Tuesday, October 19, 2021

What happened to the e- government millions?

More than two years after parliament allocated P150 Million to the Ministry of State President to finance the development of e- government, the ministry has not started the project and the money has not being accounted for.

More than 30 civil servants who were employed for the project have since been retrenched because government says there is no money to pay them. The government is also refusing to sign a tender agreement with a Canadian company that was contracted for the project and no reasons are being advanced.

The bungled e-government project has now morphed into a bout of ligations: Workers who were recruited for the project have already taken government to court while the Canadian project team is threatening legal action against the Canadian contractor who was awarded the project. The Canadian contractor is also complaining about the huge expenses it has incurred in Botswana while waiting on government to sign the tender agreement and is also expected to sue government.

The string of litigations is expected to open a can of worms on what happened to the P50 million allocated for the project and why the Canadian company was awarded a P150 million e- Government tender through a single tender process.

The cases are also expected to offer a glimpse into reports that despite the e-Gov tender being awarded in 2015, the Botswana Government and the Canadian company Imax Systems had not signed the contract as at 10 July 2017.

The tender was awarded by the Public Procurement Asset and Disposal Board (PPADB) on 15th December 2016.

Thirty-five civil servants were hired as Assistant Systems Analysts for e-Gov office project in the Ministry of Transport and Communications. The expiry date of their contract is September 2018.

But the government terminated their contracts on 31st January 2017 citing “normal and established Public Service procedures were not followed by the Ministry in employing you and it has not been possible to regularize your employment.”

The Ministry also added that “There are currently no funds to sustain the payment of your salary and all other applicable benefits that you would otherwise be entitled to.”

“I have in addition to the above on 11/01/2017 called you to a meeting whereat I addressed these issues and pointed out to you the attendant irregularities as well as the financial inability of the Ministry to comply with the contract,” said former Permanent Secretary Elias Magosi in one of the letters addressed to one of the former employees.

Through their lawyers, Mothala Ketshabile and Company, the former employees state that their appointment letters were signed by former Permanent Secretary Neil Fitt and copied to the Director of Public Service Management and the Accountant General. The lawyers say that as far as they know, all the public service procedures were followed before they were employed.

“Your assertion to the contrary is false and also begs the following questions;  which procedure were not followed, who did not follow the said procedures, what informs this allegation, are you alleging that clients were aware of the alleged failure to follow procedure,” they said.
They added that “If indeed clients’ employment was irregular as intimated in the first reason (no funds to sustain the payments of clients), surely the availability or otherwise of funds for their salaries becomes irrelevant.”

They further stated that “The last reason for the intended termination is that clients’ services are no longer needed in the ministry. The above reason also exposes the other two already given as false; either the employment was irregular and is cancelled on this ground, there are no funds to pay clients and so the contract is cancelled or clients’ services are no longer needed, necessitating the contract to be cancelled,” said the lawyers.

“The cadre that that was employed as system analysts is entitled to scare skills allowance and they demand payment of same from the date of employment to the mutually agreed date of termination of the employment contract,” the lawyers further state.

On December 22, 2016 Magosi said the project was to be implemented immediately and was to be completed in 24 months.

“…the Government Modernisation Office (GMO) request to award … tender to Imex Systems Inc. at a cost of USD 14 559 860.00 VAT inclusive. The Government of Botswana is therefore pleased to award the contract to Imex Systems Inc. The award is effective immediately and the project is required to be executed in 24 months. You will be invited to come and sign the contract after the festive holiday,” Magosi stated in a letter addressed to the Canadian company.

The management of the Canadian company have been in the country trying to persuade Botswana authorities to sign the contract.

In papers before court, President and CEO of Imex Systems Damodar Arapakota states that “The Applicant is expending endless resources and currently spending P1 500 to P2000 per day on me alone for accommodation and food, my daily upkeep,” he said. 

He further stated that staff members in the Project Team in Canada who have been earmarked for jobs in Botswana have started threatening legal action against Imex Systems in view of delays in commencing.

“The disruption to their livelihoods on account of the uncertainty is causing immeasurable damage both socio economically and financially,” Arapakota said.

He stated that he was  spending resources on rent and other basic needs in preparation of the execution of the contract, including leasing office space and homes for 20 staff members at about P240 000 (USD 20 000) per month. 

“If the contract is not implemented immediately, the applicant will not be able to get substantial redress at a later date in the future and cannot resuscitate the already damaged reputation that is ongoing, as a listed company abroad,” the company said.

In his 2015 budget speech, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning Kenneth Matambo stated that, “the sixth largest share of the development budget amounting to P1.04 billion or 8.0 percent is allocated to Ministry of State President to finance the HIV/AIDS Programme at P194.8 million, Poverty Eradication initiatives at P160 million, e-Government at P150 million and Digital Migration at P130 million for enhancing business environment.”

The budget allocations were approved by parliament.

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