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CBD rentals added P142 million on Gov’t bill

An additional rental amount of over P142 Million has been piled on the government bill after two Ministries, Youth,  Sports and Culture and that of Trade and Industry moved to the Gaborone Central Business District (CBD) and signed lease agreements with landlords without the authority of the Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB), the Auditor General, Pulane Letebele has discovered.

In June 2013, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture signed a rental contract amounting to P81 228 890 for a period of five years, while the Trade Ministry signed its contract of P60 784 200 which runs for the same period in December 2012. Both contracts are far beyond the authority level of the MTC of P25 000 000 and according to the AG, the matters should have been referred to PPADB.

“This is yet another instance where Public officers flagrantly disregard clearly laid down rules, resulting in Public Funds being spent without proper authorities even where large sums of money, calling for extreme care and diligence are involved. This state of affairs continues to be a matter for concern by the PAC,” The AG expressed his concern.

In his latest report on the government accounts, the AG penned down his frustrations and that of the Public Accounts committee at officers who continue wasting the tax payers’ money unnecessarily.

In the instance of the Youth Ministry, a lease mentioned earlier was agreed following negotiations and the AG does not understand how the amount was reached when originally the Landlord tendered a lesser amount of P77 523 264.

“The enhanced rental payment from negotiations comparative to the bid amount is a clear indication of the laxity with which public officers handle their financial duties which in this case has resulted in loss of considerable sums of money. Unless and until officers advert themselves diligently, the public revenue will suffer losses through wasteful expenditure and this is a matter for concern of this office and of the Public Accounts Committee,” the AG further noted.

As a result of what appeared to have been improper lease of the office block occupied by the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture in the CBD , the PPADB instituted a tender audit to establish the circumstances of that tender, in terms of section 52 (2) of the PPADB Act.

The audit according to Letebele, established that having reached the decision to house all its five departments under one roof to achieve a smooth coordination of its functions, the Ministry had in August 2012, proceeded to issue an invitation to tender for the lease of an office block for a period of five years. The response to that invitation was only one bidder who had offered three rental options, ranging from P1 579 177 per Month at the top which included the cost of partitioning to P1 076 712 at the lowest for an open plan flooring all inclusive of value added tax (VAT).

Upon evaluation the Ministerial team had recommended the first option of P1 578 177 to the MTC. The committee had, however varied this recommendation in favour of the second option of P1 292 054 on the basis that the cost of partitioning was a one-off event which should not be spread over the entire lease period. Thus the approval of the tender by the committee was in the amount of P1 292 054 per month, translating to P77 523 264 over the entire lease period.

Subsequent to the tender approval by the MTC, the Ministry requested the Ministry of Lands and Housing to engage the landlord in price negotiations and finalisation of the lease agreement. Resulting from that, the lease was finally signed at a Monthly rental of P1 208 763, translating to P81 228 890.

Meanwhile another study of documentation relating to the lease of an office block by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the CBD indicated that such lease was not with the approval of the PPADB in terms of the predetermined expenditure authority level.

As far back as 2011, the Ministry had determined that it was essential for the Ministry Headquarters and all its five departments to be housed in one office block to reduce administrative costs, enhance operational efficiency and service delivery to customers.

The Ministry officers then set on a search for suitable accommodation and identified an office block in the CBD which was recommended to the Ministry of lands and Housing on the advice of the Ministerial Tender Committee for rental and lease negotiations in March 2011. However in August of the same year, before the response of the Lands Ministry, the Ministry withdrew its earlier recommendations in favour of another office block, still in the CBD on the basis that the rental of the first block was too high.

The lease was finally procured with the developers of the second block office and lease agreement signed in December 2012 for a five year period ending November 2017 at a monthly rental of P 1 013 070, on the authority of approval of the MTC. However the total rental for the 5 year period amounted to P60 784 200, was far beyond the expenditure threshold of P25 000 000 appropriate to the committee.

When the matter came to the notice of the PPADB, the board instituted an audit to determine the circumstances of this award. The board audit found that in adjudicating over this tender, the MTC had failed in its duty to adhere to its expenditure limits and to advise the Ministry as the procuring entity to refer the matter to PPADB as the appropriate level of approval for the expenditure involved.

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Botswana gets P2.750 billion loan from World Bank

14th June 2021
Peggy Serame

Botswana’s efforts to accelerate key economic reforms got a boost following the approval of a $250 million loan by the World Bank today. The Programmatic Economic Resilience and Green Recovery Development Policy Loan (DPL) will support the implementation of Botswana’s Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan and is designed to strengthen COVID-19 pandemic relief while bolstering resilience to future shocks.

This DPL is also designed to support reforms to strengthen private sector development and promote green recovery. It is the first-ever World Bank budget support operation for Botswana and the first of two planned operations.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a great burden on the country’s economy, its people, and firms. With this operation, the World Bank will support the government’s reforms to ensure social spending reaches the poorest and assists Batswana who are most affected by the Covid-19,” says World Bank Country Director for Eswatini, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa, Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly.

“This operation will also support reforms to attract private sector investments, contribute to diversification of exports, and increase job opportunities towards a green economy”. The operation provides both financial and technical support for government reforms to implement a Single Social Registry and to improve targeting of social spending on the most vulnerable while strengthening systems for future shocks.

It will also help strengthen the business environment for increased SME-led job creation and economic diversification through improved access to finance for individuals and small and micro enterprises (SMEs). Furthermore, the program will help Botswana to build the foundations for sustainable, “green” growth by supporting reforms to increase production of renewable energy by independent power producers, promoting and regulating rooftop solar energy generation, and embedding climate change considerations in environmental assessments.

DPLs are used by the World Bank to support a country’s policy and institutional reform agenda to help accelerate inclusive growth and poverty reduction. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a real gross domestic product (GDP) contraction of 7.9 percent in Botswana in 2020 – the largest in the country’s history.

This has also led to a depletion of existing fiscal buffers and has constrained revenue collection, reduced Government’s capacity and resources needed to accelerate the implementation of structural reforms and threatened to reverse progress in poverty reduction.

World Bank Group COVID-19 Response Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank Group has committed over $125 billion to fight the health, economic, and social impacts of the pandemic, the fastest and largest crisis response in its history.

The financing is helping more than 100 countries strengthen pandemic preparedness, protect the poor and jobs, and jump start a climate-friendly recovery. The Bank is also providing $12 billion to help low- and middle-income countries purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.

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UB employees protest against Vice Chancellor

11th June 2021
Professor Norris

University of Botswana Vice Chancellor, Professor David Norris, has lost support of the university staff, with four unions joining forces to demand his removal from office.  

When he was appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana in December 2017, by the then Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr Alfred Madigele, Professor Norris was hailed as an angel sent from heaven.

Professor Norris succeeded Professor Thabo Fako, after the latter led the University during turbulent times — with the university experiencing financial challenges and dwindling enrolment numbers.

Four years down the line, Professor Norris’ presence at the University nauseates many. Academic staff together with manual workers want Norris shown the door as soon as yesterday.

University of Botswana Academic Senior Support Staff Union, (UBASSSU), University of Botswana Staff Union (UBSU) and University of Botswana Manual Workers Union, in a petition submitted to Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Douglas Letsholathebe, called for the dismissal of Norris. The unions said that under the leadership of the Professor, UB staff members suffered immeasurable pain, agony and frustration, and their welfare is entirely overlooked.

The unions petition Professor Norris on a number of issues: blurred roadmap, inflationary adjustments of salaries, security services, corporate governance, teaching and learning resources, deteriorating infrastructure, staff victimization as well as appointment of staff undemocratically.

In their entreaty, staff members say that Vice Chancellor has failed to provide a clear roadmap to guide a wide range of operations within the University. Prior to Norris’ arrival, they say, UB had developed a strategy using its own scholars, led by Prof Thapisa and Prof Moahi respectively.

“They executed the assignment efficiently with intricate insider knowledge of the institution and a global academic outlook. The result of the process was later subjected to external review by consultants, even though the process was later abandoned at huge cost to the University. The Vice Chancellor is three years into this post, but he has done nothing to show, and always blames staff or his predecessors for the problems at UB,” the unions said in their petition.

The petition signed by UBASSSU President, Motsomi Marobela, acting on behalf of Manual Workers Union President, Oneile Mpulubusi and Ghadzani Mhotsha (Staff Union President), argue that Norris relishes grand standing and cheap rhetoric to project a positive image of the University to outsiders while the institution faces monumental challenges.

“Even the so-called new strategy was imposed on the staff, since unions were never consulted. Staff in faculties were threatened and bullied into submission whenever they revealed flaws in the strategy. In short, this strategy lacks the critical ‘buy in’ from those charged with implementation, something which is crucial for any new strategy to succeed.”

Professor Norris, a renowned scholar, has been fingered in being reluctant to advance staff salaries, something which has been done four years ago. Unions claim that despite several shots to alter this status quo, efforts proved vain.

“The Vice Chancellor has dismally failed to bring about any meaningful action to ascertain that staff remunerations are adjusted to mitigate the effects of inflation, despite his attention being drawn to the erosion of the buying power of University staff. UB staff salaries have not been adjusted for a duration of four years, despite numerous attempts by the trade unions (UBASSSU, UBSU and Manual Workers Union) to appeal on behalf of the constituents for his intervention,” reads part of the petition.

University management are said to be relaxed when it comes to the security of the organization, petitioners claim. They stress that this has happened several times in recent years whereby management has allowed private security contracts, which augment the in-house UB security, to lapse before they can float a new tender.

The loan schemes that the University gets into on behalf of employees, is said to be another dare giving staff workers grief, perpetuated by Vice Chancellor Norris.

“It has happened several times that the contract between the financiers and the University lapses before anything is put in place for employees to continue getting financial assistance. Quite recently, it was communicated by a memo from Staff Welfare and Benefits Office that the loan scheme with FNB is coming to an end on the 30th April 2021 and this communication was made on the 29th, just a day before the end of such contract. This again shows lack of proactiveness on the part of management which is led by the VC,” said the petition.

The Vice Chancellor is said to be overreaching in UB administrative structures. Professor Norris, who chairs the Staff Appointment and Promotion Committee (SAPC), hosts illegal Pre-SAPC meetings, which are usually attended by Human Resources and Executive Management, and make decisions on who to appoint, promote or whose contract to renew before the substantive meeting of SAPC.

The Vice Chancellor, disgruntled petitioners say, uses SAPC to rubber stamp the executive decision – this amounts to corruption. “Three years in the institution he has virtually run the university alone. The core and critical Deputy Vice Chancellor posts of Academic Affairs; Finance and Administration; and Student Affairs, have not been filled. Instead he has appointed people on acting positions and he is shuffling them around as he pleases. Those he prefers have been acting for over two years, which is contrary to the Employment Act.”

Professor Norris is a researcher and lecturer, having served in different capacities in Botswana, the United States of America and South Africa.

Prior to joining UB, he was Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BUIST), a position he held since 2016. He is the sixth Vice Chancellor of UB.

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Gov’t slashes P16 million from YDF budget

11th June 2021

Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development has announced the return of the Youth Development Fund (YDF), after it was put on suspension by Government last year.

The fund however, has been slashed from P120 million to P104 million with the total number of projects expected to shrink. The YDF programme was temporarily suspended last year due to shortage of funds.

The programme introduced in 2009 by government, was a way of improving the lives of the youth as well as helping to fight unemployment.

When addressing the media, Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Tumiso Rakgare said the ministry has resolved to start receiving applications for 2021/2022 Youth Development Fund from 09 June 2021 to 10 August 2021.

Rakgare said government was worried about the high numbers of unemployment hence the resolve to restart the YDF programme even in the midst of the pandemic.

He however revealed that due to budget challenges and the continued restrictive environment imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, there would be some modifications to the implementation of YDF.

“Due to budget challenges the allocation for the fund in the current financial year has been reduced from P120 million to P104 million. Constituencies will thus be allocated less than the usual P2 million, which means that the number of funded projects will be significantly reduced,” he said.

He further said priority for funding shall be for businesses with the potential to create a higher number of jobs and those that address key government priorities.

The sectors to be prioritized include; Manufacturing, Agriculture, Tourism, Technology, Digitization and Innovation. Moreover, the threshold for YDF financing remains at P100 000.00 for individuals and P450 000.00 for youth industries or co-operatives.

In addition to funding youth projects, the Minister said P14, 393,066.77 will be reserved for completion and implementation of Special Projects such as development of Land-banks, mentorship partnerships and trainings.

All changes to the YDF programme are to apply only for this year while a comprehensive review is undertaken. The target is to have the revised programme implemented in the next financial year.

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