Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Elias Magosi has this week misled Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament on the contentious appointment of the Auditor General Pulane Letebele on contract basis thereby flouting the constitution.
The PAC was concerned that the terms of employment of the Auditor General was a departure on the spirit of the constitution of Botswana in particular section 114 which secures the tenure of the office bearer until 60 years. The section (114 (1) of the constitution) states: “subject to the provisions of this section, a person holding the office of Auditor-General shall vacate his office when he attains the age of 60 years or such other age as may be prescribed by Parliament.”
On part (2) of the same section it specifically states that “a person holding the office of Auditor-General may be removed from office only for inability to perform the functions of his office (whether arising from infirmity of body or mind or any other cause) or for misbehaviour and shall not be so removed except in accordance with the provisions of this section.”
According to the parliamentary committee, the appointment on contract basis is partly blamed for lack of total independence that hinders on the execution of the government auditing mandate. The move has seen the office (Auditor General) failing to audit the notorious Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) for 10 years since the establishment of the organ.
Appearing first was PSP who was adamant to the committee that Letebele opted a contract every five years as opposed to being on permanent and pensionable. “She is on a fixed five-year contract terms. It remains a choice of an individual. She was offered the contract. Again this is a contract of employment that the incumbent Auditor General preferred. She said yes she wants the five-year term and before it elapses then she can apply for renewal. She opted for it,” Magosi pointed out to the Committee.
He then added: “I still don’t know how this affects her independence if she was offered two options and she chose this particular contract based one.” However according to the letter of appointment of the Auditor General signed by PSP Magosi, he stated against the surprise of the committee members that: “the government may terminate this contract in accordance with section 26(2) of the Public Service Act by giving you 3 calendar months’ notice or paying you 3 months’ salary in advance.”
The PSP however admitted later that what is written in the letter is a blunder on their (or the government’s part). “It’s a mistake. It’s a standard letter of employment in the Public Service. It should not apply to the Auditor General as they are employed by specifically the constitution.”
Few minutes later after the departure of Magosi, PAC members were shocked to hear the Auditor General rubbishing the submissions made by the PSP, falling short of calling them lies, when appearing before the oversight parliamentary committee on the same day. On whether she was given an option to choose between contract and, permanent and pensionable, Letebele insisted the contract based offer was imposed.
“I was offered a contract. When I got the contract I didn’t feel I had a choice. So, the answer is no, I was not asked. I was never given an option or offered to be employed on contract basis rather than permanent and pensionable until 60 years as the law stipulates,” she stressed.
She also highlighted that therefore she feels the appointment letter is not lawful as it is not according to the constitution. “I knew what the letter was saying and what the constitution stipulates, they are in contrast.” She continued: “there is no how one can be happy with the contract written in the manner that it can be terminated,” while conceding that the 3 months threat of termination, indeed “can affect my independence.”
She said this in cognizant of the fact that the Office of the Auditor General is the external auditor of the Government of Botswana. It is mandated by the Constitution of Botswana under Section 124, Public Audit Act and the Local Authorities and Township Act to audit public accounts of ministries, local authorities and selected parastatals. Section 124 (5) states that “in the exercise of his functions the Auditor-General shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.”
The appointment of the Auditor General, as is presumed to be totally independent from government, was a contentious issue that saw the PAC subpoena PSP Magosi to appear before the committee although it was not on schedule. The Office of the President and Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) appeared at different times for different issues.
The Public Accounts Committee is one of 16 Committees of Parliament charged with overseeing the activities of the Executive. PAC is specifically responsible for overseeing government expenditure through calling ministries and parastatals to appear and account in accordance with Section 95(3) of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly of Botswana.
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.