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.
While there is no hard-and-fast rule in politics, former Molepolole North Member of Parliament, Mohamed Khan says populism acts in the body politic have forced him to quit active partisan politics. He brands this ancient ascription of politics as fake and says it lowers the moral compass of the society.
Khan who finally tasted political victory in the 2014 elections after numerous failed attempts, has decided to leave the ‘dirty game’, and on his way out he characteristically lashed at the current political leaders; including his own party president, Advocate Duma Boko. “I arrived at this decision because I have noticed that there are no genuine politics and politicians. The current leaders, Boko and President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi are fake politicians who are just practicing populist politics to feed their egos,” he said.
Former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary hopeful, Lawrence Ookeditse has rejected the idea of taking up a crucial role in the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Central Committee following his arrival in the party this week. According to sources close to development, BPF power brokers are coaxing Ookeditse to take up the secretary general position, left vacant by death of Roseline Panzirah-Matshome in November 2020.
Ookeditse’s arrival at BPF is projected to cause conflicts, as some believe they are being overlooked, in favour of a new arrival. The former ruling party strategist has however ruled out the possibility of serving in the party central committee as secretary general, and committed that he will turn down the overture if availed to him by party leadership.
Ookeditse, nevertheless, has indicated that if offered another opportunity to serve in a different capacity, he will gladly accept. “I still need to learn the party, how it functions and all its structures; I must be guided, but given any responsibility I will serve the party as long as it is not the SG position.”
“I joined the BPF with a clear conscious, to further advance my voice and the interests of the constituents of Nata/Gweta which I believe the BDP is no longer capable to execute.” Ookeditse speaks of abject poverty in his constituency and prevalent unemployment among the youth, issues he hopes his new home will prioritise.
He dismissed further allegations that he resigned from the BDP because he was not rewarded for his efforts towards the 2019 general elections. After losing in the BDP primaries in 2018, Ookeditse said, he was offered a job in government but declined to take the post due to his political ambitions. Ookeditse stated that he rejected the offer because, working for government clashed with his political journey.
He insists there are many activists who are more deserving than him; he could have chosen to take up the opportunity that was before him but his conscious for the entire populace’s wellbeing held him back. Ookeditse said there many people in the party who also contributed towards party success, asserting that he only left the BDP because he was concerned about the greater good of the majority not individualism purposes.
According to observers, Ookeditse has been enticed by the prospects of contesting Nata/Gweta constituency in the 2024 general election, following the party’s impressive performance in the last general elections. Nata/Gweta which is a traditional BDP stronghold saw its numbers shrinking to a margin of 1568. BDP represented by Polson Majaga garnered 4754, while BPF which had fielded Joe Linga received 3186 with UDC coming a distant with 1442 votes.
There are reports that Linga will pave way for Ookeditse to contest the constituency in 2024 and the latter is upbeat about the prospects of being elected to parliament. Despite Ookeditse dismissing reports that he is eying the secretary general position, insiders argue that the position will be availed to him nevertheless.
Alternative favourite for the position is Vuyo Notha who is the party Deputy Secretary General. Notha has since assumed duties of the secretariat office on the interim basis. BPF politburo is expected to meet on 25th of January 2020, where the vacancy will be filled.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) big wigs have decided to cancel a retreat with the party legislators this weekend owing to increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. The meeting was billed for this weekend at a place that was to be confirmed, however a communique from the party this past Tuesday reversed the highly anticipated meeting.
“We received a communication this week that the meeting will not go as planned because of rapid spread of Covid-19,” one member of the party Central Committee confirmed to this publication. The gathering was to follow the first of its kind held late last year at party Treasurer Satar Dada’s place.