The government has reportedly missed out on an opportunity to secure 2 million doses of AstraZeneca, following efforts made by Batswana living in the diaspora to negotiate the deal for their besieged nation.
The humanitarian gesture spearheaded by Batswana in the diaspora — who say they are concerned by the high mortality rate locally — has not been warmly welcomed at the government enclave.
“We are losing our relatives, friends, and associates. Based on the network we have cultivated over time, we negotiated an offer for Botswana so that the leadership may be aware of the availability. These samaritans engaged directly with the supplier to buy because you ought to be connected for you to secure vaccines right now. It is not the question of having cash power; the demand is high,” one of the negotiators told this publication.
Information received by WeekendPost shows a country leadership that looks somehow lax in engaging the suppliers and has no pressure to procure vaccines – this is evidenced by several correspondences between some ambassadors and the negotiators seen by this publication.
“I am still trying to get the powers that be at home. HE’s (President Mokgweetsi Masisi) mobile is going unanswered. But usually, he will return the call. Grace Muzila (Permanent Secretary- Ministry of Health and Wellness- MoHW) is also not picking the phone. I will keep on calling. So let me get an indication from home before I talk to Jette (AstraZeneca supplier),” a correspondence from one Ambassador to the concerned connected Motswana reads.
This correspondence was the last time between the Ambassador and the facilitator who did not want to be named – arguing that he does not want to appear to be looking for political mileage on the deal.
As a matter of fact, in another conversation, the facilitator, who at one point was a cabinet minister, is quoted saying, “I have no personal benefit sir, it is information I am giving you freely. Our people are dying. I have done my patriotic duty, sir. Let’s try to source the vaccine to immunize our people.”
Desperate attempts to engage with the Ambassador hit a brick wall, with other information suggesting that the higher-ups were not interested in the deal, despite the dire need for vaccine locally.
At the beginning of the virus in 2020 here in Botswana, the same negotiators are the ones who organized donated masks for some Southern African countries.
Different Ambassadors were asked to collect masks, and the Botswana Ambassador in China organized 10,000 NK95 masks. “We do not have to make noise about it; we all have to contribute to assist our people, no political expediency,” he says.
Both the Health Ministry and OP media liaison offices were yet to respond to this publication’s inquiries on the matter despite numerous attempts to engage them.
According to the Presidential Taskforce report, Botswana has administered at least 318,107 doses of COVID vaccines. Assuming every person needs two doses, Botswana is estimated to have vaccinated about 6.9% of her population. Botswana has a population of around 2.5 million people.
The available AstraZeneca doses negotiated for Botswana have since been offered to other countries that demonstrated a desire to buy.
Botswana is currently struggling to immunize the citizenry as a lack of connection globally to convince the manufacturers to prioritize her. In his tours to various health facilities last week to appreciate the vaccine rollout program, President Masisi said the vaccine is costly and scarce. He also revealed how the COVAX facility failed Botswana.
“As third world nations, we poured money into COVAX to buy only to learn that they are tricking us, there is nothing. We now have to look for funds and buy the available vaccines,” Masisi told residents of Ramotswa.
COVAX is a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines directed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
COVAX coordinates international resources to enable low-to-middle-income countries equitable access to COVID-19 tests, therapies, and vaccines. By 15 July 2020, 165 countries – representing 60% of the human population – had joined COVAX.
As of 11 April 2021, COVAX has delivered 38.5 million doses, falling well short of 100 million promised doses by the end of March 2021. And as of 6 July 2021, 100 million doses have been delivered.
HEALTH MINISTER SAYS NO TO SPUTNIK
Following the AstraZeneca fiasco, the concerned Batswana once again reached out to the Assistant Minister of Health, Sethomo Lelatisitswe, on the prospects of the Russian medication of Sputnik V. The vaccine is currently used by 70 nations worldwide in the fight against the pandemic, and it is one of the first to trial to fight COVID -19.
Like AstraZeneca, the Minister is not keen on the medication, which he admits in one of the exchanges with the negotiators that WHO has cleared it. The main reason why the Minister threw the Sputnik idea into the dustbin is that it “is not registered as yet by Botswana Medical Regulatory Authority (BOMRA).” Further, even saying the manufactures of the drug should come and convince them as authorities why they should procure the vaccine. The Minister could not respond as to whether BOMRA will evaluate the use of Sputnik in Botswana and whether it is possible for them to carry trials here.
SoE IS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
There is a growing concern from those sourcing assistance from affluent nations, expressing concern over President Masisi’s continued State of public Emergency (SoE). They argue that the Health Ministry’s hands are tied hence unable to make decisions because Masisi is the only man who can take decisions during the State of Emergency. “We can excuse the Health Ministry because decisions are mostly taken at Office of the President (OP). Therefore, if they do not see the need for patriotic assistance, then let it be, but our people are perishing the hurtful thing. We will keep on trying our best from our networks here for our people,” adds the facilitator who is currently in the Middle East.
Last week, Lelatisitswe told parliament that the government expects around 380 000 vaccine doses in the coming months to immunize Batswana. However, the doses are a far cry from what reality dictates on the ground.
The government of Botswana has reportedly approved the dream of hosting African Cup of Nations in 2027 with Namibia as co-host, following a proposal to cabinet by Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture Development, Tumiso Rakgare.
WeekendSport learns that the organizing committee dreaming to host the tournament is preparing to hand their hefty book to Confederation of African Football (CAF) when bidding stage comes into open. Botswana Football Association (BFA) has, to this date, managed to win the confidence of the government, and all thoughts around the African football prestigious tournament are given serious attention with acceleration of construction of 10 mini stadia across the country, sources have said.
Furthermore, reports in Namibia state that the Botswana government has approached them with a proposal to co -host the 2027 edition of African tournament. “I can confirm that the minister of sport in Botswana has written to our minister but these are still early days and no decision has been made yet,” Audrin Mathe, an executive director in the Ministry of Sport was quoted by Namibia Sun this week. Meanwhile, Rakgare has said: “It is still an internal issues but yes, we are interested in hosting with Namibia.”
All the while, BFA president who also sits in CAF national executive committee is expected to embody a more emotive promise about the ability of African Cup in Botswana and how it can benefit the citizenry and by extension, the Southern region. With Zimbabwe having come out clean about their intentions to bid for 2034 World Cup, there has been a growing feeling that Botswana should try her luck, and therefore Botswana delegation will be hopeful to walk a fine line.
Although, the commercial potential of a Botswana AFCON Cup is a compelling factor in their favour, following the relative uncertainty of many African countries ( due to political instability, extent of corona virus ) and state of insecurity, BFA is minded not make that their thrust of the case. Hence the concentration on providing a home from home for all teams among Botswana’s diverse population and the opportunity to use the proceeds to advance legacy projects around Africa. The feeling on the ground is that the move might be bold, and some association influential players believe that it will be a matter of upgrading Maun stadium, Masunga and Serowe stadium.
An idea is also harbored that another stadium will be built in around Gaborone to boost the existing National Stadium with the Lobatse and Francistown stadia also expected to play pivotal role. All the while, a more than P20 million operational budget is said to be needed to travel the African countries in convincing them that Botswana is more suitable to host with its security and economy very much stable.
Botswana passes the mark when it comes to transportation, accommodation and hotel facilities. The fact that CAF normally want a country that has hosted youth tournaments before enables Botswana to score points in that it has hosted before. The only problem that might mark Botswana down is road infrastructure. BFA will consider roping in an experienced sport person and the high profile of former players like Diphetogo Selolwane is anticipated to appear for the thoughts building around the bid, and his name will be seen as watershed moment.
The southern region, however, might be dealt a devastating blow following the catastrophe that hit Angola when they hosted the 2010 edition. The Togo team was shot by rebels and panic erupted. However, the field is open and the ever shifting sands of CAF internal politics make the race hard to call and feed fears of horse trading and backroom deals.
Public Servants should brace themselves for some changes as the government is in an overdrive mode to overhaul the public sector. The government has also set the tone for the looming changes as it has added the public sector to its looming list of major and sweeping reforms.
This is contained in a savingram from the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Emmah Peloetletse’s office showing how the government intends to “take stock” of all reforms in the public sector through the establishment of an inventory. Peloetletse’s savingram addressed to various ministries and the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) reveals that the government is working around the clock to implement some changes in the Public Service.
The savingram reminded Permanent Secretaries of various ministries and DPSM that the public sector reforms unit (PSRU) at the Office of the President is mandated with Coordinating Reforms across the Public Service. “This essentially entails providing the strategic guidance and facilitation in the implementation of reforms across the Public Service. In this endeavour the Unit has in the past with Technical Assistance from European Union developed a template for documenting Reforms in the Public Service and documented ten (10) major reforms across the Public Service,” reads the savingram in part. It added that “The Unit has lately rolled out the Change Management Framework in an effort to facilitate effective and efficient management of change in the Public Service.”
According to the savingram, it has been noted that for a variety of reasons the use of the template for documenting reforms has not been universally used across the Botswana Public Service. It further states that to facilitate the documentation of the reforms it is essential that an inventory of the various reforms across the Public Service (Central Government, Local Government and State Owned Entities) is established.
“By this correspondent we are seeking your assistance in populating the attached template to provide basic information on the various reforms. The PSRU will, through the various Coordination of focal Persons facilitate the full documentation of the reforms once the inventory is established,” the savingram further stated. The copy of the template among others calls on the focal persons to fill out them form under several headings; they include title of reform, start date, reform objectives, reform components, reform components, progress status.
The savingram echoes President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s announcement last year during his state of the nation address that as a nation Botswana has set itself a lofty goal of becoming a high income country by 2036 and has come up with a list of reforms among them digitisation of government infrastructure. He said the path to achieving this goal dictates that, Botswana takes deliberate steps that will transform its institutions; the way Batswana think and the way they act.
“It is with this in mind, that I presented a Reset Agenda in May 2021, with the following priorities: Save Botswana‘s population from COVID-19, by implementing a series of life saving measures that include a successful and timely vaccination programme, Adherence to COVID-19 health protocols remains key and align Botswana Government’s machinery to the Presidential Agenda, to ensure that the national transformation agenda will be embodied in the public service of the day,” said Masisi. He added that, “this will come with significant Government reforms in all public institutions. We need greater agility and responsiveness like never before in the delivery of public services.”
The Presidential COVID-19 Task Force reportedly meddled in the awarding of tenders for COVID-19, a new Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report has revealed.
The Committee expressed concern that it has noted that there are two centres for covid procurement being the Ministry of Health and the Covid Task team in the Office of the President. The report says the Committee questioned the Accounting Officer on why the COVID 19 task team is usurping the powers of the Ministry of Health by engaging in covid procurement when the Ministry of Health is the one which has the experience and mandate of dealing with the pandemic. The report says clarification was also sought on why direct appointment is the preferred method for covid procurement.
“In her response the Accounting Officer stated that the task team was mainly engaged in the procuring of quarantine facilities and was assisting the Ministry of Health due to the heavy workload brought about by the COVID 19 pandemic,” the report says. The report says the Accounting Officer further stated that direct procurement was used because COVID 19 was treated as an emergency and that procurement was mainly from companies that have been traditionally used by the Ministry of Health.
“This however, is not the case as there has been report of new companies being awarded COVID -19 contracts. The use of direct procurement method should only be used in exceptional cases as it’s a non-competitive method which increases the risk of inflated pricing and close relations with particular suppliers to the detriment of others,” the report says.
It says since most covid procurement fell under emergency, there is need for openness and transparency regarding the procurement. The PAC recommended that in order to ensure transparency and accountability all COVID 19 related procurement should be periodically published in the PPADB website giving full details of the companies receiving procurement contracts and the beneficial owners of the companies.
It says with the passage of time the impact of covid is no longer unexpected so direct awards should gradually be abandoned as the medium and long-term needs of the pandemic can now be predicted. “Judgement should be used even during direct awards to ensure that prices are not higher than the market prices,” the report says.
In a related matter, the report says the Central Medical Stores (CMS) was unable to cater for the required quantities of medical supplies with order fulfilments of about 35% resulting in shortages and insufficient drugs to Athlone Hospital and the surrounding clinics. “In his submission the Accounting Officer had indicated that CMS was unable to supply the exact quantities required by the hospital and surrounding clinics due to the fact that supplies from CMS have to be rationed in order to cover other facilities around the country,” says the report.
The committee expressed concern about the inadequate supply of drugs to government facilities which puts the lives of patients at risk due to non- availability of essential supplies. It recommended that the Ministry identifies and prioritise measures that need to be taken to ensure that there is adequate supply of essential medicines which are needed in the public health system.
Meanwhile the report says the Ministry of Health and Wellness coordinates the operations and functions of some institutions which receive government subventions and secondment of staff from the government. These institutions include 10 NGO’s, two mission Hospitals, three mission clinics and two schools of Nursing.
It says in its endeavour to enhance efficiency and effectiveness of government support to NGOs the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development developed some Policy Guidelines for Financial Support to Non- Governmental Organisations. According to the PAC report, the guidelines were meant to ensure that there is consistency, accountability and transparency in administering public funding to NGOs. However, the Ministry of Health did not comply with the very important guidelines.
“The main areas of non-compliance were the following: (i) There was no Evaluation Committee to vet proposals from NGOs, in some instances NGOs had formed part of the evaluation forum when their requests were being considered,” the report says. It says there was continued funding of NGOs even when they failed to submit narrative and financial progress reports; and (iv) Continued funding of NGOs that failed to submit audited financial statements and management letters as required. The Committee expressed concern at the lapses in the administration of grants by the Ministry despite the large sums of public money awarded to these NGOs.