PAC cracks whip after P88 MILLION was unlawfully spent
Damning revelations have emerged since the high profile resignation of Botswana Tourism Organization’s CEO, Thabo Brian Dithebe, last month.
Following reports by the media detailing the lamentable manner in which the organization was run, the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies has deemed it fit to seek answers.
It is alleged that the sum of P88 million was spent unlawfully on a myriad of activities, most notably a P17million outlay designated for a BTO office in Dubai.
This extensive expenditure was authorized without board approval because for the past 9 months, no board has existed.
The board, in conjunction with the Botswana Tourism Development Fund, is solely responsible for disbursing money pertinent to tourism.
With an absent board, the question that arises is who then authorized the P88 million outlays?
The answer came at a teeming conference room at the parliament buildings’ annexures where it was disclosed that Tshekedi Khama took it upon himself to sanction the release of the funds.
When questioned by committee chair – Guma Moyo, on whether he was aware that no powers were conferred upon him to take such actions, he responded;
“In the absence of the board I was told that I had the authority to sign off on such matters and to this date no one has advised me to the contrary. It wasn’t one morning when I decided I was going to sign off on budgets. It’s because I was told that it was procedural.”
Probed further on who informed him that he possessed such authority he categorically stated that he was advised by the CEO of BTO, Brian Dithebe.
When asked why he would rather take advice from Dithebe instead of his Permanent Secretary, Elias Magosi, he stated that his Permanent Secretary was often abroad on official business and imperative projects could not be sidelined due to his absence.
Dithebe however, refutes this allegation and unequivocally states that he advised the Minister on numerous occasions to appoint a board to oversee such matters and when his advice was not heeded he proceeded to request that all instructions issued by the Minister be undertaken in writing as to absolve him of any wrong doing.
The committee then queried the Minister on why a period of 9 months can elapse without the appointment of the board, of which Khama responded;
“I think it was erroneous on our part not to appoint the board in a timeless fashion. I spoke to the CEO, prior to my PS joining the ministry, and I said to him; I need your assistance to appoint somebody in this board because I don’t want this board to be solely my nomination of people. I want a cross reference of people. My responsibility in pushing that we got those numbers there is probably what I should have done but didn’t do in a timeless fashion. ”
When asked if he took full responsibility for the events that have transpired over the past several months, he seemingly denied the vicarious liability that a man in his position assumes.
“I think it is upon us to recognize the roles we all play in where we are today. If I had done that knowing I didn’t have the authority to do this, I would have had to take full responsibility.”
He however, did not stop there and proclaimed that those beneath him whom had misled him would be taken care of.
The attention of the committee then turned to Brian Dithebe and Executive Manager of the BTO, Jillian Blackbeard.
After both were sworn in and thus under oath, the committee probed Blackbeard on the highly controversial P17 million Dubai contract which she unprecedentedly appended her signature to in her capacity as Marketing Manager for New Markets at the BTO.
It came as surprise to all that a junior officer in her capacity as marketing manager was authorized to sign a contract that effectively obligated the government to a P17 million project.
Even more controversially, the contract was signed on the 28th of August 2016 under the title “Executive Manager” a position she did not hold until the 1st of September effectively misrepresenting her position in the BTO to her Dubai counterparts.
She claims that she had assumed she was the Executive Manager effective immediately as her new post had been verbally announced by the CEO.
The committee however, disputed this as one’s job title only changes when one receives a written confirmation letter of one’s new post.
When probed on what led her to believe that she had the authority to sign such a document, she asserts that due to the fact that Dithebe authorized the trip to Dubai and was accompanied by BTO’s legal advisor, Zibani Hubona, it would not be conjecture to assume she had the authority to sign.
Blackbeard’s elusive answers during questioning often incited the committee to remind her that she was under oath and thus any false statements would be tantamount to perjury and would incur the said penalties for such an offence.
Member of Parliament for Maun East, Kosta Marcus, soon became exasperated by the mud-slinging and shirking of responsibility.
“I’ve been here since this morning and I’ve been quiet. I can see people blaming each other. This one comes in and blames the other one. I think we are just here wasting time. You people must tell us exactly what you’re doing in the Ministry. I don’t want to be here seated wasting my time seeing people point fingers at each other. You knew exactly what was going to happen in Dubai. She knew exactly what she was going to do in Dubai and now you come here and tell us you didn’t know. We are not yet going to jail here. Let’s not try to protect ourselves.”
Moyo then resolved that BTO should confer with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning especially in matters pertinent to the Tourism Development Fund which the Accountant General concurred with.
The Dubai contract was also declared illegal and invalid and consequently will not be implemented.