The Minister of Tourism Tshekedi Khama may be illegally expropriating Tourism Development Fund (TDF) money ÔÇô documents passed to the Sunday Standard have revealed.
The Minister has issued a number of directives siphoning off millions of Pula from the fund.
The Minister told Parliament on Friday that to date, a total of P151, and 346,234 has been spent from the TDF account on BTO projects “which mainly consist of capital expenditure and BTO operational expenditure, in the form of activities and events.”
Khama explained in the report that the Accounting officer (Permanent Secretary) at the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism is responsible for the administration of the Fund in accordance with the said Fund Order.
Khama said the Accounting Officer also executes the day to day administration functions through a working Committee appointed by him.
He said the Committee reviews the submissions for funding and recommends to the accounting officer for payment.
Khama stated that the use of funds from TDF was authorized by the Board of Botswana Tourism Organization (BTO). The Sunday Standard can however reveal that Khama in fact the then Botswana Tourism Organization Acting Chief Executive Officer Brian Dithebe to spend the TDF money.
Khama stated in his report that “The above funding was duly authorized by BTO Board as an exception for urgently required capital expenditure which was not included in the annual budgetary subvention, but was necessary to achieve excellence in the organization.”
Sunday Standard can further reveal that during part of the period the BTO operated without a board.
In 2016 BTO did not have a board except for Lawrence Khupe who was its sole existing board member. Funds spent from the TDF fund at the time were not approved by the board.
In his report to Parliament, Khama stated that a total of more than P16 million was spent on Tsabong Tourism Park, Camel Park, Seboba Nature and Creation Park, Lepokole Nature Reserve,Gcwihaba,Goo Moremi Reserve and Nata Bird Sanctuary.
Still in 2016, BTO paid P10 million to National Geographic, spent more than P8, 8 million on ITB Berlin and more than P1, 9 million for Race for Rhinos.
The minister told Parliament that the remaining balance in the Tourism Development Fund as at 28th February 2018 was P30, 952,967. He said since the time that BTO was mandated to collect funds for theTDF in 2015, a cumulative amount of P182 299 201 over a period of three (3) years and for 11 months ended 28th February 2018 has been collected.
Khama explained that the Tourism Development fund is managed through the Tourism Development Fund Order under the Public Finance Management Act (Cap 54:01) with a purpose to: Promote tourism development through effective pursuit of opportunities in the tourism sector which are of National and Strategic importance to diversify the tourism sector.
The purpose of the Fund is also to support activities and services offered to tourist, support international campaigns that will substantially increase awareness and develop complimentary events intended to increase community beneficiation and to encourage local and regional participation in Botswana tourism.
It is also used for Research into new technologies and methods geared towards sustainable tourism and preserve and restore Botswana’s culture and heritage and encourage activities to take place around Botswana‘s culture and heritage products.
In the letter, dated August, 2016 Khama directed the CEO to source out P 7, 996, 500 million pula from the TDF for the first Gaborone International Air show, an event that duplicated and was in the same geographical area as the already existing Matsieng International Air show.
“It has been proposed that the Air show will culminate in a gala dinner which will mark the formal launch of the Tlhokomela Endangered Wildlife Trust, which is housed under the BTO with the attendance of His Excellency the President of Botswana and Trust Patron addressing a potential fundraising base of 150 key corporate leaders,” reads the letter from Khama.
He added that “In view of the fact that the said amount has not been provided for in the BTO budget, you are directed to accordingly source the same from the Tourism development Fund (TDF).”
According to a letter to the BTO boss dated August 4, 2016, Khama also issued a directive to fund, Race for Rhinos, with a P 5 065 00 from the Tourism Development Fund.
Another project, The World strongest man event saw P5million being diverted from the Fund and the payment of the Botswana 50 years anniversary memento book for the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism at P 1 347, 500.00.”
Khama’s report was a response to Gaborone North legislator Haskins Nkaigwa who wanted to know how the Fund is managed and its status among others.