It’s finally out in the open! The rumour mill has been working overtime for weeks with speculation about when the announcement would come and now we can all exhale. It’s official – Prince Harry is engaged to be married to American Suits actress, Meghan Markle. Rhymes with ‘sparkle’ – more about that later.
I have no intention of making this piece about the royal romance, nor the very differing backgrounds of the couple. The international media are full of that and no doubt will be for some time, filling an insatiable modern thirst for celebrity gossip. No, I shall keep this far more locally focussed and merely point out the strong Botswana connection that runs through it all.
Princes Harry and elder brother William are known to love visiting the Delta. Both Harry and William made a 2-day visit here together in 2010 to support the Tusk Trust, a local conservation group of which Prince William is Patron, following in the footsteps of their father, Prince Charles who paid a private visit here in 1984, visiting the Okavango, the Chobe River and the Kalahari, fulfilling a lifelong ambition of his to see for himself the place that had captivated his mentor and godfather, writer and explorer Laurens van der post.
And Harry made frequent visits there in the early noughties, on his own and with his then girlfriend, Zimbabwean-born Chelsy Davey , although is first visit was much earlier, aged 13, two months after his mother, Princess Diana, died. According to the London Evening Standard
According to the London Evening Standard “In January, the fifth in line to the throne became a HYPERLINK "https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/prince-harry-issues-rallying-cry-to-save-african-rhino-a3444796.html" patron of Rhino Conservation Botswana. He said at the time: ‘I’ve been lucky enough to visit Botswana for more than 20 years and I’m fortunate to be able to call it my second home.’ Prince Harry reportedly is a regular at bush camp site Meno a Kwena around the Maun area which is popular with ‘glamping’ tourists.”
Glamping is the right word. Prices at the camp start at around £350 or P5000 per night, small change, of course, for royal princes and Hollywood stars. This is where Harry first invited Meghan on a date and where they returned recently on her 36th birthday. But the Botswana connection doesn’t stop there because tucked away in all the engagement column centimetres was the little snippet that the engagement ring is set around a diamond mined here as well. See how apposite it is that Markle rhymes with sparkle – that’s what stars and diamonds do!
But before we get too carried away and blinded by Ms. Markle’s glamour and fame, let’s not forget that her relatively short career is completely eclipsed by a much bigger Hollywood star from a bygone era – the immortal Elizabeth Taylor, a child star who went on to work with some of Hollywood’s most famous men and even married her co-star in the blockbuster epic, Cleopatra, the hugely-talented Welsh actor, Richard Burton.
In fact, so great was their passion and connection that they married the year after meeting on-set, in 1964, and though they subsequently divorced after a much-documented turbulent decade together in 1975, they just couldn’t stay away from each other and remarried a year later in 1975. And where did these second nuptials take place? Only right here in the Chobe Game Lodge at a time when the country was still very underdeveloped, and the Chobe area almost unknown outside of Botswana. Having two Hollywood mega-stars not only come to visit but choose it to renew their wedding vows was, and is, a big deal!
These famous endorsements should not go unmarked. They have a value that far outstrips the mere fact that some famous people have holidayed here and that is their value to Brand Botswana. You probably all know that unlike other regional countries, ours has a policy of upmarket tourism. Backpackers and budget tourists, though not actively discouraged, are equally not encouraged to visit.
The luxury camps, or glamps, in the Okavango are there to cater to wealthy European and American guests who, like Harry, can easily afford the high rates. Though often criticised for being largely foreign-owned they bring huge benefits to the Maun area and to the country, offering employment in a rural district and bringing in high-rolling tourists spending money and contributing to the economy.
The message, then, to the Botswana Tourism Board, and to everyone involved in the local hospitality industry is to piggyback on this latest royal connection. The couple plan on a European spring wedding, only 4 months away and during that time you can be certain that the mainstream and cyber media will not let this one go, so neither should we.
We should be shouting from the rooftops about the country’s natural assets that attract the prince, his brother and his father; about the diamonds that lie under the Kalahari sand and soil and which now have the royal seal of approval, pointing out in every picture of the bride-to-be’s left hand that there sits and sparkles one of Botswana’s gemstones and if it’s good enough for the House of Windsor, it should be good enough for other about-to-be affianced young women.
And though it hasn’t been officially decided or divulged yet, there is a good chance that ours will be the honeymoon destination of choice for this glamorous, wealthy, famous pair – what an advert that would be and what great advertising it could invoke. I feel only a poem would serve as a fitting tribute so here goes
Twinkle, twinkle Netflix star You bagged a prince and now you are Up among a world so high With our diamond he did buy! And I’ll finish with a completely different take on this whole story, a headline from an American-based website which announced the engagement as ‘FAMOUS ACTRESS TO WED FORMER SOLDIER’ – two sides to every story!
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.
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.
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.