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Wastage at foreign missions 

SHARE   |   Monday, 26 June 2017   |   By Pulane Letebele’
Wastage at foreign missions 

The Auditor General has in her latest 2016 audit report raised alarm at a growing tendency at some of Botswana’s foreign missions where staff are having their children dropped and picked from school at a cost to Government. Below is part of Pulane Letebele’s Audit Report on the Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation, then Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation: 

Botswana High Commission, Abuja  

An audit of the accounts of the Botswana Diplomatic Mission in Abuja gave rise to a number of observations which I addressed to the Accounting Officer in September 2016 for his comments.  I have since received a copy of the responses from the Head of the Mission which was forwarded to me by the Accounting Officer without comment, even on specific matters which required his endorsement.  The Accounting Officer’s comments are still awaited on the undernoted matters raised in my original communication:  

(a) Following my audit of this, and other, Mission accounts I had raised the issue of transportation of officers’ children to and from school, at Government expense, and had pointed out that this was the responsibility of the parents of those children.  I have still not obtained the Accounting Officer’s definitive ruling in the context of this Mission, despite my specific request for this, nor his endorsement of the Head of Mission’s version relating to security issues in Abuja. 

(b) In response to my inquiries regarding the possible misuse of the free medical facility by the locally recruited staff who were running monthly regular medical bills, the Head of the Mission singled out one case which he said was a complicated pregnancy, but did not comment on other cases which had been drawn to the attention of the Accounting Officer in my communication to him, nor on the general use of the free medical concession.  The explanation that Nigeria is full of tropical diseases, such as typhoid and malaria, and staff would therefore require monthly check-ups is not plausible as a national preoccupation. 

(c) An attempt, in February 2016, to sell the 3 boarded vehicles by auction was not successful as the set reserve prices were reportedly too high.  The Head of Mission has confirmed that the vehicles have since been disposed of by auction sale.  However, our scrutiny of the sale documents have indicated all these vehicles were bought by locally recruited members of staff of the Mission.  While locally recruited staff may not have been prevented from participation in an auction sale, but the fact of all 3 vehicles having been bought by them, raised the question of the circumstances of the auction sale which resulted in that unlikely event. 

Botswana Embassy, Addis Ababa 

Following the audit of the accounts of the above Mission for the year ended 31st March 2016, I addressed a number of observations to the Accounting Officer for his comments in July 2016, but despite the considerable lapse of time since then, at the time of writing this report I had still not received those comments.  The main ones of the observations raised were the following:- 

(a) A review of the revenue receipts over the last 5-year period had indicated that the actual collections had been consistently in excess of the estimates by significant amounts, which suggested that this could be the result of under-estimations.  Although the amounts collected were relatively small, it is nevertheless important, for budgetary reasons, that the estimates are as realistic as possible. 

(b) While the overall Mission expenditures were well within the warranted provisions at year-end, there were however instances of over-expenditures under specific items, which indicated lack of financial and expenditure control on the part of the Mission officers.  Expenditures should be incurred strictly in accordance with the details set out in the warrant in terms of allocations and provisions. 

(c) A scrutiny of the payment vouchers had indicated instances of misallocations of expenditures to incorrect votes which resulted in various accounts showing incorrect year-end expenditure amounts.  For example, the Representation Allowance vote was overspent because of expenditures which should have been incurred under the Official Receptions (Hospitality) vote, which would have been equally overspent, and thereby raised issues of financial and expenditure control. 

(d) Two locally recruited members of staff were each paid an imprest of P11 992, calculated at per diem rate of P1 200, to visit Botswana for a 10-day familiarisation tour after working for 5 years, in accordance with their conditions of service.  However, in addition to the imprests drawn, they had also submitted claims totalling P19 594 for 3 nights accommodation (Kasane), food, drinks, return flights between Kasane and Gaborone, game drives and boat cruise, which were matters of personal choice and leisure.  In my view, the payment of these expenses amounted to an all-inclusive holiday paid for by Government, which is not the object of the concession. 

(e) A scrutiny of the vouchers relating to travelling imprest claims by officers had revealed instances where, in addition to the per diem allowances drawn, officers had also submitted claims for incidental and other expenses.  

(f) It was noted that Mission vehicles were used, in other instances private taxi cabs hired, for the transportation of officers (other than Head of Mission) between office and their residences.  This had resulted in drivers working long hours which attracted overtime claims.  It was further noted that officers’ children were transported to school using official transport. It is my understanding that all these are for the account of the officers concerned, and not Government. 

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 Botswana High Commission, Nairobi 

An examination of the accounts and records of the Mission for the financial year ended 31st March 2016 had given rise to a number of observations, which I addressed to the Accounting Officer in November 2016 for his comments.  The main ones of these observations were the following: 

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(a) A review of the Mission expenditures had revealed instances of over-expenditures under some items which could have been averted by virements from other items with some savings.  Failure to use this facility would suggest lack of financial and expenditure control which public officers are enjoined to exercise at all times. 

(b) Arising from the audit of the Mission accounts in 2011, I had raised comment about the regular use of a particular taxi service provider alongside the Mission vehicles, to which the Accounting Officer had responded that this was necessitated by the poor conditions of the Mission vehicles which needed to be replaced.  In the year under review, 5 years later, I noted that the same taxi service provider was still being used which raised questions about the current condition of Mission vehicles, given the earlier response of the Accounting Officer and what action he proposed to take to resolve this matter. 

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(c) An examination of the vouchers had indicated that there had been need, throughout the year, for regular and frequent fumigation services at the residences at a total cost of P324 122.  The regularity and frequency of these services had given rise to questions about the sanitary conditions of the residences in question and their suitability for lease by the Mission. 

(d) The Mission had, jointly with the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture, engaged artists from Botswana to perform at the National Day celebrations on 30th September 2015 on an all-expenses-paid basis.  The expenses paid for included airfares, performance fees, per diem allowances, and hotel expenses which I considered rather generous with the payment of both the per diem allowances and hotel expenses, over and above the performance fees. 

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The Mission has a fleet of 5 motor vehicles, but only 4 had been taken on charge on Supplies Ledger Card as an indication of ownership of those vehicles.  For some inexplicable reason, it was stated that there was some uncertainty about the ownership of the fifth motor vehicle, although it was clearly assigned a Botswana Diplomatic Mission registration number. 

Botswana Embassy, Stockholm 

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Following an audit examination of the accounts and records of the above Embassy for the financial year ended 31st March 2016, I raised a number of observations which I addressed to the Accounting Officer in September 2016 for his comments.  However, despite the lapse of time allowed for the receipt of responses, I had still not received those comments at the time of writing this report.  The more significant of the matters raised were the following:

A review of the payment vouchers had indicated that the Mission had spent a total of, at least, P445 287 on the 2015 Botswana Day Celebrations, for 400 invited guests at an official reception.  The expenditure, which were partly met from the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture funds, had entailed hire of a musical group from Botswana, local costs in Sweden for the group, including hire of musical instruments, transportation costs etc. Compared to the Mission’s previous years’ budgetary provisions and overall hospitality funding, I consider this year’s level of expenditure on these celebrations rather generous especially as this was not even the final year of the Golden Jubilee.  Although I had raised the question of transportation of officers’ children to and from school in the Missions I have not received the Accounting Officer’s definitive ruling on this matter.  In the case of this Mission, as a case in point, we had noted regular overtime claims by drivers connected with the transportation of children to school. 

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Audit of Accounts – Botswana High Commission, Maputo 

The audit of the accounts of the above Mission for the year ended 31st March 2016 had given rise to a number of observations, the more significant of which were the following: 

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The estimated revenue for the Mission was P8 010 in respect of Private Telephone Charges, including a token estimate of P10 for Sundry Receipts.  It was noted that there had been a significant decline in the year under review, in the actual collections of the private telephone charges, amounting to P618, compared to P4 711 in the previous year and P6 204 and P6 108 in the preceding 2 years, respectively.  Although the revenue, largely reimbursables, in the Missions are relatively small amounts, I consider that these matters nevertheless need to be given the necessary attention in both the estimations and the actual collections. 

In other instances, the payment vouchers were not, in all cases, supported by appropriate documentation to authenticate the payments, which made the verification of those payments tedious and ineffectual.  I had made a similar comment in my report on the accounts of this Mission in October 2013, but there has neither been any improvement nor comment received from the Accounting Officer. 

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(d) In the past, I had raised the issue of transportation of officers’ children to and from school using official transport in the Missions, which I considered should have been for the account of the parents concerned.  A scrutiny of the Mission vouchers had indicated regular monthly overtime claims by drivers for transporting children to school.  I am yet to receive the Accounting Officer’s final ruling on this matter. 

In terms of the Mission accounts, the Mission, jointly with the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture had spent a total of P369 804 in connection with the National Day Celebrations held on 30th September 2015.  The expenditures covered a number of items, including the hire of a traditional dance group from Selibe-Phikwe, transportation of the group to Maputo, accommodation and performance fees.  The group members, numbering 22, were in addition paid 50% of the per diem allowance for the host country.  I have not been able to appreciate the rationale in the generosity which was extended to the dance group in a year which was not even the final year of the Golden Jubilee. I addressed these, and other, observations to the Accounting Officer in October 2016, but at the time of writing this report I had not received his comments.  

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Refundable Security Deposit – Cape Town Consulate 

The Botswana Consulate in Cape Town was officially closed effective from 30th September 2012, although the accounts were maintained through to financial year-end at 31st March 2013.  This was to facilitate the clearance of any outstanding matters, such as the payment of any bills, etc.  As at that date, there still remained an unrecovered balance of P201 485 of the security deposits in respect of properties leased by the Mission.  As all Mission officers had left the duty station, it was expected that the collection of the outstanding deposits would be followed up by the officers at the High Commission in Pretoria, who, in any case, were not privy to the issues, if any, affecting these deposits. It is evidently clear that the collection of these deposits was slow in the extreme, with the result that as at 31st March 2016 a balance of P44 037, virtually dormant, had still not been collected. In my view, the fact that these substantial rental deposit amounts could not be claimed and collected at the relevant time, the slow collection rate since then and the residual balance still remaining, 3 years after the Mission closure, is clear evidence of the unsatisfactory manner in which these matters were handled by the Mission officers, at least.  At this rate, it is likely that the balance of P44 037 will turn out to be a candidate for write-off, resulting in an unwarranted loss to the public revenues.