Thursday, July 18, 2024

Inside the Maun Airport relocation-compensation mess

MAUN: When the government of Botswana took a decision to relocate and compensate hundreds of families in Maun to pave way for the expansion of the airport in 2006, they probably did not know that amongst those being relocated are fraudsters.

Fourteen years later, it has emerged that atleast 154 people in the tourism town falsely obtained huge amounts of money from the government after they submitted two claims for the same property destroyed by government during the relocations. The cohort was part of hundreds of families who at the time resided in Sedie and Botshabelo wards and are now residing in a new neighbourhood dubbed Disaneng.

The details of the alleged fraud came to light at a recent meeting addressed by Minister responsible for Transport and Communication – Thulaganyo Segokgo.

The meeting was converged to address the issue of the long awaited compensation, which has since been blamed on some loopholes identified on the side of both the government and claimants.

While it was public knowledge that some of the relocated residents are still awaiting their compensation, which runs into millions of Pula, only a few people knew that some of the residents had made a hit and run on the government in the form of claiming twice.

It became clear at the meeting that a segment amongst the ‘aggrieved’ residents falsely obtained from government as they are believed to have intentionally claimed large amounts of money twice while they knew they had already been paid for the same properties.

The cohort is reported to have taken advantage of an accounting blunder committed by government officials who handled the compensation part of the airport relocation. It was revealed at the meeting that the 154 claimants from the two wards had been overpaid by a total sum of P7, 333, 897 which might be one of the many obstacles standing in the way for other pending requests to be processed.

A further 1322 claimants are owed a total sum of P49, 704,598 as outstanding balances. In addition to that, over fifty claims are said to have been processed back then, but claimants have to date not received a single thebe, even though they willingly relocated to the new place with the hope that they were going to receive their compensation monies on agreed times, in vain.

Segokgo told the gathering that he is yet to get an update from the government officials who have been handling this matter in order to get clarity.

He admitted that the issue is a very complex one as it already weighs heavily on him, especially that there seems to have been a lot of oversight.

“I am well aware that this matter dates back a long time back. Believe you me, even the President has long been notified about your experiences, delays and so forth, and his wish is that this issue should be looked into and addressed as a matter of urgency,” said the minister.

“A lot of you here seem to have lost hope. However, you need to be mindful of the fact that this cannot be solved overnight based on its gravity. You will be duly paid what is owed to you, but there are procedures which need to be followed before everything else. So please be a little patient and give us time to look onto this issue amicably,” said Segokgo.

Segokgo also admitted that investigations will not be as easy as it seems.

“It becomes complicated in the sense that it’s now your word against that of government particularly the ever-changing numbers of the people owed. This now calls for the commencement of stern investigations because it is apparent that something is not right. But I promise it will be over in no distant time so that we may focus on equally pressing issues such as bringing in more services to this new place which you have occupied”, said the Minister.

The Ministry’s Director of Transport, Policy and Planning Orapeleng Mosigi’s report to the Minister almost unsettled the Village Development Committee (VDC) Chairperson Kehitlhang Mokgweetsi as he felt most its contents were misleading. The Director had stated in his report that delays were met because some people have to date not availed all the necessary documents as requested. As a result, he said, it has never been clear as to how many people are still owed, which has resulted in his office not even knowing how the calculations should be made.

Mokgweetsi dismissed the statement as a lame excuse, which the Director seems to have adopted as one of his delaying tactics. He said “This is news to us. The Director’s office is in possession of all the needed documents and he can attest to that. If indeed that is true, then he must request for such information from the high court archives as we have been there before.

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