Incoming President, Mokgweetsi Masisi has a long list of demands from the Botswana Federation of Public, Private Parastatals Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) – which if he meets, is guaranteed the Federation’s votes come 2019.
The federation, which threw its weight behind the umbrella coalition, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in the last general elections, has been at odds with government for some time now. Going into the 2014 general elections, BOFEPUSU had a notorious hit list of politicians, among them Masisi. The union has for a long time fingered the Vice President for destroying labour relations in this country. However, the union’s publicity secretary, Mogomotsi Motshegwa this week called on Masisi to restore the now ruined relations.
“He should seriously improve labour relations in the country especially employer-employee relations which are at their lowest. This would include the restoration of the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). Not just that, but ensuring it is independent and it works without fear or favour of being sabotaged by those with political connections.”
The Federation which for a long time has been vocal on labour issues, eventually prompting and leading the historic 2011 industrial strike Also called on to the VP to repeal draconian laws, especially the amended Trade Dispute Act “which placed everyone as an essential service consequently contravening section 87 of Trade Dispute Act”.
The proposed amendment of the Public Service Act in which all the recognized unions will seat at the PSBC, should also be scrapped post April 1st. “It will cause anarchy, instead there should be a joint agreement not to have many representatives there,” Motshegwa highlighted. BOFEPUSO’s relationship with Masisi has not improved since 2011 when he was still Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration and have constantly maintained that they relate with him as they do government.
That notwithstanding, the union says if Masisi assures them that their requests will be met, they will definitely consider scrapping him off the hit list in the upcoming elections. “If he can meet our demands we will listen to him. In fact anyone listening to us we will consider. Gare batle di-party tsa bo chekwane, they should respect us even though we might disagree.
We will furnish him with our workers manifesto so he knows our stance which will be the guiding principle to those who want our vote,” Samuel Molaodi who is the union’s education secretary categorically stated. Further, the Federation wants Masisi to lift the advertising ban on private media; they believe that the current retrenchments in the industry are caused by the government’s decision to impose the ban on private media.
According to the Federation, the government has roped in a Malaysian company to carry out a study on public service remuneration system and performance management system. The findings of the study will be used at the PSBC to map the way forward, especially on improving conditions of service. The union on the other hand is carrying out the same study through Tsa Badiri Consultancy for comparison. The union is however unhappy over the government’s decision to rope in the company without their input and most importantly the huge amount of money that will pay the Malaysian company.
PROGRESS ON ILO RECOMENDATIONS
BOFEPUSO will on June this year present their case to the International Labour Organization (ILO) following the peripheral decision taken by government in implementing last year’s recommendations by the workers’ body. Botswana was listed amongst 23 countries that violated Labour laws following the Federation’s report to the Committee of Experts on Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR.)
“But this year it will be placed under special paragraph which comprises of countries that are frequently visited to check their progress. This put Botswana at risk of being sanctioned by western countries owing to reluctance,” BOFEPUSO Secretary General Tobokani Rari stated. The government since last year’s meeting has done nothing or little in implementing the suggestions by Committee of Application of Standards (CAS). The recommendations included allowing prisoners to unionize, amending trade dispute act and reporting back to ILO their progress.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.