When the pandemic hit, members of the public, civil society organizations, the private sector and development partners were invited to make contributions to the COVID-19 Relief Fund in order to augment the government’s response to its economic and social impact.
Bank accounts were opened with the Bank of Botswana and eight commercial banks to facilitate receipt of cash donations. The commercial banks were First National Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, Stanbic Bank, Bank Gaborone, Banc ABC, First Capital Bank, Absa, and Bank of Baroda.
However, the Auditor General’s report says the banks reneged on their promise and that a large portion of these unexpected charges were cash deposit fees. The report notes that Bank Gaborone and First Capital Bank reversed most of these charges.
“Formal documented agreements between the commercial banks and the government could not be availed for verification,” says the recently released report. “Lack of legal or written agreement including provisions for bank charges for these COVID-19 Relief Fund bank accounts left room for ambiguity and banks not honouring their pledges.”
When confronted with this discrepancy by the Auditor General, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MFED) said it was not in a position to confirm anything because it was not privy to the information and did not have such communication from the banks.
Although the ministry did not have a documented agreement, perhaps as a result of the urgency with which these accounts were opened, the banks were still not expected to exact charges.
Regarding Memoranda of Understanding, “indeed we do acknowledge that in the beginning there was an omission regarding collaborative expectations between the banks and government,” the Ministry responded to the Auditor General.
“However, as we progressed with other pandemic-related activities, the government has ensured that such agreements are prepared and entered into with the implementing partners, such as BURS, CEDA, NDB, LEA and BDC. Sample copies of such agreements are provided for appreciation.”
In the circumstances, the Auditor General recommended that there should be a clearly articulated Memorandum of Understanding communicating the mutually agreed expectations of all parties involved in the future.
On 1st April 2020, then Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Thapelo Matsheka, appointed a Fund Management Committee to supervise the donations. The committee consisted of officers from various government ministries and reported to the minister’s Permanent Secretary. In accordance with Section 6 (2) of the COVID-19 Relief Fund Order 2020, the committee served as an oversight body on the administration and management of the COVID-19 Relief Fund.
However, authorization of funds disbursements and direction on the administration of the Fund was the responsibility of the Permanent Secretary in the MFED. Section 10 (b) of the Fund Order stipulates that “The Accounting Officer shall maintain an account into which all receipts into the fund and all disbursements from the fund shall be recorded and carry out monthly reconciliations for the fund account”. It is on this understanding that the Office of the Accountant General, under MFED, was charged with receiving, recording and reconciliation of financial donations collected from the public and all other stakeholders.