The Auditor General’s report on the Preparedness and Response of the Country to the COVID-19 Pandemic and Management of the Relief Fund has exposed gross financial irregularities, illegalities and general chaos in the course of tackling COVID-19.
The report points to President Mokgweetsi Masisi who had powers to appoint the COVID-19 Task Force. The newly released report notes that President Masisi and the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration (MoPAGPA) played a pivotal role in millions being paid to the Task Force without following established procedure.
Subsequent to the decision by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare COVID-19 a pandemic, President Masisi set up a response team to coordinate the country’s response to the scourge.
However, this created room for all manner of irregularities in the course of which established procedures of appointments and payments were routinely breached.
“His Excellency the President appointed the Presidential Task Force members. However, the appointment letters did not specify the legal provisions upon which they were made,” notes the report. “The Office of the President and MoPAGPA revealed that the existence of a remuneration procedure was critically important to attract the best employees in the respective fields of work whilst ensuring a high degree of goal alignment between the individual and the government.”
The report states that to validate the existence of the Task Force, MoPAGPA said the primary purpose of the team was to ensure preparedness of the country to contain the pandemic, the best approaches to manage it, the required resources to deploy and appropriate mitigation strategies.
According to Pulane Letebele, the Auditor General, P2 309 292.90 in remuneration had been paid as at the end of August 2020. “It is noteworthy that most members of the Presidential Task Force were appointed from outside the public service,” she observes.
“It was observed that there were two Presidential Task Force support team members where one was appointed on gratis basis as his employer’s ‘in kind’ support of the government’s effort to deal with the national crisis, and therefore was not expected to be paid any allowance by the government.”
Even so, this member of the Task Force was remunerated inspite of his employment policy as stipulated by the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) in a letter dated July 2020. “This member was paid a total of P165 600.00 for services rendered from 1 May 2020 to 31 July 2020,” the AG’s report says.
Another member of the team who had been engaged on a self-voluntary basis sought payment and the Coordinator of the Task Force wrote a letter facilitating payment of an allowance to the volunteer. “A request was made by the National Coordinator through a letter dated 22 July 2020, for facilitation of payment of allowance to the member,” the AG says.
It notes that although the payment, which was in the amount of P165 000, was under consideration at the time of the audit, the payment was irregular and would result in a loss to government in the event that it was honoured. The AG has therefore recommended that MoPAGPA should account for the two payments.
In response to the AG, the ministry took acknowledged the non-compliance but blamed it on the President. “Professionals, especially scientists, were appointed by His Excellency the President using his executive powers as provided at Section 47 of the constitution,” reads the report.
But the AG contends that irregularities persisted even in terms of appointments and points to members who were temporarily appointed by the Director of Health Services to help the Ministry of Health and Wellness investigate a spike at Gaborone Private Hospital (GPH).
Says the report: “The appointment letters from the Office of the President dated 20 August 2020 were written and issued retrospectively to facilitate payment. Ideally, the appointment letters should have been written and given to the concerned experts before commencement of the assignment with terms of employment clearly articulated. However, no explanation was given for this anomaly.”
Masisi appointed dubious foreigner
According to the report, further investigations revealed that one of the people appointed to the Task Force Team was a foreign national who happened to be in the country as a visitor.
“The said member was offered a temporary appointment by the President to the COVID-19 Task Coordination Team for a period of 12 months with effect from 1 March 2020 to February 2021 with a daily allowance of P1800.00 payable monthly.” To her surprise, the AG notes, there are no available financial records for payments made to this foreigner. This is over and above failed efforts to obtain work permits and a related professional profile.
“However, examination of COVID-19 financial documents revealed no record of any payment ever made to the member,” says the report. “Efforts to obtain evidence for (a) work permit, professional profile and other related employment requirements of the member proved futile, save for the appointment letter that was availed.” It is said the foreign national was appointed as a consultant.
The report shows that members of the COVID-19 Task Force drawn from parastatals were paid allowances while public servants seconded to the Task Force were not. It has also emerged that the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) appointed a COVID-19-related task team comprising civil servants and paid them allowances equivalent to Category A of government boards.
Because of these irregularities, the AG has recommended that in future the government should devise a consistent remuneration system. “The system would provide fairness for all affected parties, and such could promote good corporate governance,” says her report.