Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Fresh budget blunder disrupts purchase of presidential jet

The Parliament Finance and Estimates Committee have thrown out a request for funds to buy a new jet for the president because of budgeting blunders by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.

A new report tabled on Friday by the Finance and Estimates committee raises new doubts on the integrity of statistical data used by the Ministry of Finance to ask for funds from parliament.
The report exposes more evidence of errors in financial budgeting by the ministry.
The report also exposes flouting of stated rules and poor financial budgeting by officials at the national treasury.

In their report, the Committee has, at least on two occasions, sent the Ministry’s request back and instructed them to follow laid down procedures before parliament could release the money requested.

In one instance, the Ministry was requesting P60 million as advance payment for the Botswana Defence Force to be used as deposit for the P314 million new presidential jet that the government has ordered to replace the current one that government says is “ageing.”

The jet is due for delivery in 2008.
The Committee has turned down the request, saying there is still a lot of money (over P500 million) that remains unutilized in the BDF development vote that could be used without having to ask for additional funds from parliament.
In their report, the committee has instructed the Minister of Finance to make a fresh application to parliament that will reflect the correct financial situation of the Botswana Defence Force which is the government department under which the presidential jet is purchased.

The blunders confirm allegations by Member of Parliament Guma Moyo last week that assumptions always made by the Ministry of Finance that projects for which they are requesting money are about to take off are almost always wrong.
Last week, in an interview with The Sunday Standard, Moyo, who is the Chairman of the Finance and Estimate Committee, said the country’s financial budgeting by the treasury is flawed because the Ministry of Finance keeps asking parliament to release money that will only be needed sometime three years down the line.
The Committee is not happy that the Ministry is asking parliament to release P60 million to pay for the jet when there is close to a billion Pula in the BDF account that remains unutilized, and unlikely to be exhausted given that there are no projects at the army that are about to be carried out and the financial year is about to come to an end in a few months.

The purchase of a new presidential jet is not the only button of controversy in the parliamentary committee’s report.

Another source of contention is the P8 million requested by the Ministry of Labour to pass to the Department of Sports and Recreation to correct defects at the Serowe Integrated Sports Facility, built in 2001 but already crumbling down.
The committee takes issue with the request for P8 million, reasoning that it does not make sense to ask for additional money when there is P25 million development budget money that remains unutilized at the ministry of Labour.

“From discussions with the officials it is unlikely that this amount (P25 million) will be utilized this financial year and, looking at the expenditure pattern during this current financial year, there appears to be a problem of implementation. The Ministry is advised to utilize the remaining funds,” says the report.

The slap on the face for the Ministry of Finance comes in the wake of denials by Assistant Minister Mlazie that the Ministry could be using economic data that is outdated.

Former Minister of Finance and Member of Parliament for Mmadinare Ponatshego Kedikilwe had asked the Minister if this was not exposing business people to risks of making wrong decisions based on wrong data.

For two consecutive years, another parliament committee, the PAC (Public Accounts Committee) has lambasted the Ministry of furnishing falsely rosy statistics on their estimates.

The PAC came to the conclusion that by exaggerating the amount of money recoverable through government’s various cost recovery measures, the ministry is misleading the nation into a false sense of contentment that the economy is doing well.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.