Thursday, August 6, 2020

Government should do due diligence on COVID-19 donors – UDC

While he acknowledges the difficulty of distinguishing between good and bad donors, the spokesperson of the Umbrella for Democratic Change, Moeti Mohwasa, says that in principle it is morally wrong for the government to be accepting COVID-19 donations from companies that have cases pending at the district labour office and the Industrial Court. The short-term solution he proposes is for the government to develop a mechanism through which it can re-route that money back to its rightful owners – workers of “donor” companies.

As COVID-19 ravages the economy and credit rating agencies downgrade Botswana, President Mokgweetsi Masisi has sent out an appeal for donations. However, the donations have caused a great deal of consternation in some quarters. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, Kabelo Ebineng, has publicly lamented that while some of the donors have shelled out millions of pula to the COVID-19 Relief Fund, they “have not paid their employees amounts as little as P3000. That is wrong.”

The long-term solution that the UDC spokesperson proposes is for the government to do thorough due diligence that goes beyond identifying donors who may have cases pending at the district labour office or the Industrial Court.

“Otherwise the government runs the risk of accepting stolen money,” says Moeti, adding that the due diligence he proposes is one that a UDC government would have undertaken to prevent a situation as problematic as the one the government currently has to deal with.

There is yet likelihood that the government could itself be the primary source of the “donations” that are being poured into the. This is how: some names appear on both the donor list and the Botswana Unified Revenue Services wage subsidy list. To offset some of the financial ruin occasioned by the April/May national lockdown, the government subsidised wages by 50 percent for qualifying companies. This subsidy was administered through BURS which, in the interest of transparency, published the names of companies that have benefited. Some of the companies that benefitted from the wage subsidy also donated to the COVID-19 Relief Fund – which could mean that money claimed as wage subsidy was subsequently donated to the COVID-19 Relief Fund.

Donations to the Fund have been problematic in one other respect. Donors visit the Office of the President to attend a mock-cheque presentation ceremony at which they shake hands with either Vice President Slumber Tsogwane or the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Kabo Neale Sechele Morwaeng behind a huge mock cheque. As Sunday Standard has reported in the past, some of the donors took off masks (which is an offence in terms of the COVID-19 Emergency Regulations) because one big element of this ceremony is PR gimmickry.

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