Thwarted staff nationals spark inquiry into University of Botswana

August 23, 2002

GABORONE

A committee of inquiry is investigating allegations of financial and administrative irregularities at the University of Botswana.

The underlying issue is the employment of non-Batswana nationals at the university in the capital, Gaborone. Vice-chancellor Sharon Siverts and other academics have been recruited from outside the region and a cadre of younger staff feel they are being denied the opportunity to advance.

The inquiry, authorised by minister of education George Kgoroba, is empowered to investigate a number of allegations raised by MPs, as well as the university's financial administration, accounting and alleged lack of transparency.

One MP in particular, Pono Moatlhodi, has persistently asked over the past 18 months why the university has failed to hire Batswana staff and retain them once hired, and why it has relied on expatriates at great cost when qualified citizens are available to do the work.

He also cited the alleged misuse of funds, specifically the unnecessary purchase of new vehicles and the improper resale of old ones to staff.

The university initially dismissed Mr Moatlhodi's allegations, saying they were based on incorrect information. But disquiet has simmered, fuelled by dissatisfaction among a new cadre of Batswana nationals. And in May this year Mr Moatlhodi resumed his attack.

This time other MPs stepped in. One issue raised was the lavish vice-chancellor's lodge recently completed in an elite residential area. Plans were approved by the university council over a decade ago, and parliament had endorsed the funding. But the cost escalated to over 3 million pula (£310,000) - curtains and other fittings alone were said to have cost £87,000.

The university defended the project by pointing out that it was not the personal property of the incumbent but belonged to the university and the country. It was also to be used for official entertainment and housed official guests, thus saving on hotel costs.

MPs then looked at a series of further allegations, among them that the university had improperly purchased two boats (Botswana is largely a desert country).

Before establishing the inquiry, the minister defended the university, pointing out that heads of other organisations were also well housed. But some staff believe that the post of vice-chancellor, held by Professor Siverts since 1998, should be re-advertised periodically to see if an alternative competent candidate is available from within the country.

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