Bridget John -the newly appointed permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Basic Education started work on February 1 inheriting a ministry with a 15 year old track record of underachievement.
John replaced Dr. Collie Monkge who was controversially relieved of his duty just within three months after being head hunted for the job from his retirement village, Thamaga.John is a hands-on and sound administrator whose track record speaks in volumes. She is credited with turning PPADB from an organisation perceived as corrupt to a reputable one.
She developed the Code of Ethics for PPADB in 2018. She has also introduced the Integrated Procurement Management System (IPMS) this week saying that it will vastly improve procurement and asset disposal. John is not new on education related appointments- an economist by training she was appointed Coordinator of the Education Hub and the Botswana International University of Science and Technology in 2008 overseeing, among others, the strengthening of local capacity for tertiary students to study locally, and supporting the attraction of regional and international students to study in Botswana.
Currently the standard of education counts amongst the leading national concerns, the situation is so serious so much that parents in some districts took law into their hands locking the Regional Education Officer in a meeting demanding that he withdraw the school head teacher or they will not leave the meeting venue.
Amongst the key challenges that John is going to contend with are an overloaded curriculum as well as weak institutional management and poor governance which is a cross cutting challenge afflicting headquarters and schools. Other challenges are content based assessment as opposed to skills-based as well as inappropriate deployment of staff and poor human resource management.
There is also an issue of a highly centralised procurement system which is mainly responsible for shortage of teaching and learning materials. Decentralisation and devolution of powers and functions to regions has remained a moving target since 2010, but allegedly headquarters cannot let go.
Currently school heads are so disempowered to an extent where a mere printer or photocopier is procured by some officers based at the ministry headquarters. It is also said there are unspent funds year in and out as the ministry returns huge sums of unspent development funds to the treasury. Inside sources say that as at December 2018 the development fund stood at 15 percent expenditure. John has to speed up delivery of books and other critical inputs. There is terrible shortage of text books or stationery in general in all schools throughout the country. The situation is worsened by the fact that in some cases students do not take care of the text books or if completing junior certificate or Cambridge, don’t return the books.
When everything had been tried and tested, but with no results coming forth, government introduced Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan (ETSSP) whose purpose is to improve the MoE results that have been deteriorating since 2008 and ensure that students learning outcomes are improved. Since adoption in 2015, there is hardly anything to show.
ETSSP or Turnaround has been stopped at infant stage despite that when it was drafted at a high cost, government saw it as an intervention intended to improve delivery in the classroom and overall management of schools.
John holds BA (Economics) and MBA both from University of Botswana and MA (Development Policy and Administration) from University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA. She has also received training in Public Private Partnerships and financing from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
The number of contractors registered with the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) increased from 12 335 in 2014/15 to 17 932 in the current year.
This, according to PPADB executive chairperson Bridget John, was among their main achievements. She says the increase was a result of the growing demand for contractor registration service which was driven by anticipated and running tenders. Revenue generated through contractor registration also increased by 50 percent from P11. 225, 246 from the previous financial year to P17, 423, 332.
During the current year, the Board developed and published the first Price Reference Guide, which is a collaboration with the World Bank. The Guide seeks to strengthen the public procurement system in order to achieve high levels of rationality, reasonableness of the cost, transparency and integrity and enhance value for money.
John says the guide is used throughout the procurement cycle in the preparation of budget estimates and Bill of quantities, assessing the reasonableness of prices during evaluation and adjudication and in benchmarking price offers, spend analysis, trend of cost items and for reporting purposes.
The Board adjudicated 527 submissions in 2015/16, a 28 percent decline compared to 735 during the previous financial year. However, John says that due to budgetary constraints, the additional P2.5 million Integrated Procurement Management System project from ministry of finance and economic development for the year was not released and had to be funded from the PPADB reserves.
She reveals that the cost containment measures implemented by the Board during the year resulted in a deficit of P14.5 million being funded from the Board’s reserves against expected deficit of P15.5 million