The Botswana Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (BOCONGO) notes with concern the findings of the Auditor General Report for the year ended March 2016, which point to serious wastage of public funds and failure to account by senior public servants. Below are a few examples:
• Department of Tertiary Education Financing (DTEF)
The Auditor General highlights rampant mismanagement of the account from which the living allowances of government sponsored tertiary students are paid. Even after repeated warnings and enquiries by the Auditor General, officers responsible for these disbursements at DTEF have failed to offer any satisfactory explanations for the lack of reconciliation and monitoring of the account, which had a balance in excess of P1billion as at March 2016. Further, the AG raises concern that the Accounting Officer (Permanent Secretary) has not delivered on his/her promise to arrest the matter, raising fears that large amounts of public funds may be lost without trace or detection.
• Ministry of Youth Empowerment Sports & Culture Development
The Auditor General also questioned why about P1.5 million was spend on international trips by the Ministry during the Independence Day celebrations in September 2015 (particularly on trips to Stockholm, Maputo and Nairobi); and paid for by the Botswana’s Foreign Missions on behalf of the Ministry. The expenses covered performance fees, per diem, hotel expenses, transportation and rental of musical instruments. The Auditor General also noted that in these trips payments for both per diem and hotel expenses far exceeded engagement fees of the musical groups; and went beyond the limits of public service rules. Further, the Auditor General questioned why such exorbitant expenditures were not reserved for Botswana’s Golden Jubilee celebrations the next year.
• Serule Police Station
The Auditor General also carried out an audit inspection at Serule Police Station and discovered shortcomings in the planning and execution of projects. In one instance, a fuel point facility that was constructed in 2004 was still sitting idle in 2015/16. In another instance, a contractor who was awarded a tender for upgrading a sewerage system at the police station in February 2010 had still not completed the project six years later, despite the fact that he/she had already been paid over P1.9 million. The Auditor General expressed concern at continuous cost over-runs in government projects, which are a great cost to the public.
• Botswana Innovation Hub
Since its inception in 2010, Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) has failed to utilise P12million set aside by government as start-up capital for the Innovation Fund. Though the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of BIH has in previous years promised to take the matter up with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, he had not done so by end of March 2016. Neither had he given any reasons for the delay.
• Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism
The Auditor General expressed disappointment at the failure by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks to account for additional amounts paid for the elephant ivory sculpture that was erected at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, which brought the total amount to P 806 507.
As the umbrella body of non-governmental organizations in Botswana, BOCONGO feels obliged to respond to such alarming findings by the auditor General. This is in line with our responsibility to forge participatory democracy in Botswana by educating government, the people and political parties about their rights and obligations as democratic citizens. As BOCONGO, we have a vision of NGOs working together for a more just, equal and integrated Botswana. Therefore, it is our responsibility to lead the people of Botswana in demanding responsiveness, accountability and transparency from government. From the Auditor General report, we have observed a worrisome trend where Accounting Officers - some as senior as Permanent Secretaries and CEO’s - have repeatedly failed to account to the Auditor General. Public accountability is a hallmark of modern democratic governance. Therefore, those entrusted with management of public resources must account fully to the Auditor General, failing which they must be relieved of their duties. The people have a right to know how public funds are being used.
Those who have been entrusted with power, or with control of state resources, cannot use them for private gain or to the detriment of citizens. Corruption can lead to abuse of fundamental human rights and denial of certain entitlements of some members of society. It is fraud and theft of public assets for public officers to authorise payment to contractors for no work done, as was the case in Serule Police Station. Public officers at DTEF should not be allowed to get away with failing to properly manage an account carrying billions of tax payers’ money meant to pay for students’ living allowances. Those students have in the past gone on strike after their living allowances were not paid and that lends credence to allegations of embezzlement of public resources and illicit self-enrichment by paying allowances to ‘ghost students.’ As BOCONGO we cannot keep quiet while there is wanton dissipation of public resources at the expense of more pressing needs. On the one hand government policy is flouted as millions are wasted on international frolics. On the other hand government is cutting down on tertiary education sponsorships; children are left in limbo in schools as there are no books for them to read and no food for them to eat; while thousands of Batswana face threat of death due to rampant shortage of drugs and personnel in health facilities. We understand that there are competing needs, but government resources must be deployed based on need and deprivation. The people must come first. We demand transparency, financial prudence and good governance especially in these tough economic times.
Executive Director, BOCONGO