This week, we are continuing with this series whose purpose is to consider whether or not His Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, is delivering on his inaugural speech promises, commitments and undertakings.
Last week we dealt with H.E Dr. Masisi’s commitment to strengthen, consolidate and intensify the partnership between government and the private sector which, he rightly said, would propel this country to greater heights in terms of economic stimulation, job creation and sustainable economic growth.
We also dealt with his commitment that Botswana will intensify her efforts to unlock market and business opportunities for our industries presented in global trade through such agreements as the SADC Free Trade Area, Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area, AGOA, SADC/EU Economic Partnership Agreement, the World Trade Organisation Trade Facilitation Agreement, and the bilateral agreements Botswana has with other countries and development partners.
We also dealt with his undertaking that Botswana will step up through a combined use of her bilateral and multilateral relations, immigration, investment policies and technocratic applications. We also dealt with his pledge that government will also continue to invest in infrastructural development projects across various sectors, including Information and Communications Technology (ICT), water, energy, transport and road networks, to create an enabling environment for commerce and industry, as well as to stimulate the economy.
This week we deal with H.E Dr. Masisi’s commitment that, in line with Vision 2036, which he said is aligned to the 2030 United Nations Agenda on Sustainable Development and Africa’s Agenda 2063, investment in research, science, technology and innovation will be prioritised to enable Botswana’s transformation into a knowledge-based economy.
We also deal with H.E Dr. Masisi’s undertaking to ensure that the transformation of education and training, through the Human Resource Development Strategy of 2009, receives all the necessary support in order to ensure that education meets the needs of industry. We also deal with H.E Dr. Masisi’s assurance to Batswana that, as part of the reforms proposed by the Education Sector Strategic Plan 2015-2020, his government will introduce pre-primary education as well as expanding such school facilities as classrooms, teachers’ quarters and building new primary and secondary schools throughout the country to respond to the growing population of our towns, villages and settlements.
We also deal with H.E Dr. Masisi’s promise that his government will continue to focus and intensify the maintenance of the existing school facilities to ensure an enabling environment for effective delivery of the education, learning and training programmes. H.E Dr. Masisi promised that his government will not hesitate to intervene, where necessary, to cause the inclusion of new primary and secondary schools in the current NDP11 as per the dictates of Botswana’s population dynamics.
This, he said, will all be done to to improve the quality of our education system as well as ensuring universal access to pre-primary, primary and secondary education. We consider how far his government has moved in this regard. We also deal with H.E Dr. Masisi’s undertaking that his government will also continue intensifying and sharpening teacher training, re-training and retooling to build their capacity to adapt to the ever-changing education environment, especially in the areas of ICT.
First, H.E Dr. Masisi’s commitment to prioritise investment in research, science, technology and innovation to transform Botswana into a knowledge-based economy. In 2012, Government established the Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI) to provide the framework for high level research that is needed to transform Botswana into a knowledge economy.
According to its Research & Innovation Policy Hand Book adopted by its Board of Directors on 26th June 2015, BITRI is expected to provide the products and services based on Indigenous Knowledge (IK) that meet the values, needs and expectations of Botswana society and internationally.
Its mandate is to conduct needs-based research and development in focused areas of national interest, and to deliver high standard technology solutions that maximise the beneficiation of local resources, through both institutional and collaborative programmes, to effectively and affordably address current and anticipated needs for sustainable socio-economic development. One of the national priorities guiding BITRI’s focus is the need for Botswana to create downstream beneficiation and value addition from its resource base, mainly minerals, agricultural and tourism products.
The question is: has government used BITRI to maximise investment in research, science, technology and innovation to transform Botswana into a knowledge-based economy? Put differently, has there been development-focused research in such areas as Technologies (Energy, Electronics and ICT) and Natural Resources and Materials (i.e. Water and Environment, Materials and Built Environment and Natural Resources)?
While government must be commended for establishing the Botswana International University of Science & Technology (BIUST), its impact in the development of science and technology is yet to be felt. Also, the university has failed to attract a sizeable number of international students, something which would not only be a source of revenue for the country, but also raise academic standards through knowledge exchange. If there has been research in these areas, then government has not used it for development because our country is lagging behind in innovation, especially in the areas of Technologies and Natural Resources and Materials.
Obviously, having been in office for only one year, H.E Dr. Masisi cannot be blamed for this, but his government, of which he served as vice president for about five years, is certainly to blame, especially considering that research, science, technology and innovation had long been identified as priorities if we were to transform Botswana into a knowledge-based economy.
Second, H.E Dr. Masisi’s commitment to transform education and training through the Human Resource Development Strategy of 2009. It is incontrovertible that our Human Resource Development Strategy is one of the best in the world. It is similarly irrefutable that the two parastatals at the centre of the strategy, namely Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) and the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) have done well in setting standards in as far as education and training curricula and institutional infrastructure are concerned.
Consequently, colleges and universities, both private and public, have been accredited to offer tertiary qualifications requisite for almost all sectors of the economy, including the all-important science, technology and innovation aspects. Government has also taken a commendable decision to sponsor all qualifying students, including those admitted to accredited private colleges and universities, to tertiary institutions, mainly local. Third, H.E Dr. Masisi’s promise to introduce pre-primary education as well as expanding school facilities in response to the growing population of our towns, villages and settlements.
Government is still lagging behind in as far as pre-primary education is concerned. As it is, beyond making the promise to introduce pre-primary education, H.E Dr. Masisi, like his predecessors, has not made any meaningful strides in that regard. Generally speaking, however, while curriculum related issues still exist in all layers of our education system, especially at primary, secondary and Brigades level, the issue is not so much about the standard of education and training, but about employment opportunities for graduates.
For instance, even if government can upgrade Teacher Training Colleges to degree offering institutions, the degree graduates from those colleges would still be faced with unemployment just like university graduates are suffering from unemployment. Fourth, H.E Dr. Masisi’s promise to focus and intensify the maintenance of the existing school facilities. Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) and Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) have, for years, been decrying the appalling status of class rooms, laboratories and toilets in primary and secondary schools.
Apparently, not even government’s plan to eradicate the classroom backlog through the failed Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) has alleviated the situation. The dire situation is even exacerbated by shortage of teachers resulting in some classes having more than fifty students to one teacher, something that can only negate the quality of educational delivery.
Fifth, H.E Dr. Masisi’s promise to cause the inclusion of new primary and secondary schools in the current NDP11 as per the dictates of Botswana’s population dynamics. If this is done, this will indeed be a welcome development, but, to date, there is nothing meaningful done in that regard. Sixth, H.E Dr. Masisi’s promise to intensify and sharpen teacher training, re-training and retooling. The decline in the demand for teachers, which has seen a reduction in the intake of teacher training colleges, has negatively impacted on the teacher training, re-training and retooling programme.
Education Centres, which were intended to offer in-service training to teachers, are no longer functional. In fact, many of them dilapidated. Today, re-training and retooling of teachers is done mainly through workshops, something that cannot be enough to address the skills gaps in the teaching profession.
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.