Monday, September 21, 2020

Bank of Botswana Governor on the spot

A paragraph culled from the Bank of Botswana (BoB) confidential correspondence finds bank Governor, Linah Mohohlo, in a secret meeting with the Chief Internal Auditor, Joe Mutwale. The pair is mulling over information leaked to Letlhakeng East Member of Parliament, Gordon Mokgwathi, on how much Mohohlo’s lifestyle and external trips are costing government.
The Governor drives the latest Mercedes Benz S-350 official vehicle with a P612 000 price tag on it; she lives in a P 4,4 million official mansion furnished at P 1 million and her external trips cost the bank about P900 00 in one year.

The curtains alone are somewhere in the region of P300, 000. Mohohlo is uncomfortable that MPs would be alarmed, even outraged, at her seemingly obscene taste for life’s creature comforts and a high rolling lifestyle; all paid for by the state.
Worried at how this privileged information reached Gordon Mokgwathi, the no nonsense Governor directs the Chief Internal Auditor to go through the staff telephone bills and find out who the heck among her staff members has been rattling to the member of parliament.

Another paragraph from the confidential correspondence finds Mohohlo on the phone on the night of 18th March 2007 speaking to the Chief Internal Auditor who was on the other end. Mohohlo wanted the Chief Internal Auditor to edit out the per diem figure of P343 212.02 from the report that was to be presented to parliament because the figure might look “alarming”.

Loyal to his accounting principles, the Chief Internal Auditor refused to delete the amount, but somewhere between the Governor’s desk and the parliament floor, the figures got doctored. The P10 000 garden shed and P120 000 air conditioners were edited out of the true cost of the Governor’s house.
In the end, the cost of furnishing the Governor’s house, together with her foreign excursions, were massively understated.

The confidential correspondence between the Bank’s Chief Internal Auditor and Board Audit Committee Chairman, Gordon Cunliffe, suggests a recurring pattern by the Central Bank’s management to hide information on salaries and expenditures. In fact, the Bank’s Chief Internal Auditor goes so far as to conclude that “management appears to be in the habit of misleading either the public or the Board.”

Another paragraph from the correspondence talks of an unhappy meeting between Mohohlo and the Chief Internal Auditor. The governor castigated the Chief Internal Auditor for telling an Audit Committee meeting that Bank of Botswana salaries were higher than the market going rates. “She said that she had been telling the board that the bank pays below the market and that after what I said, it would be difficult for her to convince the Board to award the bank staff increments,” wrote Mutwale.

Notes from a meeting in which the Governor, two Deputy Governors (O.A Motshidisi and M.D Pelaelo), Senior Monetary Operations Advisor S. McConnell and Chief Security Officer, B Chidyamoto, allegedly took the Chief Internal Auditor to task for complaining to the Board Audit Chairman suggesting that Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Baledzi Gaolathe, and former President Festus Mogae knew how the bank management arrived at the falsified figures. The notes further suggest that Mogae and Gaolathe, both of them former Governors, also had no problem with the Bank’s ways of fudging figures.

Wrote the Chief Internal Auditor in the notes he recorded: the Governor “asked me if I knew that the President had also seen the responses, and, therefore who was I, such a junior person to question these figures if the State President was aware of them?”

Records from Parliament, however, tell a totally different picture. They suggest that the Ministry of Finance was not aware that the figures had been understated, let alone cooked.

Earlier this year, Gaborone Central Member of Parliament, Dumelang Saleshando, asked the Minister of Finance and Development Planning “if it has ever been brought to his attention that his response to a question posed by Honorable G. Mokgwathi relating to the cost of external trips by the Governor of the Central Bank did not reflect the full costs.”

In his response, Assistant Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Guma Moyo, said, “It has never been brought to my attention that my response to a question posed by the Honorable G. Mokgwathi relating to the cost of external trips by the Governor of the Central Bank did not reflect the full cost until Honorable D. Saleshando asked the question. In my response to honorable Mokgwathi’s question, I had stated that the Governor took sixteen trips at a cost of P818 000. It has since emerged that the figure did not include P148 642.91 which was supposed to have been borne by sponsoring organizations, when the Governor represented the country at events convened by such organizations. The amount borne by foreign organizations was, however, overstated by P44 351.26. Taking into account all these developments, the revised total costs borne by the bank is P862 351.26, not P818 000 as parliament was initially told.”

Saleshando confirmed to the Sunday Standard that he will file another question on whether the minister was aware that the cost of the Governor’s house as presented to parliament had also been understated.

The Chief Internal Auditor’s contract was not renewed by the bank and notes he recorded from the meeting with the bank’s senior management suggests that he may have been punished for blowing the whistle. “The Governor asked me if I realized that what I had done could limit my career since if I attempted getting a job elsewhere, she would have to be contacted and she would not be complimentary about me.”

He further states that “the Governor advised me that as far as she was concerned, relations between her and me broke down irretrievably the day she learnt about my report”.
At the time of going to press, the Bank of Botswana had not responded to a Sunday Standard questionnaire on the issue.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper