Sunday, September 20, 2020

Bank of Botswana should not be allowed to trivialise what is a serious governance breach

It is somewhat deplorable that in trying to answer serious allegations raised in our last week’s edition, the Bank of Botswana management has elected to trivialise and personalise issues.

To start with, while the Bank accuses us of irresponsible inaccuracies, sensationalism and malice, they do nothing to deal with serious allegations of fraud as contained in the correspondence between a Board member of the Bank and one former senior employee.
The Bank says in their release that our source is the Bank’s former Chief Auditor, Mr. Joe Mutwale.
That, of course, cannot be true.

What the Bank of Botswana Management chooses to conveniently set aside is the fact that at the time the allegations are said to have occurred, Mr. Mutwale was a senior staff member at the Bank.
So, while Mr. Mutwale may not have personally endorsed what happened, he was by all intents and purposes a part and parcel of the collective.
It is irresponsible for the Bank to crudely attempt to brush aside such damning allegations by attributing them to disgruntlement.

We want to underscore the fact that issues raised therein should also not be reduced to the person of Ms. Linah Mohohlo either.

We challenge the Bank to raise their game and address pertinent issues as raised in the correspondence between Mr Mutwale and the Chairman of the Board’s Audit Committee.
Issues raised are all to do with corporate governance.

We want to state for the record that we have gone through the Bank’s release.
Nowhere does the Bank address the pertinent question of whether or not figures were deliberately falsified and or fudged so as to mislead parliament.

Again, the issue is neither Ms Mohohlo nor Mr. Mutwale.

The issue is whether or not the Minister of Finance and, through him, the Parliament of Botswana were deliberately misled by senior managers at the Central Bank.

The issue is what role was played by the Governor of the Central Bank in finally cooking up false figures that ended up in parliament.
The issue is whether or not the Governor was ever advised of potential dangers of changing the figures as contained in the Bank’s records.
The issue is whether or not the Bank’s senior Management, including the Governor, were ever forewarned about the ethical impropriety of their action.

The issue is the legality, or lack thereof, of the actions taken by the Governor and her senior aides.
Save for their lame attempts to close ranks and protect the Governor, the Bank of Botswana Management provides no offerings of what really happened.

For the record, the source of the Sunday Standard is not Mr. Mutwale who, as the records show, was an employee of the Bank at the time when figures destined for parliament were first falsified.
As the records further show, Mr. Mutwale was a senior staff member of the Central Bank at the time when Honourable Member of Parliament Gordon Mokgwathi raised a series of questions which, in a way, were effectively trying to alert the Ministry of Finance that not everything was in order at the Bank.

Having said that, we want to say there is no over-emphasising the importance of Bank of Botswana to the economy of Botswana.

On behalf of the nation and government, the Central Bank manages billions of Pula that essentially make the economy of Botswana what it is.
On behalf of this nation, the Bank, through its various officers, principally the Governor, engages asset managers overseas who invest Botswana’s wealth in various vehicles.

Public trust is the stock in trade the Bank cannot afford to lose.

As a result, issues of ethical and moral impropriety should never arise among the people who have the rare honour to be placed at Bank of Botswana.
Once doubts arise, then the public has every right to suspect, in fact to be apprehensive and fearful that their assets could in one way or another be in danger.

Another important dimension raised in our last week’s edition has the implications on the fiduciary responsibilities of non-executive members of the Bank of Botswana.

We should remind our readers that the Governor of the Bank of Botswana happens to be both the Chief Executive and also Chairman of the Board. This presents a natural conflict of interest when issues of a possible breach directly affect her personally as is the case in point of her official house.

It is exactly because of this reason that we call on government to seriously look at the efficacy of detaching the two positions if that would help improve good governance at the Bank, which we submit is slowly coming under siege.

We also call on the Ministry of Finance and the Office of the President to investigate the issues raised and to verify whether or not parliament was ever deliberately misled.

As custodians of other people’s money, non-executive Board Members have a moral obligation to ensure that the executive management of the Bank of Botswana does not mislead Parliament, which is the land’s highest representation of the public interest.

It is sad to see that instead of addressing issues, the Bank of Botswana executive management seems eager that the issues will pass away.

Not only do the senior managers at the bank brush aside serious issues in a cavalier fashion, they also go as far as to cast aspersion on Mr. Mutwale’s professional integrity and us the reporters of the story.

For the last two and a half months we have been in touch with a certain Mr. Chepete Chepete, who happens to be the Bank’s link with media, reminding him of the importance we attached to the story and asking him for the Bank’s official response.

More than two months later, Mr. Chepete has still not answered the questions of two questionnaires he demanded from us and which we duly delivered to his office.

It is also instructive that the issue of the Bank’s Management falsifying the figures pertaining to the Governor’s house was raised not once but twice in parliament.

On both occasions, different answers were given.
This effectively means that, as things stand, there is all likelihood that should the issue be raised for the third time, a third answer will be given.
We have to be worried.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.