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Presidential COVID-19 Task Team dissolved

Mogomotsi Matshaba

Dr Mogomotsi Matshaba has reportedly replaced Dr Kereng Masupu as the new scientific leader to fight COVID-19. 

The Presidential COVID-19 Task Team was appointed in April 2020 to provide guidance and oversight on the implementation of the national preparedness and response plan to prevent and control COVID-19 pandemic. It was coordinated by a veterinarian Dr Masupu who was deputized by Professor Mosepele Mosepele, a senior lecturer in internal medicine/infectious diseases at the University of Botswana.

Dr Matshaba was appointed its scientific advisor and he is an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and deputy director- Botswana-Baylor Clinic. WeekendPost understands that the contract for the Presidential COVID-19 Task team elapsed on February 28, 2022 and only Dr Matshaba was retained. “All other personnel who were seconded to the Presidential Task Team COVID-19 are now reporting at their previous stations,” said a former Task Team deployee.

At the time of going to press the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MoPAGPA) had not responded to a questionnaire on the issue. The Task Team since its appointment was followed by controversy. Less than a month at work it was reported that Dr Masupu’s team was at odds with the leadership of the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW). This led to President Mokgweetsi Masisi sacking MoHW Permanent Secretary Solomon Sekwakwa and his deputy Dr Morrison Sinvula on April 22, 2020. 

Speculation was that the duo strongly differed with the approach adopted by COVID-19 Task Team to fight the pandemic. The Auditor General Pulane Letebele also highlighted some discrepancies in the appointments of the COVID-19 Task Team personnel in her report on The Preparedness and Response of the Country Towards the COVID-19 Pandemic and Management of the Relief Fund. 

Letebele said the President appointed the Presidential Task Force members, however, the appointment letters did not specify the legal provisions upon which they were made. “The Office of the President and MoPAGPA revealed that the existence of a remuneration procedure was critically important to attract the best employees in the respective fields of work whilst ensuring a high degree of goal alignment between the individual and the government,” she said.

The audit also observed that members of the Presidential Task Team, including volunteers were appointed at various times and with different remuneration packages and a total amount of P2, 309, 292.90 in remuneration paid as at the end of August 2020. “It is noteworthy that most members of the Presidential Task Force were appointed from outside the public service. It was observed that there were two Presidential Task Force support team members where one was appointed on gratis basis as his employer’s ‘in kind’ support of the government’s effort to deal with the national crisis, and therefore was not expected to be paid any allowance by the government. However, it was noted that this member was paid a total of P165, 600.00 for services rendered from 1 May 2020 to 31 July 2020, a practice that was against his employer’s policy as per the Permanent Secretary to the President letter dated 29 July 2020.”

She also said the other member was appointed on self-voluntary merit but ultimately requested to be paid. A request was made by the National Coordinator through a letter dated July 22, 2020, for facilitation of payment of allowance to the member. At the time of audit, payment was still under consideration. “The payment of P165, 600 was irregular and thus a loss to the government. The other payment under consideration would also result in financial loss to government should it be honoured.”

She recommended that MoPAGPA should account for the two payments.

On another note, the audit noted that amongst the Task Force members mentioned, four were temporarily engaged by the Director of Health Services in June 2020, for 10 days, to conduct an investigation on factors surrounding the spike in numbers of COVID-19 positive cases at the Gaborone Private Hospital. However, at the time of engagement, there were no official appointment letters from the Office of the President.

The appointment letters from the Office of the President dated August 20, 2020 were written and issued retrospectively to facilitate payment. Ideally, the appointment letters should have been written and given to the concerned experts before commencement of the assignment with terms of employment clearly articulated. However, no explanation was given for this anomaly.

“Further investigations revealed that one of the appointed Task Force Team members was a foreign national who happened to be in the country as a visitor. The said member was offered a temporary appointment by the President, to the COVID-19 Task Coordination Team for a period of 12 months with effect from 1 March 2020 to February 2021, with a daily allowance of P1,800.00 payable monthly. However, examination of COVID-19 financial documents revealed no record of any payment ever made to the member.

Efforts to obtain evidence for work-permit, professional profile and other related employment requirements of the member proved futile, save for the appointment letter that was availed. This made it difficult to determine the appropriateness of the recruitment process that was followed to appoint the member on the COVID-19 Task Force team.”

It was indicated that the initial contract of COVID-19 Task Force Communication Team to navigate the challenging terrain of the escalating new COVID-19 cases on daily basis was four months. The entire contract from May 1 to August 31, 2020 was not inclusive of public service employees such as the Public Relations Officers (PROs).

Although the contract was further extended by two months, from September 1, 2020 to October 31, 2020, it could not be established whether the government had put in place and/or planned for inclusion of the public service personnel.

Additionally, a request to extend by six months, the contracts for two co-Scientific Chief Officers was also made. Non-inclusion of the public service PROs and the government health scientific officials denied them opportunity for skills transfer in order to ensure continuity. This had resulted in the government continuing to incur costs by extending contracts of non-public servants. The audit recommended that MoPAGPA should in future consider engagement of public officers. In the event of non-availability of requisite skills in the public sector, public servants should be attached to those appointed for skills transfer.

Letebele also noted that members of the Presidential Task Force Team from parastatals were paid the COVID-19 allowances whereas fellow public servants were not entitled to such allowances. Furthermore, it was observed that the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) had appointed COVID-19 related assignment task team, which comprised of some civil servants and paid them allowance equivalent to ‘Category A’ of the Government Boards. She recommended that, for future pandemics or national emergencies MoPAGPA should develop a consistent remuneration system. The system would provide fairness for all affected parties, and such could promote good corporate governance.

The overall aim of the audit was to ascertain accountability, transparency and governance on the country’s preparedness and response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the management of funds, by key government ministries.

The audit covered activities from January 30, 2020 when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the current outbreak of COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern, to 31 August 2020. The audit focused on the preparedness, response to the COVID-19 pandemic and management of the COVID-19 Relief Fund. Specifically, the audit focused on the prevention and control strategies for the response of COVID-19, public awareness and governance structures.

The audit also covered the disbursement of funds, donations, recruitment, procurement of goods and services at National (Ministerial) and District levels. The COVID-19 preparedness and response requires a multi-sectoral approach, however the audit, focused on the MoHW, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MFED) and the MoPAGPA.


Jackdish Shah loses interest in BDP

17th May 2022

As the preparations for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) congress are about to kick off, reports on the ground suggest that the party’s Deputy Treasurer Jackdish Shah will not defend the position in August as he contemplates relocation.

According to sources, the businessman who joined the BDP Central Committee in 2015 at the 36th Congress held in Mmadinare is ready to leave the party’s politburo. It is said he long made up his mind not to defend the position last year. A prominent businessman, Shah, when he won the position to assist Satar Dada in 2015 was expected to improve the party’s financial vibrancy. By then the party was under the leadership of Ian Khama.

According to close sources, Shah long decided not to contest because he has fallen out of favour with the party leadership. It is said he took the decision after some prominent businessmen who are BDP members and part of football syndicate decided to push him out and they used their proximity to President Mokgweetsi Masisi to badmouth him hence the decision.

“The fight at the Botswana Football Association (BFA) and Botswana Football League (BFL) has left him alone in the desert and some faces there used their close access to the President to isolate him,” said a source. Media reports say, Shah does not see eye to eye with BFA President MacLean Letshwiti who is also Masisi’s buddy hence the decision.

BFL Chairman Nicholas Zackhem is said to be not in good terms with Shah, who at one point Chaired the then Botswana Premier League (BPL). “He is seriously considering quitting because of what is unfolding at the team (Township Rollers) which is slowly not making financial gains and might be relegated and he wants to sell while it is still worth the investment,” said a highly placed source.

Shah is a renowned businessman who runs internet providing company Zebra net, H &G, game farm in Kasane, cattle farm in Ghanzi region and lot of properties in Gaborone. He also has two hotels in USA, his advisors have given him thumbs up on the possible decision of relocating provided he does not sell some of the investments that are doing well.

Asked about whether he will be contesting Shah could not confirm nor deny the reports. It is said for now it is too early as a public decision will have to be taken after the national council meeting and prior to the national congress. “As a BDP Central Committee member he cannot make that announcement now,” a BDP source said.

BDP is expected to assemble for the National Council during the July holidays while the National Congress is billed for August. It is then that the party will elect a new CC members. The last time BDP held elective congress was at Kang in 2019. The party is yet to issue writ.

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Govt ignores own agreements to improve public service

17th May 2022

The government has failed to implement some commitments and agreements that it had entered into with unions to improve conditions of public servants.

Three years after the government and public made commitments aimed at improving conditions of work and services it has emerged that the government has ignored and failed to implement all commitments on conditions of service emanating from the 2019 round of negotiations.

In its position paper that saw public service salaries being increased by 5%, the government the government has also signalled its intention to renege on some of the commitments it had made.
“Government aspires to look into all outstanding issues contained in the Labour Agreement signed between the Employer and recognised Trade Union on the 27th August 2019 and that it be reviewed, revised and delinked by both Parties with a view to agree on those whose implementation that can be realistically executed during the financial years 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25 respectively,” the government said.

Furthermore, in addition to reviewing, revising and de-linking of the outstanding issues contained in the Collective Labour Agreement alluded to above and taking on a progressive proposal, government desires to review revise, develop and implement human resource policies as listed below during the financial year 2022/23,2023/24,2024/25

They include selection and appointment policy, learning and development policy, transfer guidelines, conditions of service, permanent and pensionable, temporary and part time, Foreign Service, expatriate and disciplinary procedures.

In their proposal paper, the unions which had proposed an 11 percent salary increase but eventually settled for 5% percent indicated that the government has not, and without explanation, acted on some of the key commitments from the 2019/2020 and 2021/22 round of negotiations.  The essential elements of these commitments include among others the remuneration Policy for the Public Service.

The paper states that a Remuneration Policy will be developed to inform decision making on remuneration in the Public Service. It is envisaged that consultations between the government and relevant key stakeholders on the policy was to start on 1st September 2019, and the development of the policy should be concluded by 30th June 2020.

The public sector unions said the Remuneration Policy is yet to be developed. The Cooperating Unions suggested that the process should commence without delay and that it should be as participatory as it was originally conceived. Another agreement relate to Medical Aid Contribution for employees on salary Grades A and B.

The employer contribution towards medical aid for employees on salary Grades A and B will be increased from 50% to 80% for the Standard Option of the Botswana Public
“Officers’ Medical Aid Scheme effective 1st October 2019; the cooperating unions insist that, in fulfilling this commitment, there should be no discrimination between those on the high benefit and those on the medium benefit plan,” the unions proposal paper says.

Another agreement involves the standardisation of gratuities across the Public Service. “Gratuities for all employees on fixed term contracts of 12 months but not exceeding 5 years, including former Industrial class employees be standardized at 30% across the Public Service in order to remove the existing inequalities and secure long-term financial security for Public Service Employees at lower grades with immediate effect,” the paper states.

The other agreement signed by the public sector unions and the government was the development of fan-shaped Salary Structure. The paper says the Public Service will adopt a best practice fan-shaped and overlapping structure, with modification to suit the Botswana context. The Parties (government and unions) to this agreement will jointly agree on the ranges of salary grades to allow for employees’ progression without a promotion to the available position on the next management level.

“The fan-shaped structure is envisaged to be in place by 1st June 2020, to enable factoring into the budgetary cycle for the financial year 2021/22,” the unions’ proposal paper states. It says the following steps are critical, capacity building of key stakeholders (September – December 2019), commission remuneration market survey (3 months from September to November 2019), design of the fan-shaped structure (2 to 3 months from January to March2020) and consultations with all key stakeholders (March to April 2020).

The unions and government had also signed an agreement on performance management and development: A rigorous performance management and reward system based on a 5-point rating system will be adopted as an integral part of the operationalization of the new Remuneration System.

Performance Management and Development (PMD) will be used to reward workers based on performance. The review of the Performance Management System was to be undertaken in order to close the gaps identified by PEMANDU and other previous reports on PMS between 1st September 2019 and 30th June 2020 as follows; internal process to update and revise the current Performance Management System by January 2020.

A job evaluation exercise in the Public Service will also be undertaken to among others establish internal equity, and will also cover the grading of all supervisory positions within the Public Service.
Another agreement included overtime Management. The Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) was to facilitate the conclusion of consultations on management of overtime, including consideration of the Overtime Management Task Team’s report on the same by 30th November 2019.

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Health Expert rejects ‘death rates’ links to low population growth

17th May 2022

A public health expert, Dr Edward Maganu who is also the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health has said that unlike many who are expressing shock at the population census growth decline results, he is not, because the 2022 results represents his expectations.

He rushed to dismiss the position by Statistics Botswana in which thy partly attributes the low growth rates to mortality rates for the past ten years. “I don’t think there is any undercounting. I also don’t think death rates have much to do with it since the excessive deaths from HIV/AIDS have been controlled by ARVs and our life expectancy isn’t lower than it was in the 1990s,” he said in an interview with this publication post the release of the results.

Preliminary results released by Statistics Botswana this week indicated that Botswana’s population is now estimated to be 2,346,179 – a figure that the state owned data agency expressed worry over saying it’s below their projected growth. The general decline in the population growth rate is attributed to ‘fertility’ and ‘mortality’ rates that the country registered on the past ten years since the last census in 2011.

Maganu explained that with an enlightened or educated society and the country’s total fertility rate, there was no way the country’s population census was going to match the previous growth rates.
“The results of the census make sense and is exactly what I expected. Our Total Fertility Rate ( the average number of children born to a woman) is now around 2.

This is what happens as society develops and educates its women. The enlightened women don’t want to bear many children, they want to work and earn a living, have free time, and give their few children good care. So, there is no under- counting. Census procedures are standard so that results are comparable between countries.

That is why the UN is involved through UNFPA, the UN Agency responsible for population matters,” said Maganu who is also the former adviser to the World Health Organisation. Maganu ruled out undercounting concerns, “I see a lot of Batswana are worried about the census results. Above is what I have always stated.”

Given the disadvantages that accompany low population for countries, some have suggested that perhaps a time has come for the government to consider population growth policies or incentives, suggestions Maganu deems ineffective.

“It has never worked anywhere. The number of children born to a woman are a very private decision of the woman and the husband in an enlightened society. And as I indicated, the more the women of a society get educated, the higher the tendency to have fewer children. All developed countries have a problem of zero population growth or even negative growth.

The replacement level is regarded as 2 children per woman; once the fertility level falls below that, then the population stops growing. That’s why developed countries are depending so much on immigration,” he said.

According to him, a lot of developing countries that are educating their women are heading there, including ourselves-Botswana. “Countries that have had a policy of encouraging women to have more children have failed dismally. A good example is some countries of Eastern Europe (Romania is a good example) that wanted to grow their populations by rewarding women who had more children. It didn’t work. The number of children is a very private matter,” said Maganu

For those who may be worried about the impact of problems associated with low growth rate, Maganu said: “The challenge is to develop society so that it can take care of its dependency ratio, the children and the aged. In developed countries the ratio of people over 60 years is now more than 20%, ours is still less than 10%.”

The preliminary results show that Mogoditshane with (88,098) is now the biggest village in the country with Maun coming second (85,293) and Molepolole at third position with 74,719. Population growth is associated with many economic advantages because more people leads to greater human capital, higher economic growth, economies of scale, the efficiency of higher population density and the improved demographic structure of society, among many others.

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