Saturday, September 23, 2023

Thieving of Covid-19 funds worse than feared

A report released recently by the Auditor General suggests that millions of Pula were siphoned off Covid-19 relief fund more than it was initially reported.

In her latest report, Auditor General Pulane Letebele reveals that in some instances the “accuracy and completeness” of these figures “could not be verified.”

The report shows that funds amounting to P250 million was warranted for participating Institutions such as Local Enterprise Authority, CEDA and BDC under the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry to support informal, small, medium and large enterprises. 

At the time of audit in July 2021, only P68.5 million (27.4%) had been disbursed to beneficiaries indicating a low uptake.

Letebele found that an amount of P196 683 098 was disbursed to Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) with no Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) or any instrument to govern the utilisation of the funds.

“The absence of MOA creates the risk of uncertainty as the rights and obligations of each party are not laid down. At the time of audit, there was also no evidence of an expenditure report on the utilisation of the funds,” she said.

Touching on procurement of Covid-19 Vaccines, the report says the total verified payments for Covid-19 vaccines amounted to P271 543 531.

The report says the Ministry of Health issued a tender for P31 842 720 to Botswana Red Cross to carry out Covid-19 contact tracing for which the Department of Health Management Team (DHMT) had already engaged temporary employees to carry out the same mandate in all districts resulting in a duplication of efforts.

“The African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnerships (ACHAP) was similarly contracted to conduct the same exercise,” the report says.

Regarding the Personal Protective Equipment and tracking devices , the report says the Government awarded a tender to an asset tracking company, to supply tracking bracelets in July 2020.

“The contract agreement was signed on 18 August 2020 at a price of P14 300 000. Government decided to terminate the contract on the 15 October 2020 with a commitment to honour its obligations that existed as at termination. The legal team acting on behalf of the contractor submitted documentary evidence of expenditure incurred amounting to P14 118 878,” the report says.

On wage subsidy, the report says an amount of P4 225 674 was paid to undeserving beneficiaries from April to June 2020. “There were no controls in place to check the authenticity of the information provided by the applicants to guard against uploading of ghost employees,” the report says.

It says information produced by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MFED) revealed that 426 Government employees had unduly benefitted from the wage subsidy in April 2020. The total amount paid was P788 428. At the time of audit there was no evidence that monthly reconciliations were carried out as required by Section 10 (b) of the Fund Order.

“As at October 2020 payments were still ongoing although they were slated for the three months of April, May and June 2020. This contravened Covid-19 Guidelines. The late payments defeated the purpose of the subsidy,” the report says.

With regard to Food Baskets, the report says most local authorities had not complied with the Covid-19 Food Relief Response. Lack of proper guidance had led to uncontrolled prices of food commodities, undefined criteria, direction on eligibility for food packages and uncontrolled overtime.

“There was no standard way to test the eligibility of beneficiaries as individuals/families in similar circumstances were assessed differently. Perusal of the assessment forms revealed that the outcome depended on the discretion of the assessor,” the report says.  Furthermore, in Mogoditshane 65 289 beneficiaries had qualified for assistance whereas   64 884 had been assessed, thereby bringing doubt on the accuracy of the database as the numbers assisted exceeded those that were assessed.

“In some instances, double dipping had occurred where individuals or families had benefited under both the Instant Food Relief Programme and the Destitute Programme baskets between 29 April 2020 and 18 May 2020,” the report says.

The report says at the beginning of the pandemic, there was no proper guidance on the procurement of hotel accommodation given the emergency. Lack of clear criteria for hotel selection meant that it was at the discretion of the procurement personnel.  There were no Requests for Quotations (RFQs) on hotel accommodation, inconsistencies in preparation of payment vouchers were also noted contradicting the guidelines provided to the various District Health Management Teams.

Most Covid-19 related expenditure was charged to the Covid-19 Relief Fund, which made it difficult to disaggregate expenditure on the different components of the Fund. “The Ministry (of Health) extracted a report on expenditure for hotel accommodation and meals totalling P201 414 332 for the period April 2020 to January 2021.

“The accuracy and completeness of this figure could not be verified,” the report says.

An amount of P1 063 610 was paid to an airline to charter a flight from Ethiopia to Botswana for 90 Batswana and 4 other nationals with the understanding that the individuals would reimburse the Government P11 315 each within one month of arrival.  The Ministry responsible stated that as of 22 July 2021 only P215 000 was refunded.


Read this week's paper