Monday, July 15, 2024

DIS a smelling rat

At the top floor of the imposing Office of the President office block, Isaac Kgosi joined the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Phandu Skelemani for a brief meeting.

Vice President Ian Khama’s Senior Private Secretary brought with him a one page-text, allegedly written on the advice of the Director in the Ministry of Finance.

Kgosi was pressed for time. He had to have the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DIS) up and running in five months, in time for when Khama seized the helm. While most Cabinet Ministers were still weighing their chances, he was already populating a prospective Khama administration.

Minister Skelemani pulled his pen, scrawled a few comments and signed off the document giving it the power of command. In a few minutes Kgosi’s request had become an order. P13 million was to be siphoned off from the Disaster Relief Fund to help set up DIS.

There was, however, one small problem: Both the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security and the Director in the Ministry of Finance had no authority to approve the expenditure.

The episode provides a peep show into how millions of pula were “diverted from the Disaster Relief Fund without authority of the Accounting Officer of the Fund or that of the Minister of Finance and Development Planning”.

Kgosi’s one-on-one relationship with Khama is opaque, a vital unknown in assessing his impact on events. The two men speak of it seldom, if ever, with others. But officials, who see them together often, detect a strong sense of mutual confidence that Kgosi is serving Khama’s aims. His influence in the Khama administration is widely presumed but hard to illustrate. Many of the men and women who know him best say Khama makes important decisions, the final words of counsel most of the time come from Kgosi.

They described Kgosi’s portfolio as “the iron issues” – a list that, comprises most of the core concerns of every recent president. Kgosi was responsible for Vice President Khama’s security issues.

In the course of the financial year 2007/08 the Ministry of State President established DIS.
There, however was no budgetary provision for the spy outfit, so Kgosi, who was tasked with setting it up, had to scout for funds elsewhere.

He wrote to Skelemani asking for money. In his request he indicated that the Director, Ministry of Finance, had advised that P13 million could be drawn from the National Disaster Relief Fund. On the strength of the recommendation, Skelemani authorized the diversion of P13 million from the Disaster Relief Fund to DIS.

The newly established DIS used up the money in three months. Kgosi wrote to Skelemani again in February 2008 asking for an additional P 3 million from the National Disaster Relief Fund, and authority was granted.

Indications are that Kgosi, who would later be appointed director of DIS, apparently approached the levers of power obliquely, skirting orderly lines of authority and finding ready patrons in the Office of the President. Over the next few months, Kgosi would divert more than P 26 million from the Disaster Relief Fund to the DIS. The money would be spent without leaving a paper trail for the parliament watch-dog committee to follow.

Across the board, Kgosi’s office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. He declines to disclose how he spends the millions of pula appropriated to the DIS. His general counsel has asserted that the DIS is a unique office that is exempt from rules governing tendering and disclosure.

According to the PAC report, the Accounting Officer from the Office of the President indicated that the National Disaster Relief Fund money which was diverted to DISS was used on housing, offices, transport, equipment and training.

“In order to satisfy itself that the funds had been used as alleged, the PAC requested the Accounting Officer to provide documentary evidence in the form of Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Authority, payment vouchers, suppliers’ invoices etc. It was somewhat of a disappointment that the accounting Officer responded to the Committee’s request by stating that she could not provide the Committee with such details due to the sensitivity of matters handled by DIS. The Committee found this explanation unacceptable because they did not see anything sensitive about renting or buying houses and/or offices, purchasing vehicles, and training personnel.”

Under cross examination by the Public Accounts Committee, the Director, Ministry of Finance, denied ever advising Kgosi that funds as requested for DIS could be availed from the National Disaster Relief Fund.

Minister Skelemani on the other hand stated that, “As is apparent from the records, I as Minister responsible, agreed that certain monies could be used to ensure that DIS, the setting up of which had been established by parliament, was operationalised. My understanding was without my prior concurrence, the necessary authority from Ministry of Finance and Development Planning could not be sought to vire the funds. That is why, being confident that there was in the circumstances then prevailing minimal chance that the funds would be required for disaster, I concurred that the same could be used, naturally subject to obtaining necessary clearance applicable to such funds.”

In 2008/09, even though the DIS had a full budget (both recurrent and development), it went on to draw P10 967 531 from the National Disaster Relief Fund to which the Auditor General expressed his concerns as follows: “I have not been able to appreciate why those expenditures, involving substantial amounts of money as they did, were met from the Fund under which no funds had been provided, instead of from the appropriate expenditure vote for the year 2008/2009.

The PAC, on the other hand, states: “While wrong authority was used to spend the funds from the National Disaster Relief Fund for unauthorized purposes in 2007/2008, the committee is at a loss to understand how the Department continued to use the funds in 2008/09. It is not at all clear what circumstances led to the use of the funds, under what authority and for what purpose. The situation is exacerbated by the failure of the Accounting Officer to account for these funds and this leaves the committee with no option but to conclude that there must have been some element of abuse of funds.”

The committee has recommended that “law enforcement agents should conduct further investigations into the usage of the funds from the National Disaster Relief Fund.”

The Permanent Secretary to the President, who is the Accounting Officer responsible for the National Disaster Relief Fund, is being held accountable for the lapses in the system.

The misappropriation of the National Disaster Relief Fund is expected to prompt a flurry of speculation, which will take sometime to die down. This is not helped by suggestions from the PAC that funds may have been abused. Casting aside allegations of possible impropriety, many critics are aghast at the decision by the Office of the President to speed up the establishment of DIS and even flout procedure just to ensure that the spy outfit was up and running when Khama was sworn in.

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