The National Petroleum Fund has been explained in terms of how much (13 thebe per litre) goes into it when motorists fill up petrol or diesel tanks at fuel stations. However, one very important group of contributors is not being mentioned at all ÔÇô the dirt poorest of society.
Diamond wealth has not reached all parts of Botswana society and while some homes are powered by electricity, there are still those who cannot afford to connect to do any business with the Botswana Power Corporation and have to use illuminating paraffin. Each time they go to a filling station to buy this fuel, they are also charged 13 thebe per litre. It has just been revealed that the Directorate of Intelligence Services requested P250 million from the National Petroleum Fund in order to build fuel storage facilities. The purpose of use was later changed to purchase of armaments but as a source tells Sunday Standard, no such armaments were bought and instead, the money “ended up in the pockets of some people.” Part of the P250 million in question came from the levy that was collected from poor people across the country who bought paraffin. There couldn’t be a more stark contrast of Robin Hood economics.
Interestingly, the current crisis was foreseen by some officials at the Department of Energy, which administers the Fund. When the Department was created, the petroleum section in what was then called the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (now called the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry) was transferred to it. However, some officials felt that the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development was better resourced and better suited to managing a fund with millions of pula than a mere department whose functions have absolutely nothing to do with finance. It is unclear how far such concerns were registered but no changes were made.
The Fund, which was established under the Finance and Audit Act, has been set up to cushion the impact of volatile fuel prices. Money from the Fund is used to buy strategic reserves for the government and years ago under the presidency of Festus Mogae, fuel from these reserves became a source of a diplomatic row between Botswana and Zimbabwe. Botswana came to the rescue of her neighbour by loaning it fuel for critical services like hospitals. However, Zimbabwe took its sweet time to pay for the fuel, leading former Sebina/Gweta MP, Oliphant Mfa to joke during a parliamentary debate that Botswana may just have to confiscate National Railway of Zimbabwe locomotive engines to defray the debt.