Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Gov’t should be more transparent on public funds including the NPF monies

Reluctance by the government to go public with certain critical information will always raise all sorts of questions. One of the key questions that always come to head is whether by releasing half-baked information to the public the government would be showing off its arrogance and lack of transparency or as it always claim is solely for the purpose of national security.

This commentary is necessitated by an announcement made early this year in which the government decided to withdraw all the monies relating to the National Petroleum Fund (NPF) from commercial banks and investment firms to the central bank.

This development on its own raised a lot of questions including whether the government is declaring banks and investment firms in this country untrustworthy. What message is the government sending to the outside world about our banks and fund managers?

That aside, what is of key concern is however a deliberate decision by the government to omit critical information relating to the NPF monies. How much money are we talking about here? How much money is the public going to lose as a result of moving the funds from the open money market to the central bank, where it’s likely going to idle? How about other government levy funds such as the alcohol levy, etc…, are the monies safe wherever it is or has also been subjected to the alleged molestation as reported in the local newspapers?

Just a week after the government made its announcement on the drastic decision relating to the NPF, the private sector mouth piece, Business Botswana made a press statement calling on the Finance Minister Kenneth Matambo and by extension the government to issue a public statement regarding the NPF matter. The Business Botswana statement went as far as questioning the control mechanisms in place relating to the safe keep of these large funds which the described as “very loose”.

It is such as shame that while Business Botswana admitted in their statement that the Public and Private sector has identified corruption at their bi annual High Level Consultation Council as a major challenge in the country nothing is being done about it.

Even the recently approved whistling blowing law remains a total joke. It is actually likely to do the opposite of what it has been put up for. The law has been thoroughly watered down that it is not going to have much effect in the fight against corruption in this country. This we say with utmost certainty because the said law does not offer any protection to whistleblowers who might provide tips, for instance to journalists. Instead such individuals face possible punishments for daring to talk to the media.

Even if we put the issue of the national petroleum fund monies aside, looking back at the past decade of President Ian Khama’s administration, the lack of transparency over government dealings is glaring. As head of government President Khama avoided facing difficult governance issues such as corruption or maladministration that faced this country. A recent example is that of when BCL group of companies closed down its mines in Francistown and Selebi Phikwe respectively. He was not where to be found and not just that, he took little if not zero action against those who are believed to have been at the forefront of the BCL mess.

For the past decade or so, President Khama has avoided what to him appeared to be uncomfortable truths, especially those coming from mismanagement on the part of senior Government officials within his circle of friends. This in a way denied members of the public their right to critical information more especially relating to their monies. This one way or the other shows the lack of transparency by the government of the day.

For those familiar with public project management in our country, there is no need to give many scratch your head because in as far as the problem relates to transparency, you can come up with your own list. Just under three years back, on the top of the list would have been the controversial Morupule “B” Power project. Around the same time there was the Palapye Glass Project, Sir Seretse Khama International Airport expansion ÔÇô all of which had everybody on tenterhooks for the past yesteryears.

It is becoming clear as each day passes that ours has been a very secretive government. A good example was given last year by the World Bank through a Mining Investment and Governance review report. The international developmental bank stated in the report that one of the major issues of contention expressed by different stakeholders, including some government institutions, concerns the country’s decision to keep the negotiations process around contracts for diamonds mining and large integrated projects “confidential and secretive”.

For so many years the Botswana government have been secretly negotiating the terms and conditions of its sales and management agreements with De Beers Mining. The said contracts are not published and even the Auditor General is not allowed to audit these agreements. One wonders if indeed the government thinks by doing so it was being transparent and winning confidence and trust of its people. We obviously do not have answer to the question but what we know for sure is that the lack of disclosure of diamond and integrated project contracts has affected Botswana’s score in transparency and accountability when it comes to international ratings ÔÇôatleast those that were done by the World Bank in 2017.

In the meantime wait to see whether the Minister responsible for Finance and Economic Development, Kenneth Matambo will use his budget speech to address the issue of transparency when it comes to levy funds. We wonder whether he will listen to the private sector’s request to bring back public confidence and trust to show that systems are working as they should and there is nothing to worry about.

The #Bottomline is that the government needs to take urgent action to improve transparency and accountability on matters relating to public funds including the on spotlight National Petroleum Fund monies. This action starts with a public statement that makes commitment to certain actions items including those highly ranked individuals who continue to loot.

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