Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sectors Unions (BOFEPUSU) has said it is banking on Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi normalize relations with labour when he assumes the office of the President in April next year.
The union federation said this at a press conference on Thursday whose purpose was to summarise the year 2017 as they saw it and position them-selves for the next one which will see VP Masisi installed president in April. The Federation says it is prepared to give Masisi the benefit of the doubt. Speaking at the press conference, BOFEPUSU Secretary General, Tobokani Rari said as an observation that Botswana is sliding way back on the issues of democracy and that’s the trade union’s conclusion this year as they await Masisi.
“We are looking forward for the incoming President Mokgweetsi Masisi on the 1st of April 2018 in terms of what his administration will do to reverse all those that the current president Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama did,” Rari pointed out. He waxed lyrical that Khama was a president who did not want to sit with the unions and it appears is also leaving office when he never met the trade unions despite writing to him several times asking for a meet up.
Rari continued: “so we are now looking upon the incoming president to see whether he will perpetuate what his predecessor has done that is shunning trade unions and not wanting to meet them.” On his part, BEFEPUSU deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa cautions Masisi that he will inherit a rotten and arrogant civil service and therefore when he lands the highest office should start with firing Minister in the Office of the President Eric Molale, Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Carter Morupisi and top Permanent Secretaries and Directors if he wants to improve the performance and policies in the public service.
On opposition cooperation
Rari said they have witnessed amazing developments in the opposition side in particular the birth of a new party Alliance for Progressives (AP) which is a splinter of the BMD following protracted disagreements. According to Rari, opposition political parties need to really have a strong mechanism of dispute resolution to avoid what led to the split of BMD.
“The issues in the BMD were left out until it was too late to an extent that at the end it was not able to be resolved. That pointed to a weakness in our opposition that while they are waiting to take over as government probably in 2019 they should also know that there are ways in which to deal with dispute resolution.”
He said the development is a set-back in the opposition political parties agenda of trying to unseat the ruling BDP. As BOFEPUSU he said they are waiting for their conference/congress which will make a pronouncement and give a way forward on opposition support since there is a split in the parties. “They will give us a word go on it and after that will make a pronouncement on it,” he emphasised. On a different note, Rari however said UDC, which they have been supporting all along, has lost track and even became distant from BOFEPUSU. On AP he said they just started and do not know yet and how it will turn out so can’t say whether they will support them or not.
The BOFEPUSU Secretary General said the other issue which was of highlight this year was the crisis in the judiciary. He pointed out that the judiciary was under attack this year courtesy of the current regime of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) which did a lot of damage to the judiciary.
“It became even more glaring that the executive arm of government was encroaching into the jurisdiction of the judiciary and blaring the separation of powers when judges were suspended for flimsy reasons like on account that they failed to pay back the money (housing allowance) which they were supposed to pay back. We feel that it was deliberate as certain Judges were targeted and the excuse was used. We believe most importantly believe it doesn’t feature well in the democratic credentials of Botswana as they are slowly but surely getting eroded,” Rari insisted to the journalists.
Not only that in the judiciary but Rari also highlighted that some Judges are also facing possibility of been taken to court on the basis that they wrote and said their views about the Chief Justice and that in the event even refused to apologise, and the issue is still ongoing. “We are hearing that the Judges are under surveillance by the security apparatus of this country. This is a clear sign of interference by the executive on the operations of the judiciary,” he said.
The unionist also went on further to state that the Court of Appeal has also of recent been used as a gate keeper where cases that go against the executive are reversed or overturned at the highest court. “As if that is not enough, Khama also violated the law by refusing to appoint a certain individual in the form of Omphemetse Motumise despite the right procedures having been followed in his recruitment. The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) recommended Motumise to Khama. But Khama turned him down on the basis of reasons he could not disclose although we hear he said it’s for security reasons. The matter was before the courts and they ruled in favour of Motumise but still he has not been appointed.”
In addition to judiciary concerns for the year Rari said they also took to court a matter to say they cannot deal with Judges of the Court of Appeal that have not been appointed legally or not legally constituted through legal process. He continued: “we took it upon ourselves as role players in the democratic space of this country that we need to protect the judiciary and the case came in our favour and later on a bill was taken to parliament to legitimize what has always been the case.”
More Labour laws amendments concern
The BOFEPUSU leader asserted that they are also worried by manner in which government hurried the amendments of the labour statutes as almost all are under review and in some cases these are done at a supersonic speed that make them wonder whether they are really in good faith.
For example he explained that the statutes which regulate the labour are all under review or have already being reviewed like the Trade Dispute Act (TDA), Employment Act, Public Service Act, Trade Unions and Employers Organisations. TDA, he said they amended it not to allow certain cadres to undertake industrial action in the country. That’s why we saw Botswana making it to the top 40 countries at the International Labour Conference that are regarded as violators of the core conventions of the ILO, he pointed out.
He emphasised that ILO has got a list of conventions and there are those that are regarded as core and fundamental and one of them is convention 87 and the ILO does not take lightly if it’s violated. Botswana, he added that was charged in that they violated it because they have amended the TDA and in amending it they made employees who are not within the framework definition of ILO regarded as essential services but were made essential services.
“Botswana for the first time appeared before ILO disciplinary conference to answer to the charges before the committee of applications of standards before the ILO and they were grilled, they answered by their answered proved to be unsatisfactory and conclusions were made. Their conclusion was that Botswana should go and assemble a team of tripartite and with the expert from ILO, should then start to do amendments to reverse the amendments that they have done to the TDA to comply with convention 87.”
According to Rari, this is a dent on the democratic credentials of a country and a major highlight for this year. He stressed that it happened under the watch of the BDP government and the outgoing President Khama and therefore if there is anything that he will get out of office feeling guilty of it is one of them because he allowed it to happen under his nose.
Collapse of the Bargaining Council
The BOFEPUSU Secretary General insisted that under President Festus Mogae, President Sir Ketumile Masire, Botswana did quite ok in terms of ratification of conventions and then moving towards implementing the ratified conventions because they went further in allowing legislation being amended to go hand in hand with the ratified conventions.
He continued: “but then came in Khama, we moved about 10 steps back because he made sure that conditions for trade unions became very difficult and it even became evident this year when he bypassed the PSBC and did all they could to take the trade union to court so that the PSBC does not operate to an extent that at the end the unions become frustrated and could not operate until BOFEPUSU pulled out of the PSBC.”
He also this also applied to Commissioner of Labour who following dis-affiliation of BOFEPUSU in the PSBC, last week said now that since there are no trade union parties at the PSBC, it cannot sit and therefore said to the effect that the entity should be de-registered. “So we smell ulterior motives in the conduct of government and the Commissioner of Labour in that regard,” Rari said.
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.