The Auditor General’s report for 2019/2020 shows how hundreds of orphans could not benefit from an account holding billions of Pula because officials at the Department of Social Protection under the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development slept on the job.
Also robbed of the opportunity to benefit from the programme were vulnerable children.
The report reveals that the Department had outsourced beneficiary payments to Botswana Post, Sandulela Telecom Botswana and Smartswitch Botswana (Pty Ltd). Each service provider was engaged to effect payments for specific elements of the beneficiary packages. The Department disbursed a total of P3.3 billion from 2016/2017 to 2019/2020.
“However, the Department had lost control of the key financial operations to the service providers, who had breached the terms of the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) on numerous occasions,” the report says.
The report says that a Memorandum of Understanding between the department and service providers requires engaged companies to ‘consolidate, verify and return all unclaimed payments to Client, together with a list of beneficiaries who did not claim such payments’. Such information must be submitted after every three (3) months for reconciliation.
“However, the service providers on numerous occasions contravened the terms of the agreement, as they took a substantial amount of time beyond the stipulated period to return unclaimed monies. Instances were noted where Sandulela took unduly long, even up to 21 months to submit returns to the Government,” the report says,
The report states that Sandulela held an average of P6.2 million in unclaimed cash allowances during this period, thereby denying the Government the opportunity to invest the monies elsewhere and earn interest.
Regarding the MoA, the report says that Botswana Post and Sandulela Telecom were required to open separate bank accounts to be used ‘solely for the social benefits cash allowances in the Agreement and the interest accrued in that account shall be reimbursed to the Client’. The agreement also provided that the service provider may keep the monthly unclaimed cash component for a period not exceeding three months with interest accrued thereon.
In line with their obligations, says the report, the Department credited Botswana Post and Sandulela Telecom with P2.3 billion and P371 million, respectively, for social welfare grants payroll for 2016/2017 to 2019/2020. Some of the beneficiaries did not collect their cash allowances monthly, and these had accumulated to P66 million for Botswana Post and P9 million for Sandulela Telecommunication Botswana.
“Based on the above observations, the Government could have earned interest on the unclaimed cash allowances if they had been returned as prescribed. As such, the service providers did not fully abide by the terms of the agreement,” the report says.
The report found that the agency fees for each invoice were based on the number of beneficiaries paid in a period multiplied by the rate prevailing at a specific location. It was observed that the Client did not receive reconciliation reports showing paid and unpaid allowances in time to update the Social Benefit and Reconciliation System (SOBERS) application system.
“Therefore, the credibility of the amount as calculated in the invoice could not be reasonably assured. The P47 million and P142 million agency fees paid to Sandulela and Botswana Post respectively for a period of 4 years may not be reflective of the number of beneficiaries paid,” the report says.
Retarding the Beneficiary Management Process, the report shows that the beneficiary registration system had some deficiencies, which resulted in delays in updating the monthly payroll with newly approved beneficiaries. Some beneficiaries had to wait for up to 5 years before they could receive the cash allowance, consequently defeating the programme’s key objectives.
“A total of 2 270 social grant beneficiaries who passed on from as far back as 1997/1998 were removed from the payroll in 2017/2018 and 2018/2019, which meant that some of them had remained active in the payroll for more than 20 years after their death. The Department had deposited their share of cash allowances amounting to over P17 million with the service providers, and there was no evidence of interest paid to the Client on this amount,” the report says.
In addition, the report says, cash allowance for 50 beneficiaries was claimed even though they were deceased. The audit could not rule out the misappropriation of P185 545 in payments to non-existent beneficiaries.
In terms of the Child in Need of Care (CNC) and the Community Home Based Care (CHBC) programmes, the report says, children require a special diet prescribed by a paediatrician to be enrolled. For that reason, the food parcels should include the prescribed food items only. According to the report, this proved to be easy to manipulate since the Smartswitch card did not have any restrictions established specifically for CNC.
“The Department of Social Protection (DSP) is in partnership with 9 NGOs, whose main aim is to protect the orphans and vulnerable children. The implementation of the programme includes key activities assigned to the District Councils,” says the report.
Therefore, the report says that the exchange of crucial information reports between the two parties is vital for the Client to be up-to-date with the operations to execute their mandate. The oversight role was therefore considered ineffective due to the following:
The NGOs did not provide quarterly narrative reports, financial reports and annual audited financial statements to account for transactions on their operations, which was in breach of the MoA. The Botswana National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable Children for 2010-2016 requires DSP to establish an independent body to provide oversight comprising development partners; however, this had not been done.
The DSP did not establish the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee as required by the National Monitoring & Evaluation Framework, whose mandate was inter-alia to ensure that Local Authorities effectively account for funds disbursed to them and establish whether they had been utilized for the intended purposes.
As a result, the report says the “Department had lost control of and had abdicated their responsibility and accountability for funds approximating P806 million disbursed between 2016/2017 and 2019/2020 to the NGOs and Local Authorities.”
It says that while the objectives of different classes of social grants may have been met, it is nevertheless of paramount importance that all the prescribed criteria in all the authorities are complied with for sound management of the programme.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.