The Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises Moyo Guma has accused some Ministers and senior government officials of deliberately failing to appoint boards of organisations they lead in order to bestow themselves powers to do as they please in such organisations. Guma spoke out against what he says is an emerging and worrisome culture by ministers and senior Government officials to increasingly ignore the rule and make unauthorised transactions. This after not one but three government bodies which appeared before the committee last week and on Wednesday this week admitted to be operating without boards or having operated without though some crucial decisions that they have taken required input and authorisation from a sitting board.
Last week the committee was treated to an interesting show down of events when the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, was summoned to appear before them in which he conceded that indeed the Tourism outfit Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) was operating without Board of Directors which rendered the organisation to operate outside the law. Khama further told the committee that he has authorised BTO to undertake a multi-million Pula transaction without authorisation from a board. This week the newly established Botswana Trade Commission Chief Executive Officer Mphoeng Tamasiga also made startling revelations to the committee, revealing that the commission was running without a board while on the other hand he was busy making crucial decisions for the organisations without the board’s approval or its input.
Guma vented his anger and made his frustrations known on Wednesday when the former Minister of Transport and Communications Tshenolo Mabeo and his Permanent Secretary Neil Fitt appeared before the committee to answer for unauthorised expenditure that were made on Air Botswana account without authorisation from its board of directors. Although the two told the committee that Air Botswana ran for about three months because it was during the festive season a period when most people were busy and there was hardly time to appoint the board, Guma flatly refused to buy their story. He questioned why if there was no time to appoint a board, the ministry conveniently awarded a multi-million tender for the refurbishment of Air Botswana air craft engines.
A letter dated 21st December 2015 from the Neil Fitt addressed to the Acting General Manager of Air Botswana referenced Provision of Engine maintenance services for the PW127 Family engines (Aircraft) read; the ministry has granted approval to Air Botswana to award the tender to Pratt & Whitney Canada Customer Service Centre Europe GmbH through its management tender committee. While Fitt conceded that he indeed approved and awarded the tender he also revealed that as far as he was concerned he was doing it to protect the interests of the national airliner. “We believed as the management of the Ministry that it will be prudent to award the tender. The decision was taken on the basis of keeping Air Botswana safe and sound,” said Fitt. According to Fitt, although he is fully aware that such undertakings had to be sanctioned and approved by the Air Botswana board he at the time believed that it was the right thing to do.
Mabeo in the dark
The former Minister of Transport and Communications, on the other hand, played ignorant and claimed that he was never informed of the whole transaction and only became aware of it about two weeks ago after Air Botswana officials appeared before the committee: “It pains me to say that I only became aware of the tender approval from the Acting General Manager of Air Botswana after she appeared before this committee,” Mabeo said. Meanwhile Guma did not mince words when responding to the two‘s explanations: “I want to put it to you that I believe that the decision to dissolve the board was deliberate and was done to create room for unauthorised expenditure”.
He castigated Fitt for circumventing the law by carrying out the mandate of the board, which is against the Air Botswana Act.
Fire the PS - Guma
“Judging from what he (Neil Fitt) has told us, if I was you I would have fired him,” Guma said to Minister Mabeo. “In fact, I am going to make that recommendation to the house,” Guma stated.
The committee also questioned the two on the purpose the trips to Brazil, Canada and France which they took earlier this year. In their view, Guma and his committee felt the trip was unnecessary as the Ministry could have sought quotations from representatives of the companies they visited locally.
Air Botswana acting general manager, Agnes Khunwane last week told the committee that Mabeo took the trip with Fitt and an aircraft engineer, Karabo Chibane from Air Botswana. A total of P110, 000 was spent from Air Botswana’s threadbare coffers for Chibane’s trip and allowances. Fitt told the members of the committee on statutory bodies and State Enterprises that the ministry has since reimbursed Air Botswana the amount. When explaining the purpose of the trips to the committee, both Minister Mabeo and Fitt said they wanted to be more informed so that they could have an educated point of view when the time to make a decision on re-fleeting the national airliner came. According to Mabeo, contrary to belief that they had only gone there to window shop for aircrafts, they had also targeted to annex e-government services providers. Fitt said he was particularly accompanying the minister. “Now I have a better understanding of what an organisation like Air Botswana needs and what aircrafts are available,” Fitt said.