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Teachers, BEC Exam war in numbers

It is tools down at the Botswana Examinations Council (BEC) marking centres in Gaborone – and BEC will have to dig deep financially if it is to obviate the situation.

Close to 20 000 teachers are in the capital city to mark scripts for roughly 40 000 candidates in the Junior Certificate Examinations (JCE) and Botswana General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) examinations. For the past five days multitudes of teachers who applied to examine both JCE and BGCSE registered a labour dispute with the BEC complaining about what they term slavery conditions of work.

The aggrieved teachers told this paper that the employer, BEC has amended this year’s contract, doing away with benefits they have all along been entitled to. At the top of the frustrations was the removal of subsistence pay from the contracts replacing it with composite pay of which teachers are compelled to pay back a certain percentage after completion of the marking exercise.

“Subsistence pay included night out, transport allowance, food and taxi fares. These monies we got five or six days into the work. Thereafter we will get our script remunerations, which comes after the work maybe days before Christmas,” said one of the teachers who asked to remain anonymous.

In the former contract, papers varied according to subjects with others rating P11, P15 or P20 per paper. However this time around with composite pay, everything is compressed into one. “That is, there is no night-out and other allowances. We get an advance pay of about P3000 which we will have to pay back after we get our pay for marking,” added another teacher at Naledi Senior Secondary School marking centre.

This has not been received well by the teachers who want the same conditions as in the past contracts, or else they will continue with ‘boycott’. Teachers had initially demanded P5000 as advance payment, which they did not have a problem with paying back as long as they are paid P100 per script. Senior Secondary School teachers had wanted P70 per script in their proposal while Junior Secondary School teachers had asked for P100 per script, the two groups agreed to converge at the demand of P100 per script after discussions.

Another issue that is proving to be a thorn between teachers and BEC is the issue of tax. Whatever money is paid to the markers will be taxed at 10%. “But you know BURS tax starts at 25%, this means we will be owing BURS 15% which we will have to pay them somehow from our pockets. So that’s all we want BEC to address or else it will be stalemate,” said another teacher at one of the marking venues.

TEACHERS DISOWN NEW CONTRACTS

Coming for the temporary job of marking, teachers say they were not aware of the new contract prepared by the BEC, instead they heard about it through grape vine hence they couldn’t believe it. On the 4th of December when they were supposed to begin the work they noticed from the contract that it has changed and BEC representatives came in to address in a bid to explain the developments.

It is at this gathering that a number of un-answered questions were raised by teachers which BEC agents failed to answer hence worsening the contractual conflict. “Batho ba ba neng ba tsile ha, ke di junior ko BEC, re bata Mokopakgosi ka sebele kana Dow a te gore address because ke belaela sengwe golo ha,” one teacher said at a gathering in Mogoditshane Senior School (marking centre).

Most of the contracts were to come into effect from the 4th to the 22nd of December. There are close to 20 000 teachers who have voluntarily sought to mark scripts in Gaborone this year. Each teach is expected to mark a maximum of 250 scripts, depending on availability, but the number could be lower. If a teacher is to mark the maximum number of scripts, he or she will register about P25 000 if BEC was to agree a P100 per script rate; or P17 500 if BEC was to go with the proposal of P70 per script.

If the assumption is that each teacher marks the 250 scripts at a rate of P100 then the Examinations Council will need a budget of about P500 million to be able to pay teachers who are doing the marking. At the rate of P70 per script for 250 scripts per teacher, the Council must budget P350 million. For instance about 198 teachers have applied and have been accepted to mark mathematics scripts – this spells out that for this subject alone there should P4 950 000 reserved to pay the markers at a rate of P100  per script for 250 scripts.  

BEC TO INVITE OTHER MARKERS

Meanwhile the council has insisted it will not accede to teachers’ demands and would rather call others to examine. A directive to teachers this week discouraged them to hold meetings at marking venues. “Examiners are discouraged from holding any more meetings at marking venues unless it is absolutely necessary. The executive management or its representatives will not hold any consultations, meetings or activities that have the potential to disruptor delay the marking exercise,” BEC executive manager, Jenamiso Nthele ordered.

On the other hand the Mathematics Association of Botswana (MAB) has called on both parties to put the interest of the learners at heart when addressing their differences. “Teachers have the duty to protect the integrity and credibility of the profession. As much as we support all efforts aimed at improving the welfare and working conditions of the teachers such efforts should be done within the confines of the law, procedurally and in good faith,” wrote Mathews Masole, chairperson of MAB.

He appealed to appealed to mathematics teachers and “other subjects’ teachers” to honour their 2017 exam marking obligation, “positions which they voluntarily applied for,” he stated. Masole said his Association believes in credible marking process and urged BEC to avert these kind of developments in future.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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