The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism through the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) is now a paramilitary unit, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has learnt. The revelation came when the Permanent Secretary in the ministry Jimmy Opelo informed the PAC committee that they now have a fully-fledged anti-poaching unit. According to Opelo, they have eight aircrafts, one helicopter and eight specialised vehicles which are used for difficult terrain during their operations. There was confusion when Opelo revealed that they have two helicopters, but the Director of DWNP Retired Major General Otisitswe Tiroyamodimo corrected him that it is only one. “What happened to the other one?” asked Opelo but Tiroyamodimo quickly cut him off, insisting that it is only one. The MP for Gaborone Bonnington South Ndaba Gaolathe asked what the purpose of buying a luxurious jet Beechcraft King Air 350 was since it was not necessarily needed for poaching. The plane is said to cost between P50 million to P80 million and was procured in 2016. The department has four Jabiru J430 aircrafts. Opelo defended its procurement, saying that they need it for their operations and not necessarily used as a corporate jet as some might believe. This was in sharp contrast on what his political principal Tshekedi Khama once said; he had said they normally help other ministries to use it for their official business. Specially Elected MP Mephato Reatile asked whether it could be assumed that since DWNP was fully equipped there was no need for other law enforcement agencies especially Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and Directorate of Security and Intelligence Services (DISS) to come to Parliament seeking supplementary budget on account that they are buying equipment for anti-poaching. Opelo answered in the affirmative. In previous interviews, Minister Tshekedi Khama reiterated the need for his ministry to have a fully-fledged anti-poaching unit and stop depending on other security agencies.
Confusion over tourism levy
Recently when addressing the annual HATAB conference in Kasane, Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) Executive Manager Investment and Product Development Tafa Tafa announced that government will start rolling out the Tourism Development Levy (TDL) on June 1, 2017 which has been approved by Cabinet. The levy paid will be US$30 (P300) for all non-citizens or non-residents of the SADC region. It will be charged at all points of entry (airports and border gates). When answering a question from Specially Elected MP Bogolo Kwenewendo, Opelo contradicted BTO, saying that he was surprised to hear the issue being raised at the High Level Consultative Council meeting recently. Kwenewendo wanted to know if it is true the levy will be implemented and if all the stakeholders were consulted before. “We are still consulting stakeholders and we have not implemented it and will have to also consult the Ministry of Finance before a final decision is taken,” said Opelo, adding that the money will be used to improve and uplift the tourism facilities like airports some of which are currently in a sorry state. In their website BTO also state that TDL will be introduced effective 1st of June 2017 contrary to what Opelo told the PAC. Minister Tshekedi Khama also confirmed that BTO will collect the levy and projects supporting the aims of the TDL will be presented by BTO for review by the Tourism Development Levy Management Committee (TDLMC). Business Botswana has openly criticised government for introducing the levy without consulting them.
Auditor General not happy with Ministry
Auditor General Official raised a concern about ministry’s failure to furnish them with audited report on the use of the Tourism Industry Training Levy. “Documents supporting the audited report are never retrievable and ministry officials are not cooperative on the issue,” said the official. Opelo admitted that they have not been cooperative with the Auditor General regarding the TITL.