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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.

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Over 2 000 civil servants interdicted

6th December 2022

Over 2,000 civil servants in the public sector have been interdicted for a variety of reasons, the majority of which are criminal in nature.

According to reports, some officers have been under interdiction for more than two years because such matters are still being investigated. Information reaching WeekendPost shows that local government, particularly councils, has the highest number of suspended officers.

In its annual report, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) revealed that councils lead in corrupt activities throughout the country, and dozens of council employees are being investigated for alleged corrupt activities. It is also reported that disciplined forces, including the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), police, and prisons, and the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) have suspended a significant number of officers.

The Ministry of Education and Skills Development has also recorded a good number of teachers who have implicated in love relationships with students, while some are accused of impregnating students both in primary and secondary school. Regional education officers have been tasked to investigate such matters and are believed to be far from completion as some students are dragging their feet in assisting the investigations to be completed.

This year, Mmadinare Senior Secondary reportedly had the highest number of pregnancies, especially among form five students who were later forcibly expelled from school. Responding to this publication’s queries, Permanent Secretary to the Office of the President Emma Peloetletse said, “as you might be aware, I am currently addressing public servants across the length and breadth of our beautiful republic. Due to your detailed enquiry, I am not able to respond within your schedule,” she said.

She said some of the issues raised need verification of facts, some are still under investigation while some are still before the courts of law.

Meanwhile, it is close to six months since the Police Commissioner Keabetwe Makgophe, Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) Tymon Katlholo and the Deputy Director of the DIS Tefo Kgothane were suspended from their official duties on various charges.

Efforts to solicit comment from trade unions were futile at the time of going to press.

Some suspended officers who opted for anonymity claimed that they have close to two years while on suspension. One stated that the investigations that led him to be suspended have not been completed.

“It is heartbreaking that at this time the investigations have not been completed,” he told WeekendPost, adding that “when a person is suspended, they get their salary fully without fail until the matter is resolved”.

Makgophe, Katlholo and Kgothane are the three most high-ranking government officials that are under interdiction.

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Masisi to dump Tsogwane?

28th November 2022

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and some senior government officials are abuzz with reports that President Mokgweetsi Masisi has requested his Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane not to contest the next general elections in 2024.

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African DFIs gear to combat climate change

25th November 2022

The impacts of climate change are increasing in frequency and intensity every year and this is forecast to continue for the foreseeable future. African CEOs in the Global South are finally coming to the party on how to tackle the crisis.

Following the completion of COP27 in Egypt recently, CEOs of Africa DFIs converged in Botswana for the CEO Forum of the Association of African Development Finance Institutions. One of the key themes was on green financing and building partnerships for resource mobilization in financing SDGs in Africa

A report; “Weathering the storm; African Development Banks response to Covid-19” presented shocking findings during the seminar. Among them; African DFI’s have proven to be financially resilient, and they are fast shifting to a green transition and it’s financing.

COO, CEDA, James Moribame highlighted that; “Everyone needs food, shelter and all basic needs in general, but climate change is putting the achievement of this at bay. “It is expensive for businesses to do business, for instance; it is much challenging for the agricultural sector due to climate change, and the risks have gone up. If a famer plants crops, they should be ready for any potential natural disaster which will cost them their hard work.”

According to Moribame, Start-up businesses will forever require help if there is no change.

“There is no doubt that the Russia- Ukraine war disrupted supply chains. SMMEs have felt the most impact as some start-up businesses acquire their materials internationally, therefore as inflation peaks, this means the exchange rate rises which makes commodities expensive and challenging for SMMEs to progress. Basically, the cost of doing business has gone up. Governments are no longer able to support DFI’s.”

Moribame shared remedies to the situation, noting that; “What we need is leadership that will be able to address this. CEOs should ensure companies operate within a framework of responsible lending. They also ought to scout for opportunities that would be attractive to investors, this include investors who are willing to put money into green financing. Botswana is a prime spot for green financing due to the great opportunity that lies in solar projects. ”

Technology has been hailed as the economy of the future and thus needs to be embraced to drive operational efficiency both internally and externally.

Executive Director, bank of Industry Nigeria, Simon Aranou mentioned that for investors to pump money to climate financing in Africa, African states need to be in alignment with global standards.

“Do what meets world standards if you want money from international investors. Have a strong risk management system. Also be a good borrower, if you have a loan, honour the obligation of paying it back because this will ensure countries have a clean financial record which will then pave way for easier lending of money in the future. African states cannot just be demanding for mitigation from rich countries. Financing needs infrastructure to complement it, you cannot be seating on billions of dollars without the necessary support systems to make it work for you. Domestic resource mobilisation is key. Use public money to mobilise private money.” He said.

For his part, the Minster of Minister of Entrepreneurship, Karabo Gare enunciated that, over the past three years, governments across the world have had to readjust their priorities as the world dealt with the effects and impact of the COVID 19 pandemic both to human life and economic prosperity.

“The role of DFIs, during this tough period, which is to support governments through countercyclical measures, including funding of COVID-19 related development projects, has become more important than ever before. However, with the increasingly limited resources from governments, DFIs are now expected to mobilise resources to meet the fiscal gaps and continue to meet their developmental mandates across the various affected sectors of their economies.” Said Gare.

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