Sunday, May 16, 2021

Industry players query BPOMAS, AFA ‘suspicious’ relationship

The long standing relationship between Botswana Public Officers’ Medical Aid Scheme (BPOMAS) and its fund administrator Associated Fund Administrators Botswana (Pty) Ltd (AFA) has raised eyebrows and brought consternations among key players in the medical aid industry.

Arguably the biggest medical aid scheme in the country with around 100 000 principal members (excluding dependents), BPOMAS came into existence through a Presidential Directive and was registered in 1990. AFA was also established in 1990 and has administered BPOMAS since the inception of the two organisations. BPOMAS is a closed Scheme, which provides medical aid cover to all public service employees and entitles them to 50% subsidy from the government. While on paper the affairs of the Scheme are supposed to be managed by a Management Committee, which comprises 12 appointees with the Chairman of the Committee being the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, AFA has been accused of manipulating the committee to ensure its continued administration of the Scheme.

For the past 25 years, AFA has been enjoying uninterrupted monopoly of being the sole administrator of BPOMAS without any tendering process to afford other administrators the opportunity to compete for the job. Sunday Standard has since established that AFA’s contract with BPOMAS has been extended by a further 2 years, until 2017, which will see the two organisations’ relationship reaching a solid and unprecedented 27 years. The extension follows the renewals that have been going on at the end of every 5 years of the stipulated duration of the contract. While BPOMAS mentions professionalism and accountability among their values, they have not, even for once, followed the processes and procedures that they set out on the selection of the administrator of Scheme. Sunday Standard is in possession of the minutes of BPOMAS Board meeting which were also captured in the BPOMAS 2010 annual report, making a resolution on the steps that must be taken at the end of AFA contract which was to expire in March 2011, after 11 years of business relationship with BPOMAS.

Captioned ‘The BPOMAS/AFA Administration Contract’, the resolution reads, “The Administration Contract between the Scheme and AFA Botswana (Pty) Ltd is due to expire on 31 March 2011. To this end, the Management Committee will, during 2010/11, invite tenders for the administration of the Scheme beyond 31 March, 2011”. This publication can, however, confirm that the tenders were never invited and AFA continued as the administrator, to date. Competitors and other industry players have raised concerns over BPOMAS’ apparent preference for AFA which they say flies in the face of fair rules of the game in that other administrators have never been given the chance to compete with AFA.

Some have even threatened to approach the Competition Authority to express their disgruntlement. Our investigations failed to source any annual report from BPOMAS since the last one which was issued in 2010, raising questions as to whether the Scheme ever produced annual reports since then. The 3 year contract between BPOMAS and KPMG Audit Firm, for the provision of external auditing services expired on 31 March 2010 and it is not clear as to whether the contract was renewed or another audit company was engaged.  The situation of BPOMAS and AFA’s contentious relationship is not helped by reports that suggest BPOMAS is on the verge of hiring AFA’s current Finance Manager to become their Principal Officer. This position entails assessing AFA’s performance and it is feared the officer might be conflicted when it comes to reviewing her former employer’s business deals with BPOMAS.

One of the members who sits in the BPOMAS Human Resource Sub Committee confirmed to Sunday Standard that AFA’s Finance Manager sat for the interview and has been recommended for BPOMAS Principal Officer job and the committee will be passing her name to the Management Committee at a meeting that is scheduled for next week. Complaints have been raised that she had an unfair advantage over other interviewees since she is said to have been privy to what the interview entailed as she was part of the people who drew up the job description for the post.  AFA is not without blemishes either as our investigations found out that they have never held an Annual General Meeting or produced any annual report since 2012. The last time they produced a newsletter on their website was in 2008. In fact, even their website appears dormant with stale information that was posted from several years ago.

Sunday Standard sent a questionnaire to BPOMAS Board Chairperson Shenaaz El-halabi who holds the position by virtue of her position as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and she phoned to say she could only be in a position to provide answers after the Annual General Meeting which will only take place next year, 2016. Her Deputy Chairperson Matshwenyego Setshego asked to be sent a questionnaire and promised to consult and give the official position of BPOMAS. He, however, readily conceded that it was public knowledge that BPOMAS has been renewing AFA’s contract since 1990. Efforts to reach AFA Managing Director Duncan Thela were futile as his office line rang unanswered on several attempts.

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