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Economic Recovery projects halted as funds dry 

The government has decided to halt some development projects that had not yet commenced to make funds available for COVID-19 expenditure, BDF Mozambique deployment, and tertiary financing under the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science, Research, and Technology.

 On Wednesday, Parliament approved a Supplementary Budget request by Minister of Finance and Economic Development Peggy Serame totaling P2.49 billion.  In the funds requested by Minister, Government will pump over P1.1 billion into the COVID-19 fund to purchase vaccines, PPE, and associated medical items such as syringes, needles, and surgical masks.

Ministry of Defence, Justice, and Security will be allocated P204.5 million under the Botswana Defence Force to cover the costs of deploying and sustaining troops in Mozambique.  Regarding the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, over P1.16 billion was requested, of which P401 million will cater for sponsoring new students at tertiary institutions.

The Ministry will pump P762 million into restoring the amount initially approved for tuition fees and allowances. When deliberating on the source of funding, Serame explained that to finance the supplementary expenditure, the government will tap into the development budget in addition to dipping into Special Funds.

Serame explained that the Ministry of Finance will be withdrawing finance warrants for some of the approved Development Budget, “targeting projects and programs that have not yet commenced to accommodate the Supplementary budget.”

“Working with Ministries and Departments, my Ministry has taken care not to disrupt ongoing projects for now. However, if the COVID-19 pandemic persists unabated, there is a chance that ongoing projects may be suspended in the future to allow the country to deal with the disease,” she said.

The Minister revealed that the government would reallocate P2.08 billion from the approved Development Budget, given the tight budgetary situation and the uncertainty around the economy’s recovery, to accommodate part of the urgent supplementary requests.
She explained that this is to be achieved by invoking Section 28 (2) of the Public Finance Management Act. The Act provides that “The unspent balance of any warrant issued under this section may at any time be withdrawn or reduced by the Minister if, in his or her opinion, the exigencies of the financial situation render such withdrawal or reduction expedient.”

Serame, however, noted that this action does not in any way alter the Appropriation (2021/2022) Act, No.2 of 2021, as approved by Parliament in March this year, “but rather seeks to delay the implementation of some projects to accommodate the urgent needs to fight the pandemic.”

The over P2 billion withdrawal from the Development Budget will be made against the approved Domestic Development Fund (DDF) amount of P14.2 billion across programs and projects to provide room within both Consolidated and Development Funds to accommodate the Supplementary budget.

The Minister told Parliament that projects earmarked for delayed implementation have not yet started, and new contracts have not been signed. In contrast, ongoing projects will be allowed to continue for now to avoid disruption.

Expressing some reservations on the proposed source of Supplementary Budget funding, Chairman of Parliament Finance & Estimates Committee Thapelo Letsholo said Development Budget as a source of financing for recurrent expenditure is always problematic.

“We are concerned as the Finance Committee that it appears that once again, the Development Budget has been identified as a source of funding despite our caution against this practice last year,” said Letsholo, who is also a Member of Parliament for Kanye North.

The Kanye lawmaker submitted that other sources of funding within the Recurrent Budget could be explored and accessed, considering that the recurrent budget has never been fully expended over the last five years.

“While we are informed and appreciate that this time monies will be going back into the Consolidated Fund for re-appropriation, the concern remains that these are coming out of the Development Budget to fund recurrent expenditure,” he said.

Letsholo further added that the ugly head of project delays and the slow pace of movement across Government projects was a thorny issue.

“We have been informed that some of it are attributable to COVID-19. Notwithstanding, and as previously articulated, these delays have the potential to hamper economic development and deprive Batswana of opportunities and a better standard of living,” he said.

Letsholo cited the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP), which was designed to lessen the negative impact and set the economy on a path of transformative recovery.

“We articulated our belief that should the envisaged projects of the ERTP be delivered on time, and within budget, there was potential to turn around the Botswana economy within a short time, to empower Batswana, and to set Botswana on a path of achieving an inclusive and positively transformed future.”

Letsholo decried slow utilization of development budgets expressing concerns that government will now move some of the funding for ERTP projects back into the Consolidated Fund.
On Thursday, Kwabena Antwi, Portfolio Manager at Kgori Capital, said in the company’s quarterly market insight this week that it was not clear how the government plans to navigate the uncharted territories of COVID-19 and economic slowdown. “The question remains on how the Government plans to fund its projected deficits,” he said.

Kwabena said even with the P2.7 billion loan from the World Bank to support Botswana’s economic recovery, “there is an increased likelihood that projects under its ERTP may be delayed due to insufficient funding.”

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Cabinet approves AFCON dream

24th January 2022
zebras

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.

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Major public services shake-up looms

24th January 2022
Emmah

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.”

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Covid-19 Task Force meddled in tenders-report

24th January 2022
Dr. Kereng Masupu

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.

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