Thursday, September 24, 2020

Parliament passes the electrification Bill, but calls for investigation

This Tuesday, Parliament finally passed the two Bills giving government a go ahead to borrow close to P500 million from the Nordic Investment Bank to finance the electrification of 100 villages.

This was not before Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Serwalo Tumelo, explained to MPs at a caucus meeting what really happened.
On behalf of the Botswana Government, the Ministry of Finance has been leading the negotiations with the Scandinavian banks.

Parliament turned down the two Bills last December saying they were not satisfied with the contradictory statements offered by the then Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources Charles Mbiganyi Tibone.

But the passing of the Bills was not without controversy.

Member of Parliament for Palapye, Boyce Sebetela, stuck to his guns that he was not satisfied.

In the last sitting, he had said the deal “smelled of corruption.”

His Shoshong colleague, Duke Lefhoko, had said it “smacked of corruption.”

The two MPs questioned why the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB), which handles public procurement, had not been circumvented.

Parliament is concerned that a Swedish Electric Company, ELTEL has been awarded the contract without subjecting the process to open competitive bidding.

The MPs do not buy the story from the Ministry of Finance that ELTEL played a role in sourcing the finance.

“How did ELTEL know that Botswana needed this money?” asked Sebetela.

The vocal former minister said it is important to remember that the money is not a grant but a loan that will have to be repaid by government, and, as such, laid out bidding procedures for public procurement had to be followed.

Sebetela has called for an investigation as promised by President Festus Mogae.

The Ministry of Minerals was at pains to point out that the project would be managed by the Botswana Power Corporation and, as such, it had been enough to subject it to the BPC’s internal tender procedures.

But still parliament was not swayed. A number of MPs who spoke said as much as they were eager to bring electricity to rural communities, the process leading to such developments should be done transparently and fairly, and, more importantly, be seen to be so.

“The contradictory statements were not brought here by the back bench but by the ministers. So blame should not be shifted to us,” said Member of Parliament for Gaborone North, Keletso Rakhudu.
Rakhudu said, in future, the executive should be more careful, as parliament would not hesitate to take action as it was within their mandate to protect what they think is in the public interest.

The situation has not been helped by an admission by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Minerals, Dr Akolang Tombale, that indeed there have been contradictory statements coming from various government sources, especially on why the contract had not been subjected to public tendering procedures.

At one point, Tombale confused the situation even more when he said the deal had been struck as a Public Private Partnership, raising new questions if PEEPA, the government privatization agency handling PPP, had been involved.

Tombale was speaking on a radio phone in programme over Gabz FM, a Gaborone based radio station.

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