Fish leap-frogs into alcohol levy cash pool

  • P300 000 given to organiser Fish Pabalinga who is also BDP publicity chairman
  • CIPA funds issued with no oversight committee
  • Official scolded for delays

The organiser of Gaborone International Music and Culture (GIMC) Thapelo ‘Fish’ Pabalinga has defended government’s decision to sponsor his music festival business to a tune of P427, 500.00 from public funds.
Speaking to the Botswana Gazette over the weekend, Pabalinga, who is also the chairperson of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)’s Communications and International Relations Committee, said he benefited from the government sponsorship as a Motswana and not through his affiliation to the ruling party.
Documents which the Botswana Gazette is in possession of, raised questions after they revealed that procedures were not followed when authorising sponsorship and allocating funds to Pabalinga’s music show. Documents show that Permanent Secretary failed to engage the oversight committee that administers the allocation of money from the Alcohol Levy Fund to Pabalinga’s organisation.
This publication is in possession of a chain of letters signed by Permanent Secretaries in the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry authorising funds to be paid to Pabalinga for the Gaborone based week-long annual music extravaganza.
In a letter dated April 28th, 2017 and signed by then Permanent Secretary to the Minister of Health Shenaaz El- Halabi, Pabalinga is informed that his ‘‘request for sponsorship of P300,00-00 for the Theatre and Choral Shows has been approved’’. El- Halabi goes further to ask Pabalinga to send his banking details in order to facilitate the transfer of the funds to his account. This publication can reveal that the sponsorship money was drawn down from the controversial Alcohol Levy fund. The Gaborone International Music and Culture (GIMC) website, at the time of publication, contains no notices or announcements condemning alcohol abuse or its related ailments and treatments nor a report on utilization of the funds.
The Alcohol Fund has been mired in controversy since its inception over its lack of allocation of proceeds to combat alcohol abuse, after it generated billions of pula in revenue due to the escalated alcohol prices initiated by the Khama administration.
‘‘Kindly liaise with the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Division in the Department of Public Health to discuss branding of the event. I look forward to your success in hosting the Gaborone International Music and Culture week’’, El-Halabi concluded in the letter.
According to the governing legislation the Alcohol Levy Fund is administered by a Secretariat which calls for public proposals which then go for screening, evaluation, awarding. Oversight of the Secretariat is done by a board which monitors the funds expenditure. In the allocation by El-Halabi the board did not play its normal oversight role.
In yet another government issued sponsorship to Pabalinga, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry Peggy Serame wrote on August 1st, 2017 instructing Registrar General at Companies and Intellectual Property Authority (CIPA) to allocate Pabalinga P127, 500 as sponsorship for his music festival from yet another government fund; The Technical Devices Fund.
In the letter, Serame scolds the Registrar General, Conductor Masena for prejudicing ‘‘interested parties’’ who want to benefit from Levy on Technical Devices, which Pabalinga subsequently benefited from.
‘‘I have noted that the Levy on Technical Devices Fund Committee is currently not sitting to either issue request for proposals or consider Project Proposals as the guidelines are being reviewed. This process has been unduly long and has prejudiced interested parties. I therefore authorise that a sum of one hundred and twenty seven, five hundred pula (P127 500) be withdrawn from the Levy Technical Devices Fund to sponsor the event’’, Serame wrote in her instruction to CIPA Registrar General.
A member of the Technical Devices Fund Committee who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity said they were never consulted before a decision was taken to sponsor Pabalinga’s activities using public funds. The member raised a complaint that if the project proposal guideline were still under review at the time, then the instruction by the PS was non-procedural.
‘‘When we demanded answers, we were told that the instruction came from higher authorities’’, the source said.
The levy is collected by the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) and deposited into the Levy on Technical Devices Fund which was established by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning through Statutory Instrument No. 94 of 2008.
The Fund is administered by the Levy on Technical Devices Fund Committee in accordance with Clause 8(1) of the Statutory Instrument No.94 of 2008 and is primarily tasked with issuing open calls for funding, receiving project proposals from the public, evaluating project proposals and awarding grants. The Committee is tasked with making decisions on the use of the Fund to promote creativity within the arts.
According to paragraph 7 of the Guidelines, during the Evaluation Process, project funding consists of two stages. The first being a screening stage and the second being a selection stage. The Screening Stage comprises of screening project proposals for administrative compliance and any administrative requirement omitted leads to an automatic disqualification of the application, this is then followed by the Selection Stage for qualified bids. Committee Members have complained that the PS did not follow these procedures.
Successful applicants are required to enter into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with CIPA. On conclusion of the MOA, CIPA officials are assigned to monitor and evaluate projects to ensure that they contribute to the development and growth of creative industries.
CIPA Registrar General, Conductor Masena referred all enquiries to the permanent secretary. When reached for comment on Monday, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry Peggy Serame said she unilaterally authorised the sponsorship to GIMC because Pabalinga’s proposal made sense to her.
‘‘CIPA falls under my ministry and I have the authority to instruct them to sponsor any event that I deem beneficial to the public’’, Serame said.
Asked how GIMC benefits the public, Serame said Pabalinga proposed to organise a workshop where international artists who come to perform here can share their experience with local artists and as such they decided to meet him halfway.
Serame said any Motswana is welcome to submit a proposal for sponsorship and depending on the viability of the proposal; her ministry will always assist where it can. She said the deal with Pabalinga was transparent and implored anyone who feels hard done by her decision to report the matter to the DCEC.
The source at the Technical Devices Fund Committee reveals that the recipient of funding is required to provide the Fund with a detailed report setting out the objectives of the project and indicating whether those objectives were met. The report has not yet been availed to the Committee, rendering an evaluation as to the success of the project impossible.
Serame’s explanation avoids the fundamental question of how her Ministry monitors the success of such a public expenditure, how many promoters have enjoyed such a benefit and whether the funds can be returned if the intended results are not met since the fund committee was not sitting and its guidelines still under review.
The Chief Public Relations Officer at Ministry of Health Doreen Motshegwa said the relevant personnel were in a series of meetings and promised to avail information as soon as it is provided by the relevant officials. This publication sought to establish the criteria applied to sponsor GIMC with funds accrued from the Alcohol Levy.
When defending the sponsorship, Pabalinga explained GIMC has direct input into the country’s economy. Pabalinga did not comment on the event’s impact on alcohol abuse and the benefit it provided to local music talent. Focusing instead on Batswana being envious, the Chairperson for the BDP’s Communications and International Relations Committee noted that ‘‘It’s such a pity that Batswana make noise when a fellow Motswana gets assistance from Government with such small amounts of money but they keep quiet when foreigners are sponsored with millions of Pula’’, Pabalinga said, citing the Mma Ramotswe movie which received P30 million sponsorship from government.
Pabalinga said he ploughs a lot of money into local companies, giving an example of Air Botswana which he claims to have paid around P300, 000 on air tickets for foreign artists who came to perform at GIMC last year.
Last year the police reported that they were investigating the mysterious death of a woman and six cases of knifing that occurred at the GIMC event. While no report on the findings have been made public yet, Central Police Station commander, Superintendent Vincent Pitseetsile had informed the media at the time that there was a stampede at one of the gate which compromised the security and safety of the show.