Monday, October 18, 2021

Batswana defrauded through hidden cost of BDF/DISS procurements

There’s Lies, damned lies, and statistics, oh… and a new fourth edition … the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) budgets.

Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information suggesting that the national budget is just a smoke and mirror charade meant to distract Batswana so they won’t notice the two security monsters ÔÇô DISS and BDF ÔÇô being fed in the shadows.

BDF Commander Lt Gen Gaolathe Galebotswe’s defence shopping list adds up to about P40 billion, Finance and Development Minister, Kenneth Mathambo, however presented a budget of P 3, 59 billon for the army’s procurement for the current financial year.

The more than P36 billion difference between Mathambo’s budget and Galebotswe’s expenditure reveals the extent to which the BDF procurement expenditure is being kept “off the books” of the government’s ledgers and hidden from Batswana.

Sunday standard investigations have revealed that Lt Gen Galebotswe has signed a close to 3 billion Euros (P37 billion) contract with for the supply of anti- aircraft batteries. The BDF command has been in negotiations with European multinational company MBDA missile systems (formerly by Matra BAe Dynamics), which is based in France for the procurement of the Mistral air defence missile system – an infrared homing surface-to-air missile. The BDF will also procure VL Mica missile air defence system from the French company. Botswana will be the only country in Africa with a VL Mica missile air defence system and one of only three in the continent with a Mistral air defence missile system.  Lt Gen Galebotswe accompanied by Lt Col Mokgadi and Lt Col Motlaleng were in France last December for a demonstration of the missile systems. The systems are to be delivered in 2017.

The BDF also plans to buy about 45 Piranha8x8 vehicles from General Dynamics Switzerland at US$ 2 million apiece. This comes up to US$90 million (P990 million). The armoured vehicles would then be fitted with 45 turrets. The approximate cost of a 30mm turret with gun is about US$ 1, 9 million. BDF spokesperson Col Tebo Dikole would not comment on the expenditure except to state, “Botswana Defence Force like any organisation reviews its inventory from time to time based on operational requirements and needs. Failure to do so would be tantamount to dereliction of duty as it would not address the security needs of Botswana.”

Government however masked the true cost of the BDF expenditure on high-end military equipment and cutting-edge technology through deficit spending. This cooking of the books enables the BDF to spend a budget that has not been approved by government.

With the expenditure treated as an “off the books” expense, it is as if it is not happening and parliament never gets to know about it. At times the cost of a single procurement is spread across different government departments. For example, payments for the Tetra radio system procured by the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services from Vlatacom were split into instalments and invoices were shared between the DISS and the Office of the President, (see story next week)

In its latest report, transparency International (TI) states that Botswana is at a very high risk of defence corruption and has been lumped with Arab countries that suffer from lack of oversight, excessive secrecy and widespread nepotism, with networks based on family and business ties in the procurement of defence contracts. On Botswana’s defence budget transparency, TI observed that, “Budget Transparency

Botswana’s defence budget is not made publicly available. While the media comments on defence spending, it is hard to determine sources of defence income and expenditure. Different committees are formally responsible for defence budget scrutiny, but evidence suggests that these committees cannot exercise effective scrutiny as defence spending is aggregated with other lines of the state budget. While internal auditing of defence expenditure is conducted, evidence suggests it is not always impartial.  Meanwhile external auditing is carried out only sporadically.

The government should consider how budgetary information could be provided to parliament in a more comprehensive way. For example, the government should publish an annual defence budget that includes detailed information on expenditure across functions including research & design, training, salaries, acquisitions, disposal of assets, maintenance, and personnel expenditures.  It should also stipulate how sources of defence income are earmarked so as to enhance the power of external and internal auditing mechanisms.

Transparency International further observed that, “Botswana’s Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board requires that all procurement be done through opening tendering and that actual defence purchases (save for sensitive security purchases) be publicly declared. The Special Procurement and Asset Disposal Committee (SPADC) handles such procurement. Nonetheless, transparency could be increased: the defence procurement cycle process, from assessment of needs, through contract implementation and sign-off, all the way to asset disposal, is not disclosed to the public.  Because Botswana does not have a national defence policy, it’s hard to access whether defence purchases reflect objective security needs. To improve the acquisition planning process, we recommend that the government publish a national defence policy that identifies strategic needs.”

TI recommended “that the Government enhance legislative oversight by relying less on ad hoc operational documents and that it publish a national security strategy. To oversee the defence sector more effectively, we recommend that Parliamentary committees be granted more extensive oversight powers: they should have access to a fully detailed defence budget and internal audit reports (including the DIS); be able to call expert witnesses and scrutinise defence agencies and institutions; meet regularly; and publish reports on their activity. Civil society engagement would enhance integrity and transparency of the defence sector in the long-term.”

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