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Masisi abdicates responsibility

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD)

Traditionally the Vice President of the Republic of Botswana had portfolio responsibilities. In the last 50 years out of four Ministers in charge of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) two were Vice Presidents. These were Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae.  The arrangement was in recognition of the critical importance of the MFDP in the socio-economic development of the country. Vice President Peter Mmusi was the Minister of Local Government and Lands an equally important and strategic portfolio aimed at accelerating rural development.  The idea of having Vice Presidents as political heads of powerful ministries added impetus to effective implementation which has since remained a challenge.  It also allowed for a slim Cabinet and financial prudence.

The coming in of Ian Khama in 1998 changed all these. He became Vice President and also Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration (MOPAPA). Khama held the position for a short duration before he was elevated by President Festus Mogae to occupy an extra-constitutional position equivalent of Prime Minister. He was also tasked to oversee implementation of public infrastructural development. It was a dismal failure as public infrastructure development continued to be poorly implemented resulting in huge cost over-runs. Even those who called him the Messiah were aware of his shortcomings.  Unfortunately in recent years mediocrity has replaced merit. Hence Khama was rewarded as he became the third president of the Republic of Botswana, thanks to the automatic succession dispensation.

This brings us to the current Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi.  Prior to the 2014 general elections Masisi was the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration (MOPAPA) also responsible for poverty alleviation, or shall we say Minister for Backyard Garden and JOJOS. Later his focus changed from fighting poverty to eradicating abject poverty – lehuma la nta ya tlhogo. Like Ian Khama before him he failed dismally as well. The nation is still waiting for his final report on that noble mission of fighting poverty or poverty eradication.  Before he fully accounted for his dismal failure he was elevated to the position of Vice President without portfolio responsibility after the 2014 general elections. This was shocking but not surprising given the entrenched culture of sloppiness.

President Khama later assigned Masisi to oversee job creation. Having had an opportunity to debate Masisi during the 2014 general elections campaigns and observed him execute the botched backyard garden project it became clear in mind that it was going to be a toll order for Masisi to deliver on his assigned task. He has a tendency of treating complex issues in an amazingly simplistic manner. To describe him as someone who is never serious is an underestimation. I don’t want to describe him has a joke since I respect the position he holds.  At the time he was assigned the responsibility of overseeing job creation I wrote that the move was meant to discredit him. His detractors had set him up to fail in anticipation of the fears succession battles. Having earned himself the title of chief strategist it is possible that Khama could be part of a well-crafted strategy to finish off Masisi and elevate Tshekedi  Khama, who is his brother and Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. The enemies of the Vice President were well aware of what was in store for him. His irrational hungry for power blinded him and he fell into an open trap.

The Vice President gladly accepted the task but failed to develop a road map. There were no targets in respect of the number, the type of jobs to be created, and timelines. It was clear that the mission was stillborn.  The ambitious initiative was consistent with the promises made during the 2014 general elections campaigns and adopted by government has demonstrated by official  billboards carrying the message “To make Job creation our number one priority.”

Post 2014 elections Botswana experienced unprecedented job losses especially in the mining sector. This culminated into a national disaster of monumental proportions when the BCL the lifeline of Selibe Phikwe Town was placed under provisional liquidation. The net job losses far exceeded jobs created under the watchful eye of Vice President Masisi.  If reports coming from Lerala are anything to go by then job losses are likely to continue in this sector including the poorly managed parastatal bodies. The country is clearly sitting on a time bomb. If government fail to protect existing jobs how can they be expected to create gainful employment for the restless unemployed young people. Out of desperation they want to mislead Batswana into believing that Ipelegeng is meant to create jobs even though it was conceptualized and designed to be a temporary economic stress relief. It is not a poverty alleviation program either.  As Assistant Philip Makgalemela recently lectured to residents of Sefhare-Ramokgonami an increase in the demands for Ipelegeng is undesirable.  The argument is that if a good number of jobs were created coupled with a significant up-take of Mananeo there will be no need for Ipelegeng.

It now appears the Vice President has been deployed to be Chief Recruitment Officer for the ruling party. The public resources allocation to the office of Vice President and the prestige that goes with State House 2 are now at the disposal of the ruling party.  A first time visitor to Botswana cannot be blamed for thinking that Botswana is a one party state led by Mokgweetsi Masisi.  A close scrutiny of his mission clearly shows someone who is recruiting new members for himself not for the party of which he is the Chairperson. In former Botswana Congress Party (BCP) recruits he found a desperate group of individuals that is willing to build the Masisi’s empire and die for him.

Based on the above it is clear that Vice President Masisi has failed on key assignments he has been tasked with from backyard gardens to job creation. Unfortunately Khama knows very well that he is not qualified to hold Masisi to account since he also failed in previous assignments. Under the circumstances it is upon parliament to demand accountability from the VP.  One wonders how he can succeed as President when he failed to demonstrate his capability when given a less demanding function.  You cannot blame the growing voices against his assumption of the highest office and the unprecedented challenges to his claim. Masisi is not confident about his claim to the throne either, hence he frequently reminds all and sundry that he is the heir apparent come what may – KE YA SEKOTAMA. Many in the BDP believe if Masisi successfully ascend to the top position the sun will rise from the west and set in the east.

 Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD) is the Deputy Leader, BCP

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Economic Resurgence Options: Is Export-Led Growth Tenable For Botswana?

22nd September 2020

The world in which we live is a criminally unequal one. In his iconic 1945 allegorical novella,  Animal Farm, a satire on the facetiousness  of the then Soviet Empire’s crackbrained experiment with a command economy, the legendary George Orwell in my view hit the nail squarely on the head when he said all animals were equal but some animals were more equal than others.

That’s the never-ending dichotomy of the so-called First World and its polar opposite, the so-called Third World as Orwell’s cleverly-couched diatribe applies as much to the tread-of-the-mill laissez faire economics of our day as it did to Marxist-Leninist Russia a generation back.

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Victory is Won

22nd September 2020

Israelites take Canaan under General Joshua

Even as the Nation of Israeli braced to militarily take possession of the Promised Land, General, its top three senior citizens, namely Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, were not destined to share in this god-conferred bequest. All three died before the lottery was won.

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Finance Bills: What are they about?

22nd September 2020

Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and Accountants (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were expeditiously passed by parliament on Thursday.

What are these two Bills really about?  The Bills are essentially about professional values that are applicable to auditors and accountants in their practice. The Bills seeks to basically enhance existing laws to ensure more uprightness, fairness, professional proficiency, due care, expertise and or professional technical standards.

The Financial Reporting Act, 2010 (FRA) establishes the Botswana Accountancy Oversight Authority (BAOA), as the country’s independent regulator of the accounting and auditing profession. BAOA is responsible for the oversight and registration of audit firms and certified auditors of public interest entities.

In the same vein, there is the Accountants Act, 2010 establishing the Botswana Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) which is responsible for the registration and regulation of the accounting and auditing profession. This consequently infers that some auditors have to register first with BICA as certified auditors, and also with BAOA as certified auditors of public bodies. So, the Bills sought to avert the duplication.

According to Minister Matsheka, the duplication of efforts in the regulation of auditors, which is done by both BICA and BAOA, creates a substantial gap on oversight of certified auditors in Botswana, as the two entities have different review procedures. He contends that the enforcement of sanctions becomes problematic and, thus, leads to offenders going Scot-Free, and audit quality standards also continue to plunge.

The Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020, in the view of the Minister, brings the oversight and regulation of all auditors in Botswana under the jurisdiction of the Accountancy Oversight Authority and that Bringing all auditors within one roof, under the supervision of BAOA would therefore reinforce their oversight and significantly enhance accountability.

He also pointed that the Bill broadens the current mandate of the Authority by redefining public interest entities to include public bodies, defined as boards, tribunals, commissions, councils, committees, other body corporate or unincorporated established under any enactment.

This covers any company in which government has an equity shareholding. In order to enable the process of instituting fitting sanctions against violation of its provisions, the Bill clearly lays down acts and lapses that constitute professional misconduct.

This Bill further strengthens the sanctions for breach of the Act by public interest entities, officers, firms, and certified auditors. Reinforcing the law with respect to such sanctions will act as an effective deterrent for breach of the Act.

The Accountants Bill also strengthens the current mandate of the Institute by making it obligatory for those who provide accountancy services in Botswana to register with the Institute, and for all employers to hire accountants who are registered with the Institute.

The Minister reasons that in line with the spirit of citizen empowerment, this Bill proposes reservation of at least 50% of the Council membership for citizens. This, he says, is to empower citizens and ensure that citizenries play an active role in the affairs of the Institute, and ultimately in the development of the accounting profession in Botswana.

The Bills come at a point when Botswana’s financial sector is in a quagmire. The country has been blacklisted by the European Union. Its international rankings on Corruption Perception Index have slightly reduced.  According to recent reports by Afro Barometer survey, perceptions of corruption in the public service have soured and so is mistrust in public institutions.

Rating agencies, Standard Poor’s and Moody’s have downgraded Botswana, albeit slightly. The reasons are that there continues to be corruption, fiscal and revenue crimes such as money laundering and general unethical governance in the country. There are still loopholes in many laws despite the enactments and amendments of more than thirty laws in the last two years.

One of the most critical aspect of enhancing transparency and accountability and general good governance, is to have a strong auditing and accounting systems. Therefore, such professions must be properly regulated to ensure that public monies are protected against white color crime. It is well known that some audit firms are highly unprincipled.

They are responsible for tax avoidance and tax evasions of some major companies. Some are responsible for fraud that has been committed. They are more loyal to money paid by clients than to ethical professional standards. They shield clients against accountability. Some companies and parastatals have collapsed or have been ruined financially despite complementary reports by auditors.

In some cases, we have seen audit firms auditing parastatals several times to almost becoming resident auditors. This is bad practice which is undesirable. Some auditors who were appointed liquidators of big companies have committee heinous crimes of corruption, imprudent management, fraud and outright recklessness without serious consequences.

There is also a need to protect whistleblowers as they have been victimized for blowing the whistle on impropriety. In fact, in some cases, audit firms have exonerated culprits who are usually corrupt corporate executives.

The accounting and auditing professions have been dominated by foreigners for a very long time. Most major auditing firms used by state entities and big private sector companies are owned by foreigners. There has to be a deliberate plan to have Batswana in this profession.

While there are many Batswana who are accountants, less are chartered accountants. There must be deliberate steps to wrestle the profession from foreigners by making citizens to be chartered.  It is also important to strengthen the Auditor General. The office is created by the constitution.

The security of tenure is clearly secured in the constitution. However, this security of tenure was undermined by the appointing authority in many instances whereby the Auditor General was appointed on a short-term contract. The office is part of the civil service and is not independent at all.

The Auditor General is placed, in terms of scale, at Permanent Secretary level and is looked at as a peer by others who think they can’t be instructed by their equivalent to comply. Some have failed to submit books of accounts for audits, e.g. for special funds without fear or respect of the office. There is need to relook this office by making it more independent and place it higher than Permanent Secretaries.

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