Saturday, September 19, 2020

Inside how government tried to hide the Alcohol Fund plunder

For close to a decade, Botswana government tried to hide information that it was misappropriating funds collected from alcohol drinkers under the Alcohol Levy – it has emerged.

The Auditor General revealed this week that for many years the fund was shrouded in secrecy, and independent auditors “had not been able to ascertain that 80% of the levy which is allocated directly to the Consolidated Fund and 10% to the Department of Gender Affairs in the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs fell within the scope of the purpose of the Fund Order, namely, collection of levies “—- to promote projects and activities designed to combat alcohol abuse and minimise the effects of alcohol abuse —-“, as they did not have access to the records relating to the use of these funds by the said Ministries.”

The revelation comes after a study by the Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) found that the levy introduced on alcohol has failed to achieve intended result – to restrict consumption of alcoholic drinks. The BIDPA report revealed that not only did it fail to reduce the alcohol consumption rate, the tariff actually forced drinkers into more desperate alternatives. One of the highlights of the BIDPA study was that in terms of consumption, nothing much has changed since the levy’s introduction, but due to the perception that the levy made alcohol expensive, Batswana resorted to using other forms to get intoxicated.

It has however emerged that the money levied against beer drinkers to create a fund that would protect them from their habit was diverted to other projects.

In her report, the Auditor General stated that she was required by law “to appoint an independent auditor to audit the accounts of the Fund. Accordingly, following the award of the tender, I had appointed the auditors to carry out the audit of the Fund for financial years from 2010/2011 through to 2015/2016.  The auditors had consistently qualified their opinion on the accounts of the Fund in respect of the following matters. – As they did not have access to the records of the Botswana Unified Revenue Service relating to the collection of levies on alcoholic beverages imported or locally produced, their audit procedures were restricted to the amounts rendered in the Fund’s ledgers. The differences in the levy collections in the Fund’s Income and Expenditure Statement and the levies as submitted by BURS could not be reconciled. The Botswana Unified Revenue Service is responsible for the collection of levies charged on alcoholic beverages and credited to the Fund. – The auditors had not been able to ascertain that 80% of the levy which is allocated directly to the Consolidated Fund and 10% to the Department of Gender Affairs in the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs fell within the scope of the purpose of the Fund Order, namely, collection of levies “—- to promote projects and activities designed to combat alcohol abuse and minimise the effects of alcohol abuse —-“, as they did not have access to the records relating to the use of these funds by the said Ministries.”

The Sunday Standard can reveal that at some stage government diverted money from the levy to buy drugs for the Central Medical Stores.

A Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Health at the time, Temba Sibanda told Sunday Standard that President Ian Khama and former Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Kenneth Matambo, made a decision to give Central Medical Stores P30m from the fund to purchase drugs.

“P30 million was allocated to CMS following an agreement between His Excellency the President, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning and the Accounting Officer of the alcohol Levy Fund. There was an urgent need for medication due to outbreaks.”

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