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Audit faults staff on Judges’ housing allowances

Judges confirm receiving housing allowance undeservedly

A confidential audit conducted by Ministry of Defense, Justice and Security under Administration of Justice (AoJ) has proved that the AoJ staff is to be faulted for the poor administration of the housing allowance saga.


According to the audit report, the department failed to manage the startling gaffe by ensuring the proper process of accommodation and its allowance by the esteemed judges is adhered to.


This notwithstanding, all the Judges’ appointment letters including the suspended Justices, Key Dingake, Modiri Letsididi, Mercy Garekwe and Ranier Busang states the clear procedure expected of the judges with regard to accommodation and allowances.


“You shall be eligible for government housing with hard furnishing, which is rent-free. In the event that there is no government house in which you could be accommodated, government will pay you a housing allowance currently at P4 510.00 per month,” appointment letters to each of the suspended Judges state.


Dingake was appointed Judge on the 1st September 2005, Garekwe on the 1st April 2011 while Weekend Post would not establish when Letsididi and Busang became substantive Judges.


However President Lt. Gen. Ian Khama on 26 August 2015 suspended the quartet for concurrently occupying government houses and undeservedly receiving accommodation allowances for a considerable period of time.


The audit which is titled: ‘interim internal audit report – Honourable judges housing allowance’ puts AoJ staff against the wall for not making sure that the procedure of ceasing allowances when Judges were now occupying institutional houses is/was followed.


The audit report points out that “the failure by Administration of Justice to terminate housing allowances of the suspended four judges was attributed to non-reconciliation of payroll, in contravention of financial procedure.”


The procedure necessitates that monthly reconciliation of salaries detects any discrepancies in salary and allowances payments. It further posits that AoJ failed to issue casualty returns to terminate payments of housing allowance upon occupation of institutional houses by Judges and no monthly reconciliation was done to detect payments of allowance to non-eligible officers.


According to the report, going forward: AoJ management should ensure that monthly reconciliation of salary payments is carried out to detect and prevent payments to non-eligible officers.“This state of affairs has exposed government funds to possibility of irrecoverable loss, considering the amount of overpayment already incurred.”Government has already paid close to 1 million pula wrongfully to the suspended judges.


Justice Key Dingake has stated in his founding affidavit, advised by former Registrar of the High Court Justice Godfrey Ntlhomiwa and Justice Gaolapelwe Ketlogetswe, that in the past other Judges have found themselves in a similar position and they were merely required in accordance with the relevant provisions of the law to make arrangements to pay back the money, as the matter is administrative and a mere blunder on the part of the staff at AoJ.

“The matter is purely administrative. The administrators (accounting officers) however, who should have acted to stop the payment of the allowance have not been charged with misconduct,” Justice Dingake highlighted. In the suspended Judges’s view, it was a primary responsibility of the AoJ or its accounting officer to stop housing allowance once a judge is allocated an official residence.

He continued: “other Judges who also received the allowance (even if they paid back) have not been sanctioned in anyway. The damage to the judiciary arising from a matter which ought to have been resolved administratively was not factored in.”In fact, he said after the issue of overpayment of allowances had been reported to the police, all of them still received the housing allowance as part of the August salaries.

More judges mistakenly paid housing allowance?

According to the quartet, they are not the only judges to whom housing or the allowances have been paid by the AoJ inadvertently when they were not entitled to the same. “In this context, your selective approach is highly questionable, amounts to harassment and witch-hunting,” the suspended judges maintain. Meanwhile, the CJ is said to have alluded that he will use the issue of Judges housing allowance to “destroy careers” and that some judges will never become Chief Justices of Botswana.

However, in the affidavit, Dibotelo said investigations are still ongoing and if others are found to have also unduly benefitted, the law will take its course. “There is simply no one above the law. The damage to the judiciary would have been occasioned by an attempt to conceal this wrongdoing.”

The confidential audit also suggests that the beneficiaries of erroneous payments had a duty to inform the employer of the overpayment, especially that it occurred over a considerable period of time. They should not have allowed accumulation of overpayments to the extent it is to-date, the auditors point out.  

How gov’t lost P1 million in housing allowances

Justice Key Dingake

Information gathered by the auditors indicates that Dingake occupied the government house on the 29th December 2012 at Phakalane and he received payment of housing allowance from January 2013 to August 2015. In total, Dingake received P200, 467.95 for the accommodation.

Justice Modiri Letsidi

Letsidi stayed in an institutional house in Francistown since 2007. He received undeserved housing allowances from then until 2014. The Judge was overpaid by a whooping P494, 323.40.

Justice Ranier Busang

The auditors point out that Busang was allocated a government house on 9th April 2014 at Lobatse and was paid housing allowance from February 2014 to August 2015. Busang received P105, 468.75 for housing allowances while staying in a government house.  
 

Justice Mercy Garekwe

In addition, the report also states that Garekwe also received an amount of P123,281.10 for housing allowances from February 2014 to August 2015 while occupying an institutional house.

Suspended Judges confirm receiving the housing allowance (undeservedly)

In the court papers, the four suspended Judges have stated that indeed they received the accommodation allowance and are willing to pay it back. They indicated: “we do hereby confirm to you that unbeknown to us, and without our consent, such allowance was paid to us.” “We are as a matter of fact willing to pay back the aforesaid amounts.”

Judges to pay the money back to government coffers?

The auditors have recommended that there should be a recovery of all housing allowance overpayment paid to the Judges who were not eligible, with immediate effect. This will also include termination of that allowance henceforth to undeserved judges.


Section 48 and 49 of the Public Finance and Administrations Act provide mechanisms by which public funds can be paid back.

Dibotelo defends AoJ, attacks the four suspended and other judges

In relation to audit report having proved that the four judges wrongfully received housing allowances, Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo said in his answering affidavit before court that due to the gravity of the matter he decided to refer it to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) which in turn resolved that the case be referred for investigation by the Police.


“This matter was viewed as having gone beyond a mere administrative lapse or mere overpayment into the realm of prima facie criminal behavior and or misbehavior,” Dibotelo pointed out. In addition Dibotelo highlighted that, as on the face of it, the receipt of the housing allowance and its apparent conversion by the applicants (four suspended judges) may constitute an act of “theft.”


The Chief Justice said the referral of the four applicants to the police after the audit report was not an act of discrimination nor was it actuated by malice. He said it flowed from the gravity of the revelations of the audit report, the huge sums unlawfully paid the recurrence over a very long period of time ranging from sixteen months to eighty five months.


He pointed out that the actions of the suspended judges appeared to constitute a potential criminal conduct so the AoJ could not be a complainant, investigator and adjudicator in the matter so they reported the matter to the independent and credible body in the form of the police. “So it was considered that investigations into the conduct of applicants be done by an impartial and competent authority to avoid allegations of bias and also ensure that the integrity of the investigations was not compromised,” he added.


With regard to confirmatory affidavits by Justice Nthomiwa and Justice Ketlogetswe, Dibotelo asserted that apart from bringing into question their own competence to hold higher office they miss the point altogether. “The point is that the applicants received allowances not due to them and utilized the same, thus converting the money they received to their own use. That act prima facie constitutes an act of theft,” the Chief Justice indicated.


He added that the fact that they may have been lapses on their part (AoJ) in the past does not excuse the applicants nor does it change the colour of the offense. Dibotelo said it is also immaterial whether they want to refund the money to the government.
 

Chief Justice also hits back at Justices Ntlhomiwa and Ketlogetswe

“I am advised that the attempt by the two judges (Nthomiwa and Ketlogetswe) who are former registrars of the High Court, to trivialize the possible unlawful conversion of close to one million pula by describing it as a mere administrative matter is also most unfortunate and brings into question their motive and credibility as witnesses.”


According to Dibotelo, the attempt by the duo to trivialize the unlawful conversion of the amount and describe it as a mere administrative matter is “shocking to say the least.”


Dibotelo also mentioned that both Justice Nthomiwa and Ketlogetswe have signed a petition calling for his impeachment as Chief Justice and have made defamatory statements concerning his person. “It has since come to my attention that some of the signatures in that petition may not be of those they purport to be. I am yet to however establish the truthfulness of this allegation, and if true act on it.”


The audit sought to establish whether government assets are safeguarded from losses of all kinds and make appropriate recommendations to address the identified anomalies.  


The report on the audit exercise was conducted at the High Court from the 5th to the 25th August 2015, as requested by Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo on the 4th August 2015.

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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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