Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority’s (BERA) long running financial irregularities feuds have flared up again and this time around there is a casualty, as Finance Director Chawada Machacha was shown the exit door.
Since beginning its operations in September 2017, the regulatory authority responsible for providing an efficient energy framework for renewable energy is synonymous with negativity. Recently after a ‘dysfunctional’ board was suspended, it seemed BERA entered a rejuvenated era. This sense of serenity has, however, been shattered as allegations of corruption and office abuse resurfaced at the Lobatse based institution.
The financial rot emanates from office refurbishment which was initially budgeted at P5.9 million but rather increased to P6.3 million. The renovations which included furniture and other accessories then sky rocketed to a staggering P12.2 million. In what many view as the tip of an iceberg, Finance Director, Machacha, was this week dismissed from employment with immediate effect, after exposing the embarrassing expenditure by the BERA executive.
The letter dated 26th February referenced ‘dismissal from employment-yourself [Machacha]’ reads as thus; “You were charged with wilful disclosure of confidential information which disclosure is detrimental to the interest of the employer contrary to clause 188.8.131.52 of the BERA Disciplinary Procedures as contained in the General Conditions of Service, 2017.” It further reads; “As a result, you are hereby dismissed from work without notice, with immediate effect in accordance with BERA Disciplinary Procedures Section 21.8.3 and section 26 of the Employment act.”
The letter signed by BERA CEO Rose Seretse, says, the decision to sack the employee is subsequent to a disciplinary meeting instituted against the employee on the 20-25th of this month. At the core of the incidents that gave rise to the charges, are articles in the Gazette newspaper of which they were to the detriment of the authority and put it into disrepute, the letter reads in part.
It is however noted that the disciplinary hearings were conducted in Machacha’s absence as her reasons not to attend were deemed not valid by the panel which proceeded with the disciplinary enquiry as the employee waived her right to be heard or defend herself. BERA finance team has since been suspended on suspicion of bringing the institution in disrepute by exposing misappropriation of funds. The regulatory authority as it totters into a mud of financial rot has now attracted the attention of its parent ministry.
The new development is expected to open a can of worms as the finance team has already written a letter to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Resources Mmetla Masire regarding the matter. At centre stage is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Seretse and Chief Operations Officer (COO) Duncan Morotsi, who prior to Machacha’s sacking were said to have breached good corporate governance by personally handling the office renovations.
Last year the then Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Eric Molale instituted a commission headed by former Deputy Attorney General, Tendekani Malebeswa to investigate BERA. The probe team was to have instructive terms of reference to recommend the dismissal of BERA’s CEO, Rose Seretse; check the procurement processes of BERA which allowed the Chairman of BERA, Bernard Ndove to sell computers to the organisation; and finally audit the allowances given to Board members and some executives.
This publication is reliably informed that the commission in 2018 managed to interrogate all the eight board members, some junior staff members and former Minister Sadique Kebonang. “There are problems at BERA which have been reported to me officially. The investigation is to help me get the facts right and thereafter take the right decisions,” Kebonang told WeekendPost in 2018, adding that, “In fact Seretse [Rose] is the one who reported most issues.” Kebonang confirmed that he appeared before the commission on good authority to explain the setting up of BERA, appointment of Seretse as the CEO and board members. But despite all these, the government is still failing to clean the mud which stains BERA.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”