MAUN – Minister for Environment Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama has been cautioned against overspending and to instead shift his attention to addressing the issue of delayed compensations for communities affected by human/wildlife conflict.
At the North West District Council (NWDC) special full council meeting this week, councillors took turns to mock the Minister whom they labelled as a bad spender who cared little about the welfare of communities residing in the Okavango delta particularly.
They also wanted him to explain why community trusts finances were controlled by government instead of the bodies.
Tshekedi had earlier told councillors that his ministry was in dire need for funds. He said compensations were delayed because his ministry’s budget had been stumpy and therefore couldn’t meet all demands.
He stated that in 2013 the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) was awarded P 9 million to address the issue of compensations, P4.4 million in the 2016/2017 financial year and then P21 million for 2017/2018.
“Our budget has never been enough, and it is for this reason that we find ourselves in so much arrears. I am very much aware of destructions caused by elephants and other wild animals. This is worsened by the growing elephant population in our country.
“We have had an influx of elephants from neighboring countries which we are unable to control. As we speak we have sought assistance from Cabinet and we are hopeful that through their support, we will be able to purchase more equipment to chase them away and in the same way run related errands,” said the minister.
He the reason why community trusts money acquired from lease rentals was kept in holding accounts was because they couldn’t be trusted with the management of their finances.
Such money had over the years been administered by the District Commissioners office, an arrangement that community trusts were against as they wanted to manage their funds directly. But despite objection against holding accounts, Tshekedi pointed out that under the new land bank system, the funds will now be administered by Botswana Tourism Organisation, which trusts still oppose.
The minister said he had long suggested that people be enrolled at local institutions so that they may be equipped with the necessary knowledge of how trusts should operate, but this has always been turned down.
“I want trusts to have trained and experienced accountants; for them to have bank accounts, financial managers, and that they be audited from time to time, but this is not forthcoming. All the money is yours and it is my wish to see you making use of it in the best appropriate way. Remember communities look up to you to fend for them, and this comes with responsibility,” he said.
Councillor Moedi Modiegi pointed out that the reason why Tshekedi’s ministry was allocated “inadequate funds” might have been made deliberate by the Minister of Finance as a way of giving him a lesson about accountability.
“I am beginning to believe that this was because the Minister of Finance realised you are reckless with money. You are a known poor manager and over spender. The sad part is that you do so without consulting anyone.
“All departments within your ministry are equally reckless, and your officers are known to be the worst in abusing and misusing vehicles, and so maybe the time has come for you people to consider all these so that those tasked with funds allocations might see the seriousness in you,” said Modiegi.
Councillor Luke Motlaleselelo said the holding account system has had direct impact on the people of Ngamiland, especially those who reside in the delta as their villages and settlements are governed by community trusts, more so that some stay in ungazetted settlements and are not serviced by government.
He blamed the Technical Advisory Committee which he said does not advice the minister accordingly because the Okavango Kopano Mokoro Trust (OKMCT) especially has long hired trained accountants and skilled labour force but are still denied access to their proceeds.
Currently he said the OKMCT alone has over P3 million at the so-called holding account while they struggle to run the cash-strapped trust as they do not have authority over their monies. He said the communities are now disempowered even though they complied with all that was required.
“We pray that the funds be released to the relevant people. We cannot go on like this. Something needs to be done sooner than later because the people’s well-being is equally important,” he said
NWDC Deputy Council Chairman Latlhang Molonda said it did not sit well with them because as district leaders they were often left out whenever decisions were made in their area.
He said: “This degrades us. We are community leaders and therefore all decisions concerning the people we represent should involve us. We should not be seen to be conversing through the media while we have platforms meant to enable us to discuss issues.
“We are duty bound to effectively respond to people’s queries as they come by, and so isolating us is unwise and totally undesirable.”