With no other agenda than the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) one would have been excused to believe that the stand-off between Moyo Guma and Tshekedi Khama was being escalated to the next level at the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Enterprises (PCSBE) when it met on Wednesday. It has not been immediately clear whether other parastatals facing maladministration will be brought to book by the PCSBE. However, for now it is the BTO saga that Guma is not letting on. It was yet another dramatic day. First the file that captured the previous meetings proceedings had disappeared from Parliament. Next when officials from the ministry had to answer to the committee they talked in variance, particularly on the tourism levy issue. In the absence of the file, it was going to be difficult for the committee to address the issue of the contract between BTO and ASUIA to implement development levy without approval of Parliament. ASUIA is a United Kingdom-based insurance broker which Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama instructed BTO to appoint. PCSBE chairman Samson Moyo Guma pulled a trick as he pulled the file from the Auditor General which he said they got after they learnt that the one at Parliament had disappeared. First to be interrogated by the committee was the Permanent Secretary Jimmy Opelo who informed the committee that BTO had cancelled the contract after the advice of the committee when they informed them that it was not procedural for Minister Tshekedi Khama to instruct the BTO to sign the contract without involving the board.
Opelo admitted that what Minister Khama did was wrong hence they cancelled the contract and withdrew the bill that called for the introduction of the levy. “We have to consult other stakeholders like Business Botswana first as this was not done before the bill was drafted,” said Opelo, adding that the contract was cancelled towards the end of last year. In January last year the then BTO CEO Thabo Dithebe advised the minister against direct appointing the UK-based company as it was improper since they were just insurance broker, insisting that there were many local companies that could do the work. According to the information presented by committee member Gilbert Mangole this was ignored and subsequently Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA) rendered its advice which was in consonance with Dithebe’s advice. Minister Tshekedi Khama is said to have ignored both advises and instructed BTO to sign a Service levy contract with ASUIA even before the tourism levy bill was presented in Parliament. “In the absence of a board to consider the ASUIA proposal, you are accordingly instructed to implement the instruction, inclusive of directly appointing ASUIA as a service provider for inbound insurance under the terms and conditions stipulated in the existing contract, save for any reference to BTO Board approval,” reads the letter from Minister Khama to BTO CEO which was also copied to PS in the Ministry. Put to Opelo by the committee that the company had already installed machines at some points of entry and whether by cancelling the contract it won’t come at a cost for BTO as per the contract, the PS answered in negativity. “I am not aware of any machines which have been put at some points of entry and they will be no cost for cancelling the contract,” said the confident Opelo. Guma read to him a clause that states that if BTO cancels the contract they will have to bear the costs of the shipment of the machines and their installations, but Opelo stuck to his guns saying there are no machines and won’t bear any costs.
PS has new version
After the tea break, Opelo came with a different statement stating that he has been reliably informed that the machines have been installed to the utter shock of the PCSBE. Confusion reigned when BTO acting CEO Zibanani Hubona was called in to testify before the committee as he had a totally different story from his accounting officer. He informed the committee that BTO signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and a Service level agreement with ASUIA though both of them have not yet been effected.Like Opelo, Hubona said that he is not aware that machines which were to be used to collect tourism levy have been procured and installed at some points of entry.PCSBE members were left in shock when Hubona informed them that as far as he knew the contract with ASUIA has not been cancelled and the board has approved and recommended them for the collection of the tourism levy.Put to him that his principal being the PS had few minutes ago informed the committee that the contract has been cancelled, he expressed ignorance.“It will be abnormal if the contract is cancelled without my knowledge as only the board can make such recommendations,” said Hubona, adding that maybe Opelo is privy to some information which he is not aware of.Hubona informed the committee that after they were advised by NBFIRA that they could not engage a foreign insurance broker to collect what was initially tourism insurance levy they changed it to a levy.Asked by MP Mephato Reatile why they engaged an insurance broker to collect levy for them instead of fund managers, Hubona was at a loss to justify the move.Minister Tshekedi Khama wanted the present Tourism Amendment Bill on certificate of urgency in August this year. Tshekedi said through the new levy, approximately P162million would be raised by BTO to self-fund their proposed projects. The bill was rejected by Members of Parliament across the political divide as they felt that they needed time to understand the levy.BTO wanted to introduce the US$30 (P330) on all tourists coming to Botswana with ASUIA getting US$8 per tourist while BTO kept the rest.