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Lobatse Town Council refuses to stop ex-union members’ subscriptions

Lobatse Town Council (LTC) is refusing to stop deductions of subscriptions of its employees, who were before termination, members of Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities & Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU); Gaborone High Court Judge Justice Terrence Rannowane heard this week.

In the matter before the High Court, ex BLLAWHU members want the court to declare that the union and Lobatse Town Council (LTC), by continuing to withhold BLLAWHU member subscription fees after having being instructed by the individual employees to stop deductions, are violating the Employment Act.

Section 79 of the Employment Act states: “(1) Except where otherwise expressly permitted by this Act or any other written law, no employer shall make any deduction or make any agreement with any employee (whether or not the agreement is contained in the contract of employment) for any deduction from the wages to be paid by the employer or from any other payments which may be due to the employee or for any payment to the employer by the employee:

Provided that this subsection shall not apply to deductions deposited with the sanction of the Commissioner under section 45. (2) any employer who contravenes subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and liable to the penalties prescribed by section 151(d).”

The members, who are around 65 in number, insist that BLLAHWU and LTC should be ordered forthwith from deducting their subscription fees. In addition, they request that the court direct that the duo to reimburse the claimants all monies unlawfully withheld by them. According to court documents seen by WeekendPost the members earlier this year terminated their membership with the union. However the request is said to have fallen on deaf ears.

Although members insist that they informed the Council of the termination, LTC on the other hand told court that there is no proof to substantiate the allegation. An esteemed attorney Uyapo Ndadi of Ndadi Law Firm, representing Keabetswe Sera and 65 others stated in his oral arguments in court this week that: “Lobatse Town Council (LTC) refused an instruction from employees to stop the deduction.”

He continued: “instructions came from employees when the deductions started, and now when they wanted the deductions to stop they followed the same process by writing a letter to employer (LTC) to terminate their deduction. But the employer said they are not going to accede to the request.”

The prominent Attorney explained that employees must authorize employers for the deductions and the law doesn’t give unions any power to be consulted with or be heard, adding that it’s the sole prerogative of employers. Therefore, the lawyer said, in terms of BLLAHWU he is not seeking any substantive relief against them but only from the employer, adding that unions were only cited as an interested party to the matter.

“The union (BLLAHWU) is an interested party because the money deducted from the members does go to them. By continuing to withholding BLLAHWU members’ subscriptions, LTC is violating the Employment Act. Who is deducting money in favour of the unions? It’s only employers. Unions have no control of deducting and there is nothing that the unions can do.”

In January this year, the well regarded lawyer emphasized that there was a sign and power of attorney calling the employer (LTC) to stop deductions. “Therefore they cannot be any sign of seriousness like approaching the courts,” he was quoted as saying. Ndadi said the Local Government Act is clear and gives the Council authority and power to sue and be sued where it warrants so.

In prior heads of arguments, Ndadi, together with Ramou Jallow stated that “the employer was further served with a Statutory Notice by way of registered mail to stop deductions as they are unauthorized and offensive to the Employment Act. Despite the instructions and the demand via the Statutory Notice, the deductions have continued to this day.”    

They pointed out that authorization was withdrawn by the employees in relation to the employer, which renders any further deductions from their salaries unlawful and the employees are consequently entitled to a full refund of their respective subscriptions and for the deductions to stop forthwith.

For his part, a close friend of Ndadi, Martin Dingake of Dingake Law Partners who stood in for BLLAHWU, said he was surprised that Ndadi is raising the matter to the effect that they are only an interested party in the oral arguments and did not mention such position in advance in their heads of arguments so that they prepare their contrasting point.

“So today, the applicants’ lawyer (Ndadi) said we have only been cited as an interested party but unfortunately they did not state it in any of their documents like affidavits, notice of motion, heads of argument etc,” the renowned lawyer in Dingake pointed out. Dingake’s point of view was that at that point, since they know the relief is not being sought by the applicants (that Ndadi is representing), it then meant they can change their position, which might also have consequences.

He highlighted that as a consequence it means that the case should revolve around whether or not their opposition to the matter is reasonable or unreasonable and against whom. In defending BLLAHWU, the legal guru went on further to however indicate that withholding of the subscription fees by the union is only lawful adding that the matter is between employer and the union as per the collective labour agreement which is binding – as the expectations is that each deals with the other in good faith.

“Consent was given. Union members, right at the bottom of the consent pledges herself that authorization of deductions continues. Therefore there is no contravention of any law,” Dingake asserted in court. In his assessment he told court that the application is without merit and should be dismissed with costs since no relief has been sought to them (BLLAWHU) they are also entitled to costs in the matter.

Meanwhile in his written heads of argument he had stated: “the applicants did not terminate in accordance with the constitution that governs the union and as such a consequent of that they have effectively failed to terminate their membership.” As such he emphasised “the applicants have failed to terminate membership in accordance with the constitution that governs the union that they are members of and the collective labour agreement.”  

When responding to the whole matter in court, Thapelo Mphala, who filed the papers with Charity Mahube on behalf of Lobatse Town Council (LTC), said he immediately abandons his earlier contention in his heads of arguments in relation to the Employment Act and raises fresh arguments of locus standi. The attorney brought to the attention of court that “Lobatse Town Council is not the statutory employer of the applicant members on this matter, and therefore deductions are not done by the Council but by the Treasure General of the union which is not an office with LTC in terms of the Local Government Act.”

However the Judge interjected to ask why they participated in the matter while they knew they had no locus standi. Mphala said they appeared because they had already been brought to court. “Applicants must instead crude against the Attorney General not LTC. LTC is a separate entity with its own functions encapsulated in the Local Government Act.”  He said the Council cannot reimburse the applicants because the union (BLLAHWU), rightfully before court, is the one which holds the members’ money and not the council.  

Although he said they do not have locus standi he also mentioned that the members in question have not signed to terminate their subscriptions at the Council. He argued in the papers that none of the 77 members cited in the papers appended their signatures on their termination letters except for 21 whom have already been sorted out. “We humbly submit that clearly this is a new matter and the Applicants are not being candid with this Honourable Court, they have crafted the list attached to the letter for their own convenience and to mislead the Honourable Court.”

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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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