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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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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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