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.
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.