A curious thought would visualize a lonely Presidential figure either frustratingly or patiently twiddling fingers waiting to be given feedback from a high level task force meeting that he was supposed to chair as the teamâ€™s supposed author.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi was supposed to have sat and presided on a series of meetings conducted by his brainchild, the High Level Covid-19 Task Team, but he remains in the pangs of the prison of self-isolation while the country waits in anxiety to see which direction the first strike of coronavirus will come from. Recently, Director of Health Services at the Ministry of Health and Wellness Malaki Tshipayagae used Section 25 of the Public Service Act to mend what was going to look like Masisiâ€™s forked tongue movement.
Masisi last week went to Namibia in a tour which was said to be â€œan emergency official tripâ€ by government and what his antagonists called â€œa secret trip.â€Â The trip came after Masisi declared a travel ban to countries affected by Covid-19, like Namibia which had three cases of the virus. Masisi faced backlash upon his return for doing a hypocritical move of going to Namibia after banning travels to affected countries, he was subsequently ordered to be under self-isolation.
Today will be the seventh day since Masisi and his entourage went to Namibia. Vice President Slumber Tsogwane has taken the reign and on Monday Tsogwane moved to include Lesotho and Swaziland to the list of travel bans after the two countries registered their first cases of coronavirus. Tsogwane said travelling to these countries, â€œis restricted with the exception of the movement of goods and services. Batswana and residents of Botswana returning from these countries will be quarantined for 14 days.â€
On Tuesday BusinessPost caught up with one of the series of High Level Covid-19 Task Force meetings where the business community was sitting with government to discuss what is next after Botswanaâ€™s big trade partner South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa announced a national lockdown which will have obvious negative economic implications for this country. â€œPresident Ramaphosa has assured His Excellency the President that, the movement of goods and services between the two countries will not be disrupted in any way,â€ said Vice President Slumber Tsogwane on Monday.
Masisi was not available for the Tuesday meeting because of the 14 day quarantine which separates him from everyone, including his daughter Atsile and the First Lady Neo and his close staff. In Masisiâ€™s absence, the High Level Covid-19 team meeting is said to have discussed on funds that have been opened to rescue the domestic economy which is already showing signs of catching flu from South Africaâ€™s economy. Government has moved to restrict instances of social contact and Masisi can only have contact with himself, maybe twiddle fingers while waiting for Slumber Tsogwane to brief and debrief him on the High Level Covid-19 Task Force meeting.
Inside Masisiâ€™s Task Force coronavirus meetings
The private sector leader, Business Botswana President Gobusamang Keebine confirmed to BusinessPost that the High Level Task Team met this week. Oabile Mabusa leads the private sector and sits with a co-ministry team from government. On Thursday morning Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Kabo Morwaeng, on behalf of the quarantined Masisi, announced that government or the High Level Covid-19 has established a Relief Fund where individuals, companies and NGOs can send their donations either as financial contributions or donations in kind.
Government has opened bank accounts with following commercial accounts First National Bank, Standard Charted Bank, ABSA Botswana, First Capital Bank, Bank Gaborone, BancABC and Bank of Baroda. According to Morwaeng, an account has been opened with the Bank of Botswana for donors outside the country. Business Botswana chief Keebine told BusinessPost in an interview that UNDP is also on its plan to help businesses or sector to sector recovery plan.
He said so far this countryâ€™s private sector and governmentâ€™s agreement is that there is no lockdown yet, â€œbut there will be close monitoring of the situation.â€ The Business Botswana president also said they are making sure to minimize business disruption. â€œWe have discussed screening and testing of people at borders who need to travel for essential services and for emergency goods. We also suggested an option that if things become worse, trucks carrying goods meet at borders of no manâ€™s land to exchange goods and taxes. Or the workers may be put on a 24 hour quarantine after transportation of goods, we are still discussing,â€ said Keebine.
Keebine said many sectors are already facing the negative impacts of coronavirus; the transport, hospitality and restaurant sectors. All the businesses who are associated with social contact are already suffering. On Monday Tsogwane said bars and liquor restaurants will be closed and only liquor/bottle stores will remain open until further notice.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.