy and/or Code of Conduct. “It is important that we acknowledge that the majority of men are law-abiding. The problem is their silence, in the face of injustice,” she observed.