Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Stacks of Parliament documents and audio tapes missing

Stacks of audio tapes and volumes of documents containing recorded proceedings of both Parliament debates and House of Chiefs proceedings have gone missing.

Other files were destroyed by the heater in winter or unfriendly temperatures while some were never processed.

Those that are available are below acceptable standard, and reflect serious lack of professionalism by editorial staff to the extent that “one had so many errors to a point where it was incoherent with the meaning more often lost in the course of translation”.

The latest performance Audit Report No.7 of 2008 on the parliament of Botswana by the Auditor General paints a picture of chaos, inefficiency and negligence by parliament administration officers.

When both Parliament and the House of Chiefs are in session, their deliberations are recorded and then compiled into official reports, referred to as Hansards.

According to the Auditor General’s report, there is a set time frame provided that by 12:00 hrs, scripts of the previous day’s debate should be at members of parliaments’ pigeon holes for proof reading, and to ascertain whether they have been captured correctly.

To ensure that scripts have minimal errors, they go through several levels of editing. Following this, the Hansard would be released within two months of meetings.

The AG, however, found that set targets for editing by middle and senior editors were never met for reasons that never came out clear.

This is said to have affected the time frame set for the production of the Hansard reports.

“Even all MPs interviewed complained that they never received the previous day’s scripts on time (which was supposed to be by 12 noon the next day), adding that even when they got the scripts, they would usually be full of errors,” said OAG.

To prove this, auditors decided to attend a parliament session on August 23rd, 2007 to observe what happened during recording of debates.

It was noted that even though reporters/editors were supposed to pick audiotapes through the recording gallery after every 15 minutes for transcribing, this was not done.
“Instead they waited for tapes to accumulate before taking them for transcribing,” hinted OAG.

It also emerged that work, which was supposed to be done in a day by middle editors, took two days whilst top editors took at least three weeks to compile a week’s deliberation and two days to lay out.
A review of production brief status report availed by parliament Administration spoke volumes.

The report covered production of the Hansard on the deliberations from the 7th February 2005 up to the 6th April 2007, that is Hansard No. 147 to Hansard 153, meaning 52 volumes of the Hansard.

Of these 52 supposedly published volumes, only 7 were available to the auditors. Furthermore, 5 volumes were never even transcribed, with 4 having gone missing.

Six had since been taken to Government printing according to information given to the auditors, but had never been collected, some having been with the printers as far back as July 2005, posited the OAG.

It was also pointed out that although during interviews relevant officers are said to have projected a clear picture, clamming that laying out was always done, the situation on the grand actually revealed that 32 of 52 volumes for the period 2005-2007, equivalent to 61.5%, had never gone through the laying out process.

According to auditors, Parliament Administration Management and the Editorial management tried to convince them that their failure to meet targets was due to a shortage of manpower and that the editors serviced different parliamentary committees, which led to their being overwhelmed.

The Editorial management had indicated that one of the major contributing factors to the delay of the Hansard production was delay at the Government Printers.

That notwithstanding, basing on the production status report “it was clear that this could not be even remotely attributed to the backlog as only 8 volumes out of 52 volumes covered by the report were still with government printers” said the OAG.

As if that was not enough, the AG laments that this excluded the HOC reports whose status he said were availed to the auditors.

Even though both the Hansard and the House of Chiefs reports were supposed to be produced by the same Parliament Administration Officers using the same resources, the state of the latter was reportedly substandard.

Concerning the tapes, they were reported to have been kept under open and uncontrolled temperatures.
In winter they were exposed to very cold temperatures at night, which abruptly changed in the morning when the heater was turned on.

Tapes used on February, 24 1997 were found to be unclear and had a lot of interference while the one recorded in 1991 had lost all its contents.

In response to these concerns raised by the Auditor General, the Parliament Administration management stated they were in the process of converting from the manual handling to the electronic transfer of audio tapes.

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The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.