Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The public impatiently awaits prosecution for those who abused covid-19 relief funds  

Covid has provided many lessons for us as a people in both private and public discourse.

One of those lessons should be strengthening our defences of public accountability.

There was systematic plunder for money set aside to support companies especially with wages and salaries.

There was also abuse of the direct appointment procurement dispensation when some companies and individuals used that channel to charge obscene amounts for PPEs and also for other much needed requirements just as the scale of the pandemic was getting apparent.

The Auditor General has completed what has looked like a helpful audit of what really happened.

More still needs to be done.

According to the Auditor General’s report lack of oversight and proper financial and control systems were all responsible for much of the abuse.

The report should be a key reference point for those seeking justice or seeking to go after criminals to get back public money.

As people died from Covid-19, criminals saw an opportunity to make money.

We take opprobrium with a decision by authorities to make so many direct procurement appointments.

Those direct appointments literally opened the floodgates.

This is a very serious issue, not only of governance but also of fighting corruption.

In early 2020 there was a lot of abuse.

It happened at the time when all of us were staying at home on account of strict lockdowns.

Those entrusted to scow the world for such things like PPEs and other covid related procurements felt they could do as they wished as there were no controls.

We literally were at their mercy. And had to take their word for it.

Crucially there was no due diligence.

And in fact there was no incentive for it. And naturally they had a field day.

Government should do more to prove that it is a worthy custodian of public funds.

When it comes to the plunder of money that was allocated to relieve the effects of covid, one simple way Botswana government could prove its worth is to show political will to go after the offenders.

This could be shown by allocated resources to chase the offenders – with the aim of recouping the money or sending culprits to jail.

So far all efforts to get either have been totally inadequate.

A failure to get back this money or punish those who abused it will become a very forceful incentive in future for abuse in similar circumstances.

Botswana Government has a long history of economic prudence.

That is a result of accountability, among other things.

We cannot in a modern era, when we supposed to be an example and beacon of accountability, be the ones eschewing such measures.

Money was supposed to support struggling businesses and families, instead it fell into the pockets of sharks that as it has turned out were enabled and facilitated by officials and senior politicians.

That cannot go unpunished, or else the loss of so many people to covid would have been in vain.

Well-known personalities and executives were seen to have taken advantage of Covid relief funds and failed to account for those in their wage bills.

That should be shameful to say the least.

We understand the DCEC is also following some of the culprits.

Our hope is that Botswana Government will do exactly what it promised at the time when the money was disbursed which was that those who abuse the money will face the wrath of the law.

But many of the beneficiaries are well known and it is also known that they enjoy some level of protection from the political elite.

As things stand billions of public money squandered under the various schemes, especially during the first total lockdown are unlikely ever to be recovered.

There is a cavalier attitude within government when it comes to spending public finances.

An impression has been created that government money is infinite.

That is obviously wrong.

And what we need is to get our priorities right.

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