BLOWIN’ CASH: How government wastes money, & then punishes poor people for it

Government and state institutions are full of officers who routinely waste millions of Pula. No action is ever taken against them. Every year the government reports a worse fiscal position. This year international ratings agency Moody’s has asked the government to reign in its spending on the public. Government is just about to make those at the lowest end of the earning scale pay for its wastage, by raising fees for access to public services.

BLOWIN’ CASH: How government wastes money, & then punishes poor people for it

There is a mere road between one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Botswana’s capital city, and the ground zero of the government's financial wastage system. It takes you no more than 24 steps to cross the Kudumatse Road, from the south where the urban sprawl of Old Naledi is, to the north where the former corporate offices of the Botswana Unified Revenue Services. Before and after those twenty-four steps, a world apart. On one end possibly a family without the next meal, and on the other the plush entrails of a government corporate body. It in those offices where every month, the BURS signs a one million Pula cheque to the owners of the offices in rentals. But the offices are not occupied, since the BURS has vacated them. The taxman has long vacated those offices and moved to its new Central Business District-located headquarters. If you took million and spent it on Old Naledi residents, some whom are the poorest people in the capital, you could buy groceries for nearly half of them. If you are going by the official figure that puts the population of the shanty town at 20 000, an average family of four would get P200 each! Monthly! There is some official somewhere sitting in the cushy comfort of the BURS in that new flashy building that has set the taxpayer back by P490m, he/she lives with the knowledge that he is responsible for this P1m scandal. Whenever he looks out of the window with all the CBD flashy cars milling about, he could be forgiven for smiling to himself/herself – he got away with it. Nothing will happen to him, because nothing has ever happened to anybody like him. Nothing happened to his colleague across the street at the Ministry of Youth either. There another official made yet another decision – committing the ministry to paying another P1m per month in rentals for an office the ministry is yet to occupy. A cool P24m of spending every year on empty offices.

This week the ministry of Education announced that it would stop the national school sports program because it is short of cash. It is the sons and daughters of the poor who will have to while away their time, their talents wasted without access to sport. Meanwhile the men and women who make these decisions to waste scant resources will have their children’s lives undisturbed, since they attend private schools. International sport star Nijel Amos, himself a product of the national public school sports program, states on social media, that had he not been caught by the program he surely would have ended up a jailbird. Which brings up the question. How many children who were practising sports now, are likely to end up in jail from petty crimes as a result of the absence of the sports program? From its inception the BDP government, one can surmise, has always used poor people as fodder to please its irresponsible government officials who continuously waste scant funds, and its foreign partners who demand so-called fiscal discipline. The wastage is astounding sometimes.

Take the Sekgoma Memorial Hospital project for example. The hospital was one of the five major hospitals that government decided to construct to cater for the population explosion that occurred around the country’s major centres. Letsholathebe II Memorial Hospital (Maun), Scottish Livingstone Memorial Hospital (Molepolole), Mahalapye Hospital and Sbrana Lobatse Mental Hospital were the other four.
The contract amount for Maun District Hospital, according to figures from the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board was P254 492 441.65. For example, with Scottish Livingstone in, the tender sum was put at P232.3 million, according to internal ministerial documents discovered by The Business Weekly & Review. For Sekgoma Memorial it stood at P217 million. This project collectively was estimated to cost government P1.1bn, an internal memo in the Ministry of Works Transport and Communication showed at the time. However, when everything was said and done, the actual spending was hovering around P2 billion, nearly one billion increase. By the time they were completed, the cost over-runs had surpassed the price of an extra such hospital.

The troubled Morupule B power station project, which was designed and budgeted for P7bn in 2010, was finally completed at a cost of P11bn. In 2007 the Auditor General once again chided government for its spoilt child behaviour, where it treats money like wads of P200 notes grow from trees. In relation to the construction of the Boatle-Mmankgodi, Thamaga-Molepolole and Molepolole-Lephephe road projects, the Auditor General found that the cost of consultancy services increased by more than 109 per cent against the budgeted amount.  That is from P1, 949,455.20 to P4, 082,873.54.  The construction cost overrun increased by 42 percent (from P50, 455,643.57 to P71.35 million).  In addition to these appalling cost overruns, there are also time overruns, whereby project completion can overrun by anything from nine to 12 months.  The report notes that "Roads Department's role in a situation where work was outsourced was to enforce the contract, but they were unable to do so in the construction" of the road in question. The Molepolole-Lephephe road project does not fare well either.  The cost of consultancy services overran by 89 percent; while the construction cost escalated by 44 percent from P85.5 million to P123 million.  Its design was completed eight months later.   The above are just two road projects, and the financial wastage is just gut churning.  In those two undertakings alone, Batswana lost close to P60 million.  Obviously, these are enough funds to cover the cost of free secondary school education.  In 2011 Parliament had to sit for extra days to deliberate on granting ministries extra funds for their cost over-runs. The Lobatse and Francistown stadiums were estimated to have incurred P88 million in cost overruns while expansion of Sir Seretse Khama International Airport had gone P115 million over budget at the time.

And so this year new Minister of Finance Thapelo Matsheka came bearing bad news – we are spending our way into a third straight deficit. The 2018/19 bore a deficit of 4.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, while the current budget will show deficit of 3.9 per cent of GDP. Matsheka promises he is wrestling with the budget to bring it to balance.”Total revenues and grants for the 2019/2020 Financial Year are revised to P60.71 billion. The main revenue items revised are as follows: Mineral revenue at P18.43 billion; Customs and Excise at P13.79 billion; and VAT at P7.92 billion. The revised total expenditure and net lending for 2019/2020 amount to P68.64 billion. The revision is mainly because of the supplementary budget under the recurrent budget amounting to P1.1 billion, approved by Parliament in December, 2019” he said.
And then this week, the international ratings agency Moody’s released their statement on Botswana. The besuited men and women in London are worried, they want the bean counters at Government Enclave to impress them a bit more. While they give Matsheka’s men and women a pass in the form of what they call a sovereign credit rating of “A2”, they wanted to warn their model student, Botswana. In what could be seen as a carrot and stick approach the Moody’’s statement said the western invigilators could improve the Africans’ credit rating, “if progress is made…to improve the composition and efficiency of public expenditures”. The reverse held true too, “However the ratings could be lowered on account of limited success of the fiscal consolidation efforts,(…) and inability to contain the rate of growth of recurrent expenditure”. This last portion would have sent shivers down Matsheka’s teams’ spine. And so it is that Government Enclave is teeming with ideas of how to cut spending, or recover costs as they call it. It is reported that soon a poor man who would walk up to Old Naledi clinic seeking the doctor’s attention, may have to fork out P11, not the current P5, that’s an increase of more than 100 per cent. Really nothing to the besuited men and women of the civil service who would be embarrassed to tip a waiter for that amount. But it is a tall order to an unemployed youth or a pensioner from the manual workers class.

Once again the men and women who blow cash, wont be the ones to pay the price. To them, at the CBD government offices, drinking tea and muffins, its business as usual. Government, when it cuts costs, as the men and women in London demand, will have to gore the poorest of the poor, by increasing fees for basic services.