Admitting to one’s failures is never pleasurable, yet very cleansing. The Ministry of Education and Skills Development ( MoESD) made this brave admission yesterday (Monday) when appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Answering a question from PAC member Ndaba Gaolathe on whether the ministry was effective in carrying out its mandate and whether it has improved over the years, Accounting Officer and Permanent Secretary at the Ministry, Richard Matlhare, admitted that the Ministry was ineffective given the many challenges that they are faced with. According to Matlhare, it is in the public domain that the Ministry has not been doing well especially with regards to performance in schools at all levels. “Looking at the trends over the years , it is very obvious and is public knowledge that results have been declining,” he explained, stating that they measure their performance by the results, which are currently a great cause for concern.
Matlhare said their ineffectiveness could also be measured by the employability of the students upon completion of training- whether they are trained for the market and can generate and create jobs for themselves. “ This is a challenge to us, because even if we cannot employ them locally, the question remains whether they can be employed regionally or even internationally.” Matlharepointed out that the skills mismatch in the economy and industries remains another challenge to the Ministry. He said the current challenges require joint effort from both government and the society.
Accounting for the financials, Matlhare said the ministry was owed over P3.8 million in over payment of salaries. The PAC learnt that the P3.8 million was an increase from P1 million which was reported during the last PAC seating and that only over P44 000 has since been collected from the estimated P1 million.
PAC member Dithapelo Keorapetse raised concerns about corruption and mismanagement of funds at the Ministry. “In her submission earlier, Director of Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime listed your ministry amongst ones with worrying incidences of corruption and her assertions were uncorroborated. But looking at your submission, it corroborates what she said. There are many loopholes which offer opportunities for corruption, mismanagement, even embezzlement of government funds,” he said, pointing Matlhare to the high number of ghost employees at the Ministry. One incident that was cited was that of an individual who resigned from government in 2004, continued drawing a salary, died in 2007 and was still paid until 2009 .
Furthermore, Keorapetse said it was disturbing that the bank account from which the ministry paid tertiary students allowances was 12 months behind in reconciliation and that the Ministry did not know how much it had paid from the account.”
Matlhare acknowledged the challenges, saying his Ministry has noted from past PAC seatings and reports that they were indeed challenged, and that there were gaps that exposed them to corrupt practices even though they had set up anti-corruption units.
He explained that they have, however, taken a decision to undertake thorough and comprehensive audits, with one special audit on its third week at the Department of Tertiary Education Financing. The audit he said was intended to amongst others unearth allegations of corruption in students’ sponsorships.
Regarding ghost teachers and students, the accounting officer said government was addressing the issue through the Oracle system which assists in “cleaning up all ‘ghost” and that they are satisfied that the system was paying dividend. Matlhare’s assertion was however challenged by Keorapetse who asked how the system was bearing fruit while the money owed to government from overspending in salaries had increased from the previous year.
Matlhare was at pains to tell the PAC how much the Ministry was to recover from student loans . “ We do not have real figures of the money owed, all we have are estimates from our records of the students that we have sponsored in the past,” he stated, much to the dissatisfaction of Guma Moyo who charged, “It was never the intention of governmnet to keep pumping money that would not come back. The more we keep on pumping money that we are not recovering, ultimately they will come a time that the country will not sustain this. We urgently need a system in place for this.”
Meanwhile, Matlhare said the Ministry has since started tracking down former students to pay for their student loans through their Omang numbers and that they have also engaged with the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS), Public Enterprises Evaluation and Privatization Agency (PEEPA), Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) to locate the individuals.