The cost of President Festus Mogae’s retirement home in the upmarket suburbs of Phakalane Golf estates is said to have ballooned from the initial P14 million to more than P20 million.
President Mogae’s spokesperson, Jeff Ramsay, and Minister of Works, Lesego Motsumi, would not discuss reports that the president’s retirement home, which was initially budgeted for P14 million and later raised to a ceiling of P17 million, has overshot the ceiling and is now in excess of P20 million.
Dr Ramsay referred all queries to Motsumi, saying the project is handled by the Ministry of Works.
Motsumi, in turn, told The Sunday Standard that she could not confirm the reports because she did not have the information at her fingertips.
“At the moment, I can not confirm anything. I would have to look at the records first and right now it is after hours and I am not in the office,” she said.
Sources close to the Office of the President, however, indicate that the president is aware of the overruns, which are mainly a result of a change in specifications implemented as an afterthought meant to suit Mogae’s taste, sometimes at the president’s personal instigation.
Reports of cost overruns for the president’s home come at a time when the government is busy implementing cost cuts and cost sharing in other sectors, including the re-introduction of school fees.
In what is also likely to be an example of a government that has got its priorities wrong, the report of overruns come ten months after a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) revealed how the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning had to cut money from the budgets of old age pensioners, the Botswana Defence Force and other government departments in order to avoid a budget deficit.
The government has also been squeezing parastatals as a way of extracting money from them to help balance the budget.
In the meantime, the government has purchased a presidential jet close to half a billion Pula.
The cost overruns are likely to further add heat to the already divisive debate of the upkeep of retired presidents.
The PAC report detailed how the ministry unilaterally deconstructed the 2003/2004 national budget after it had been approved by Parliament and “went through a painful process in constructing” a new one in a bid to dodge a budget deficit.
One of the strategies employed by the ministry officials, to force a budget surplus, involved short changing old age pensioners, the Botswana Defence Force officers and other government departments out of part of their budget allocations that had been approved by parliament.
The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning issued a withdrawal warrant deducting money from a number of heads of expenditure which had already been approved by Parliament. Reports that the president’s retirement home had overshot its budget also come one week after the country’s two official opposition parties ÔÇô the Botswana National Front (BNF) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), accused The Office of the President of misusing public resources.
BNF publicity secretary, Moeti Mohwasa, was quoted in the media saying: “The government has been preaching cost recovery which is expected to be executed by the Ministries and government departments. It is worrying that the two highest offices in the land are not pragmatic.”
In the same story, the BCP publicity secretary, Dumelang Saleshando, was also quoted as saying that “the main thing is that there is a new tradition that we witnessed under Mogae’s presidency which is likely to continue under Khama.”
Saleshando added that the Office of the President has no regard for state resources.
“It is unfortunate that Botswana is hailed for its economic prudence when the custodians of the same economy have no regard for the resources except just wasting them. Look, Mogae chose the most expensive piece of land instead of settling for a government.