Sunday, November 29, 2020

Presidential directive on BIUST withdrawn

Government has backtracked on a Presidential directive issued by President Ian Khama to scale down Botswana International University of Science and Technology.

The contents of the document had, however, been leaked to The Sunday Standard.

By Friday afternoon the Minister of Education was at pains to explain the circumstances surrounding the leaked document.

In an interview with The Sunday Standard she attributed the document to “mischief-making” before adding that there had been a “misunderstanding.”

She denied the President had sought to issue a directive.

“There is no way the President would issue a directive before there has been a cabinet memo. As the minister responsible I have not issued a cabinet memo,” said Pelonomi VensonÔÇôMoitoi, in her explanation.

While mystery still surrounds the circumstances under which a presidential directive was issued in the first instance there are suspicions that either the directive was issued without following procedure or that, as an afterthought, government is now worried about the political ramifications that will come about as part of the backlash for the decision to scale down BIUST.

Venson-Moitoi downplayed the gaffe and insisted “somehow” cabinet minutes went out and were made to “look like” a presidential directive.

She said she was still awaiting technical advice from experts on the ground before she could make recommendations to cabinet on the way forward regarding BIUST.

The experts, she said, included project consultants from the World Bank’s IFC (International Finance Corporation) and Tertiary Education Council.

“When we planned for this university there was no recession. A lot of things have since happened, including new developments in the education sector. The thinking within Government is that we should gain more with less. While there is no position adopted as yet we have to look at BIUST against these developments,” said Minister Venson-Moitoi.

She also said Phase I of the multibillion Pula Technology University will not be affected by the ongoing “rationalisation” as money to see through that part of the project has already been disbursed.

The minister also told the Sunday Standard that she has instructed the leadership of the university to stop forthwith any new recruitment of staff.

She said it would be unwise to continue recruiting people when it is not yet clear what format the university will ultimately assume.

“We run the risk of being saddled with contracts we will have to honour even if we would not need such people if we continue to recruit people before a decision is made on the future of the university,” said Minister Venson-Moitoi.

Investigations by Sunday Standard have revealed that even as Government says they await advice from experts on how to continue with BIUST, an executive decision has already been made to reduce the university to a much lower scale.

There is a new thinking within government enclave to turn BIUST into a faculty of the University of Botswana.

The situation is not helped by a collapse of relations between university management led by Vice Chancellor Professor Kweku Bentil and his Council on one hand and the Ministry of Education, backed by the presidency on the other.

Professor Bentil is said to have insisted on adhering to the specification so as to ensure functionality of the building structures.

But competing commercial interests in the construction of the university involving some senior people in cabinet have not made it easy for the Vice Chancellor.

“It is not true for government to blame recession for what is happening at BIUST. Affordability is not even an issue. At issue here is that we have senior people in cabinet who want to use the university to line their pockets even if they do that against the specifications of the tendering system. Even the buildings under construction at Palapye are not what they were planned to be,” said a source close to the construction side of things at Palapye.

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Sunday Standard November 29 – 5 December

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of November 29 - 5 December, 2020.