Tuesday, March 5, 2024

PAC hearings on NPF saga to resume on Wednesday

The public hearing on the ill-fated National Petroleum Fund (NPF) is expected to enter its final phase this week when the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) reconvenes.

According to PAC member and Tati East MP, Guma Moyo, the Committee met last Tuesday to draw up a schedule for its next order of business and hopes to wrap up the NPF hearings this coming Wednesday. Moyo says that the Committee had sought certain information from government departments he didn’t name to fill some gaps it had identified. Having been favoured with such information, the Committee is looking into it. Moyo further reveals that the report-writing process, in which the Committee members coordinate with the secretariat, notably the parliamentary counsel, has already begun.

“The report will be tabled in the next session of parliament,” the MP says.

The next session, which marks the beginning of the parliamentary year, is in November. Another highlight of that session is that it will mark President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s first state-of-the-nation address. While MPs routinely complain about parliament being used as a rubberstamp, the PAC is in a category all its own because it gives MPs immense power. The Committee can subpoena witnesses as well as recommend prosecution for those who, in its determination, have offended the law as to warrant subjection to such sanction.

The matter at hand relates to the P250 million that was unlawfully diverted from the NPF. The Fund was established under the Finance and Audit Act in order to cushion the impact of volatile fuel prices. Money from the Fund, which comes from 13 thebe per litre from fuel purchases, is used to buy strategic reserves for the government. While the Fund has generally been explained in terms of how much goes into it when motorists fill up petrol or diesel tanks at fuel stations, the dirt poorest of society also contribute each time they illuminating paraffin. The PAC is investigating circumstances under which the P250 million was diverted to the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS). The state contends that this amounted to money-laundering and in a separate legal process, four people have been hauled before court on such charges.

The PAC holds its public hearings during recess and the last time it did (late April this year) heard from witnesses with direct knowledge of the problematic transaction. One of those witnesses was Colonel Isaac Kgosi, the former DISS Director General. Not only did Kgosi refuse to answer questions, he also fatefully declared that as DISS boss, he didn’t take orders from anyone, President Masisi included. Soon thereafter he was out of a job he had held for 10 years under former president, Lieutenant General, Ian Khama, to whom he was aide-de-camp in the army and later private secretary when the latter joined politics as Festus Mogae’s vice president. At one point during the hearing, Kgosi’s general attitude to the questioning by PAC members prompted the stand-in chairperson, Dithapelo Keorapetse, to describe him as “rude.”  Keorapetse (Selebi Phikwe West) stepped into that role when the substantive chairperson, Abram Kesupile (Kanye South) recused himself on the basis of familial relations with both Kgosi and one of the NPF accused, Botho Leburu.

It turns out that Kgosi’s refusal to cooperate with the Committee had no material impact on the parliamentary probe. The members already had documentary evidence and merely wanted him to explain discrepancies that contravened both public finance management law and processes. At one point, the two parties clashed over a document whose contents Kgosi said he couldn’t discuss because they were confidential. The weight of evidence was in no way lessened by this and other antics. The source of the PAC’s strength in this matter is that it works very closely with the offices of the Accountant General and the Auditor General ÔÇô the latter actually produced a detailed report that forms the basis of the Committee’s own investigation. The Committee has two other such sources, both with a historical dimension. Moyo and another Committee member, Ndaba Gaolathe, (Gaborone Bonnington South) have intimate knowledge of Botswana’s public finance management law and processes, with the former having served as Assistant Minister in the renamed Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. If Kgosi’s non-cooperation was at all a premeditated strategy, it would have been one that took cognisance of the fact that as an army mechanic and spy, he couldn’t go toe to toe with seasoned finance professionals on matter of finance and hope to win. The other strength is hindsight. In the last parliament, the Committee itself bungled an investigation into the bungled glass factory project in Palapye. Lessons from that investigation and its outcome, will be front and centre in the minds of Committee members as they probe the NPF.

Masisi followed up on his dismissal of Kgosi from the civil service by declassifying him, meaning that the latter was removed from the official security classification. This happened after Kgosi had appeared before the PAC and the expectation of some was that the Committee would recall him as a witness and force him to answer questions that he had evaded earlier. However, that won’t be happening because the documentary evidence is as adequate as to close all the information gaps that Kgosi thought he could create by not cooperating. The analysis of a security source is that Kgosi’s declassification will create problems in an upcoming criminal case related to his role in the NPF saga. Says the source: “Having been declassified, he won’t have the option of saying he can’t discuss classified information when he appears in court. The effect of the declassification is more long-term and expansive in its conception.”

As Sunday Standard reported last week, General Khama will likely be called as a witness in the criminal case and there doesn’t seem to be any way that he could be kept out of this matter. While a provision in the DISS Act provides for parliamentary oversight through a committee, such oversight exists in name only because the committee has never met. In practical terms, nobody but Khama himself exercised real oversight over an agency headed by someone with whom he had a close personal relationship. With precise regard to the P250 million, Kgosi would have consulted his only boss because no one in the position that he previously held is authorised for expenditure that high.


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