Botswana’s mining sector was recently raked over hot coals for refusing to assist government to recover money owed by employees who benefitted from government’s grant loan scheme to finance their education. Director of the Department of Tertiary Education Financing (DTEF), Marcos Maedza, was shooting from the hip recently at a dinner hosted by Discovery Metals Limited (DML) for Botswana Chamber of Mines, as he told mining executives to their faces that they are an uncooperative lot who have repeatedly refused to assist government to recover expenses incurred during disbursement of scholarships. “The mining sector is one of the most uncooperative in the private sector because they refused to assist us to recover our money from their employees who benefited from the grant loan scheme,” he said.
Maedza said sometimes officials in the mining sector are so uncooperative that they refuse to talk to DTEF officers or even allow them into their premises when they are doing random tracking of defaulters. He further revealed that government is still owed P4.2 billion that was spent sponsoring students for tertiary education between the year 2000 and 2010. Maedza said most of these people, who are now professionals trained in various disciplines, decided to stay and work outside the country after completing their studies, which makes it difficult to trace them.
“These professionals include doctors and engineers who are now staying in the USA, Australia, South Africa and Canada. So far we have located only 300 but they are not forthcoming with payments,” he said. He challenged the management of mining companies to assist in tracking and compelling the defaulters to pay, adding that failure to do so would result in total collapse of the education fund. “We would very much appreciate your help in tracking and encouraging beneficiaries to repay their education loans. On a serious note, we know there has been a lot of laxity on the part of graduates from the mining sector in particular. They are simply refusing to pay and this is very wrong,” he said.
He challenged the mining sector to show some responsibility and urge employees to pay what they owe. Such a gesture, he said, would demonstrate support for government’s efforts to train professionals in the mining industry. Maedza also revealed that the DTEF has only managed to recover owed loans from a handful of employees in the public service, while those in the private sector are simply refusing to cooperate. He added that if people start paying, government would be in a position to push pending developments and even give out more education grants to deserving students. In 2010/11, government managed to collect P19, 819 365 as repayment for owed loans. A further P 14,841 123 was collected in 2011/12, P19, 720 982 in 2012/13 and P20, 924 990 in 2013/14.
“We could do much more if we could get assistance from mining houses. All we are asking is for mining houses to grant us access to their premises so we can conduct our own searches. We have tried several times and we were always sent back. This not right because your lack of cooperation makes us look like failures,” he said. The grant/loan scheme came into effect in 1996 after the bursary scheme was discontinued in 1995. The bursary was scrapped after government realised that it was becoming costly to run an almost free bursary and a decision was made to collect sponsorship money from those who would be able to pay back.