Permanent Secretary to the President, Elias Magosi, has cracked the whip at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security by sending Permanent Secretary, Jimmy Opelo on a forced indefinite suspension.
On Thursday afternoon Opelo was slapped with an indefinite suspension therefore fuelling speculation that the decision could be related to an ongoing probe into the affairs of MoA by graft busting agency, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC).
The suspension comes after weeks of probing at the ministry, which is alleged to have unearthed massive corrupt practices related to the awarding of tenders. In a savingram to MoA employees, Chief Agricultural Information and Public Relations Officer, Boikhutso Rabasha informed staff that Opelo is on absence of leave until further notice. “In the meantime the Permanent Secretary to the President has appointed Dr Letlhogile Modisa as Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security,” reads part of the savingram.
Highly placed sources at MoA have revealed that more heads are expected to roll especially at management level as investigations into the ministry by DCEC continue to expose more rot. “Most of the Directors and some deputy directors will either be suspended or transferred to other ministries because implementation is close to zero at MoA,” revealed a source.
One of the projects that allegedly irked the Office of the President is the small stock initiative, which International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) proposed to be technical partners through Agricultural Services Support Project (ASSP). Allegations are that senior officials at the MoA have been reluctant to implement the project, which is close to President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s heart. Masisi has been donating stud breeds of small stock to encourage subsistance farmers to improve their herds to take advantage of international markets identified for export.
“IFAD wanted to assist the ministry through research as to how they can increase the small stock production in Botswana. It was in line with Masisi small stock initiative but senior officers at MoA shelved it and didn’t even inform the political leadership, especially the minister,” revealed a source at MoA, adding that the missed opportunity infuriated the Office of the President who view such inactivity as sabotage of the Presidential initiative.
In an interview recently the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Karabo Gare expressed concern at the allegations of corruption in his ministry. “These are operational issues and relevant authorities will attend to them but I am very worried at the alleged rot in my ministry,” he said, refusing to be drawn to discuss whether heads will roll or not, especially at management level. He promised that action will be taken against the perpetrators.
Gare said corruption will have a negative impact on projects carried out by his ministry and is pinning hopes on the investigating entities to ensure that perpetrators face the wrath of the law.
Few hours after penning the memo to the staff about the suspension of the PS, Rabasha who is one of the longest serving employees at MoA was slapped with a transfer letter to the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) with immediate effect. It is not clear why she was immediately transferred and efforts to get her views were futile as she didn’t pick her mobile phone.
On Thursday two other officers in the Procurement department were slapped with suspensions, just two weeks after Head of the department was also put on indefinite leave. The Head of Procurement in the MoA was suspended pending investigations by DCEC on allegations of unscrupulous deals in procurement. According to sources within the ministry, the rot is too deep as it involves senior officers in the ministry. “It is a very complex web and even bidders registered complaints against an officer regarding the tender, the very same person who will listen to your complaints he is part of the web and is so frustrating,” said a source.
Highly placed sources further revealed that government has moved to dismantle the MoA Procurement department which is believed is the root cause of corruption at the ministry. The crux of the alleged corruption at MoA is said to be inflation of prices when it comes to construction of structures. The preliminary probe is said to have exposed that most of the projects have not been completed yet the contractors were fully paid.
DCEC spokesperson Lentswe Motshoganetsi could not confirm nor discuss details of the investigation saying the matter borders on operational issues, which is contrary to the Corruption and Economic Crime Act.
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