Saturday, July 4, 2020

Botswana in novel corruption pandemic

Botswana is reeling from a new strain of corruption which is riding on the coattails of the COVID-19 pandemic – Sunday Standard investigations have revealed.Procuring good and services during an emergency requires speed and decisive action, this however can open a back door for corruption, and Botswana is learning the hard way.In the past 48 days, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) has received hundreds of reports about corruption linked to the coronavirus pandemic; government has fired two high profile officers suspended at least 10 senior officers and disbanded one procurement department due to misconduct and corruption linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.Transparency International (TI) on the other hand has joined hands with the Botswana Centre for Public Integrity to weigh in on the novel crisis with a warning that ‘as the coronavirus pandemic continues through Southern Africa so do concerns about corruption and the misuse of public funds.”

SENIOR OFFICERS SUSPENDED

Sunday Standard investigation desk has intercepted official documents detailing names and positions of senior officials suspended at the Ministry Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism over procurement of items aimed at fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. In a memo addressed to staff dated 28 May, 2020, acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Dr. Oduetse Koboto states that:  “Please note that the following officers have been granted leave of absence for various reasons: Deputy Permanent Secretary Corporate Services, Senior Manager, Procurement manager, finance manager, manager (human resource &admin, deputy manager procurement, assistant manager procurement, principal procurement officer and assistant procurement.”In another memo, Koboto state: “despite the shortfall of staff due to the above, you are encouraged to seek assistance from the following: deputy manager (admin) acting deputy manager (employment relations), assistant manager (HR), Chief Finance Officer and Assistant Senior Procurement Officer” Responding to Sunday standard queries, Koboto stated: “Yes the Ministry has placed on leave of absence nine of its staff members pending investigations of some procurements.”He added that this “is in line with Public Service Act where officers can be granted leave of absence if there is suspicion of any activity to allow for investigations to be undertaken. All department(s) are fully fledged and continue to assist and serve the public.”Sources say the suspensions are linked to procurement of among others, masks and equipment that was sourced by the Ministry as part of government’s efforts to fight COVID-19.The Ministry of Local government has also suspended the Kgatleng District Council Secretary due to alleged misconduct linked to the fight against COVID-19.

LOCAL AUTHORITIES HARDEST HIT

Botswana Association of Local Authority (BALA) President Jeffrey Sibisibi would not be drawn into discussing the issue saying he has not received any official communication from the central government.Local governments which are now flush with money as government tried to decentralize the fight against the pandemic have now become cesspools of procurement corruption.DCEC spokesperson Lentswe Motshoganetsi confirmed this week that they have launched investigations against a number of district councils.

“We have dispatched our team of officers but kindly note that we cannot respond to specific investigations and names of people under investigation since this is contrary to the DCEC policy.”Motshoganetsi further confirmed that “the DCEC has received allegations of corruption concerning some council districts. Moreover, it is important to note that the media is one of the DCEC sources therefore we would be grateful if the media can continue exposing corruption.”He explained that procuring good and services during an emergency requires speed, and reports that have been filed with the DCEC suggest that some building companies and council officials may be profiteering from the COVID-19 panic procurement.Kweneng District Council Secretary, Goleba Kgari told Sunday Standard that, “the issue of Covid-19 corruption in our district is now beyond our control as the matter has escalated to the top management.”The Botswana Association of Local Authority (BALA) has scheduled a special meeting to discus the rife corruption allegation relating to local authorities during the state of emergency.

BALA Chief Executive Officer Steve Pheko confirmed that some time this week they will convene a virtual meeting to discuss among other things the spate of corruption allegations that has been levelled against local authorities.He indicated that if the allegations turn out to be true, BALA would advocate for the law to take its course.BALA President Jeffrey Sibisibi said “BALA is a very democratic institution. Although I’m BALA I cannot not make unilateral decisions, I have to defer to the board and the response to allegations against local authorities has to be sanctioned by the BALA National Executive Committee”Sibisibi said “It is very unfortunate that we haven’t had the opportunity to meet because the virtual platform has failed us, but Councils are working on upgrading their bandwidth and we will convene a virtual meeting soon.”Sibisibi assured the nation that as soon as the Board had met, “we will ensure that we issue a statement.” 

INNOCENT COMPANIES TARRED WITH SAME BRUSH

The DCEC investigation into COVID-19 corruption has cast a huge shadow and any company procuring goods and services for government in the fight against the pandemic is being tarred by the same brush. Two citizen Botswana companies Deltamor Holdings and Protech have suffered a double whammy. Although Deltamor is not being investigated by the DCEC and has been able to meet its tender specifications despite being cheated by a South African supplier, the Botswana company has been mentioned in the same breath with companies being probed by the corruption buster.In an interview with Sunday Standard, Deltamor Holdings and Protech spokesperson, Churchill Barrows told Sunday Standard that, “Deltamor Holdings has not in anyway been involved in corrupt “hand picking” of tender selection by procuring entities. Like all invited and shortlisted bidders that were invited from the ministry of health, Deltamor amongst other 10 companies bid for the required PPE material and was awarded a portion of the bided goods. Burrows further stated that, “Deltamor in line with normal procurement procedures was issued an award and GPO after a decision of the MTC on the 16th of April 2020.  Goods were delivered in full and with invoices and delivery notes signed and filed. Payment has even been made.  There was no failure of delivery and never has been.”

Deltamor Holdings and Protech are currently locked in a legal dispute with their South African supplier, Proverbs Medical. The South African company is being investigated by the National Prosecuting Authority under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.Burrows told Sunday Standard that “case in South Africa is of a criminal nature with also a civil claim against the offending party and at this stage we are unable to comment while it is before the judiciary.  This case has no way affected the delivery of goods or has anything to do with the government of Botswana besides the DPP which is assisting in mutual legal prosecution of the offending party.”

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.