The deaf get a raw deal

Skeletons have once again come tumbling out of the closet  of the seemingly troubled Botswana Centre for the Deaf (BSD) following an audit exercise carried out  by the  Department of Special Support Services  (DSSS) under the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD).

The audit  report, which The Botswana Gazette  has seen , details fraudulent activities that took  place at the Ramotswa Centre for Deaf Education  ( RCDE) and the Francistown Centre for Deaf Education ( FCDE),  institutions owned by BSD.

Investigations by DSSS into the purported BSD mess have up-rooted shocking revelations of an institution reportedly acting fraudulently and untruthfully abusing the consent of children with hearing impairments to advance hidden interests.

Documents seen have shown that the deaf centres may have deliberately falsified employee records and have failed to cooperate with the DSSS during its investigations on their annual budgets and reported cases of maladministration at the two centres.
The executive committee of the BSD has been accused of ill treating employees and threatening to sack them should they provide access of the financial records to the DSSS during its investigations.
Information seen suggests that in its requests for salaries of the RCDE staff members, RCDE and FCDE altered the original salaries and submitted to the Ministry far much higher figures than what the concerned officers actually earned.
“The request also included one officer who was deceased two years before submission and several others who had resigned from the institutions before the requests were submitted,” seen documentation has revealed. For example, one employee (name witheld) who held an administration assistant position had a salary request of P6004.00 while the actual salary was P3400.00. Another staff member (name also witheld) had a request put in for P1718.48 while he was said to be long deceased. Another staff member was slated for a P1803 salary while they had long resigned from the institution. Lastly, to mention but a few, the assistant Matron earned a salary more than that of the Matron, while the Matron earned  way less that what was requested from the Ministry.
“What happened on the day was that after the employees filled in their details on the forms, including remunerations, the administration officer at FCDE altered some of the information, especially with respect to the remunerations, using a black pen,” seen documents have highlighted.

Also,  there was an inclusion of cost items that were not provided for in the financial policy guidelines for Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs).  The items  included  mostly personal emoluments such as, severance benefits, Medical  Aid, Pension Fund, Building Insurance and maintenance of buildings.

“The Department of Special Support Services, through the Liason and Support Section can reveal that , the funds allocated to both of the two institutions under the Botswana Society for Deaf Education are not properly accounted for, and utilized for the items they were initially not allocated for, under the current structure,” the  report reads in part.
The department also came across several cheques that were written on the names of employees not on the payroll of any of the institutions or even paying for products or services not used or provided at that particular institution.

BSD  is also said to not comply with prescribed budget allocations. An example is of P3000 allocated as overtime allowance to  each institution but on the cheque book belonging to FCDE,one employee  was paid overtime exceeding the P3000 amount.
Furthermore, School Heads  of both institutions,  B Tlhalewa , P Mandase and a certain Lesego Bolaane  are said to have in the past  raised concerns about   BSD not engaging  them when dealing with funds  hence their reluctance in releasing funds for activities within the centres.

The  poor administration , the audit  posits  is due to the  current centralized structure where BSD Head Office in Gaborone solely controls and administers the annual subventions on behalf of the institutions and also not  having separated  the subventions per institution.

“ The two institutions have particularly acted in ways untruthful;  fake use of the consent of children with hearing impairment  to advance some hidden interest,” it states, adding that the  deliberate falsification of records  was   intended to obtain state funds by false means and so was resistant to let  the department  view the institutions’ books of accounts , lack of cooperation  by the two institutions and utilization of funds for items they were not initially meant for.

Botswana Society for  the Deaf responds
Following the audit report findings on their two centres, BSD responded to MoESD that all their financial records are based at the head office in Gaborone and not at the institutions where the Inter- Ministerial Delegation had gone to. “ These leave us with many questions as the audit which was carried by DSSS disregarded the structure in place and decided to conduct audit in centers whereas all answers in question are at the head Office,” they state in their response which The Botswana Gazette is in possession of.  Thus they say, the report forwarded to them showed a lot of inaccuracies caused by lack of information which is is not at the centres. “ It is therefore unfortunate that we have to respond to an audit report that we were not part of as the Head Office, ” it reads, adding “ Since we have thought we are equal partners, this report shows without doubt that the relationship between DSSS and BSD has deteriorated.”

Addressing the issues raised by the audit report, BSD acknowledged having included items  not provided for in the financial policy guidelines except for the pension fund which they stated was never part  of their  budget submission since inception.  “None of the staff is pensionable. It should be noted that even if the items are not included in the Policy Guidelines the Government of Botswana has generously provided funding of these items since taking over from Christofell Blinden Mission.”

With regards to  the assistant matron earning more than  the matron, BSD admitted , saying it was based on  the assistant matron’s work experience ,  possession of sign language skills  and a driver’s license  all of which the  matron does not have.  On the deceased employee who was still on the payroll two years after her death they state that she died in July 2012 while the budget was prepared same year in May. “  Her name was included in the budget because at the material time of the preparation of the budget she was still alive.  According to the death certificate attached, she died on 4th July 2014, nullifying the fact that she was in the budget in the two years past her death.”

BSD also acknowledged an error where an employee who resigned in 2010 was included in the 2013/2014 budget and that it has since been rectified.
“ It is eminent that the Ministry of Education is trying to frustrate and sabotage BSD by sidelining BSD on matters that are directly affecting the Organization. It is highly regrettable that the situation as it is currently now affecting people who have nothing to do with the audit queries( the workers and the learners.) ”

MoESD  has since terminated  its Memorandum of Agreement between them and BSD which they entered into in 2011.  MoESD reasoned  that the termination follows a rationalization exercise that put the  two centres under MoESD while mother body BSD was  placed  under Ministry of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration.

Meanwhile, Assistant Minister of Education Kgotla Autlwetse told parliament last week that he was not aware of the report by his ministry, much to the  discontent  of Member Parliament  for Francistown  South Wynter Mmolotsi who had  wanted to know how much subvention was given to BSD in the last three years  and whether the ministry was aware of fund embezzlement at the centres. Autlwetse told parliament that  the ministry had in the past three years given BSD total subvention amounting to P3, 917,411.65. In 2012/13 the amount was P302, 200.00, in 2013/14, P1,513,269.65 while for  financial year 2014/15 they were given P2,101,942.00.

The Botswana Gazette is reliably informed that BSD  is to date on  MoESD subvention despite the termination of agreement last year June. As the tussle between MoESD and the societies seem to intensify by the day, it is the children with disabilities that stand to suffer the repercussions more as their livelihood and future in deaf education remains at stake.