Government has once again attracted a penalty, it has been instructed to back pay 5 million pula following a case in which some Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) union members who are employed by Botswana Examinations Council (BEC) are demanding back pays from government.
WeekendPost can reveal that a settlement agreement was reached this week following several court appearances and battles in which the government finally conceded to pay the BEC staff the 5 million pula for the next 18 months. The back pays emanate from a BEC Board “Resolution” which was back stepped by government (BEC) for unclear reasons.
The Board meeting had took a decision to increase staff salaries after finding out about the salary disparities at the organization which warranted deserved back pays as from April 2014 to March 2016. At the time of the court appearance, both parties were in agreement about the said resolution but Acting High Court Judge Justice Zein Kebonang who presided over the matter seemed not settled by the matter and wanted sufficient proof. In light of avoiding extra humiliation the parties resolved their differences amicably to avoid further unnecessary court battles.
The parties then further compiled a settlement agreement in which government appeared to be the biggest loser as they would cough out multi-million payments to the said employees. According to the settlement agreement, signed on 10th May by both parties: “now therefore the parties agree that: pursuant to the Governing Council Resolution of the Respondent (BEC) passed on the 19th of June 2013, the Respondent (BEC/government) shall pay the balance of the salary disparity adjustment for the period between 1st April 2014 to 31st March 2016, but for a maximum period of 18 months.”
In addition, government was also advised that it shall also pay the amount due on or before the 31st of July 2017. It continues: “this agreement constitutes the entire agreement between the parties and each party acknowledges that there are no further agreements not expressly included herein.” The agreement was to remain binding to both the parties immediately upon signature by both of them (which was done on 10 May) and shall operate until it is approved and made an Order of Court.
Speaking to Weekend Post subsequent to the settlement, an attorney representing applicants (BOPEU) in the matter Uyapo Ndadi of Ndadi Law Firm expressed joy as he said the agreement is precisely in their favour and that the union members will be reap fruits of their labour. “I am happy with the outcome and my clients (BOPEU) are happier for they will be reaping the fruits of their labour and will smile all the way to the bank, come end of July,” he highlighted.
The esteemed attorney however expressed discontentment about the “wasteful government” pointing out that it was unnecessary for the matter to end up in court. “I believed in the case from day one and it didn’t have to end up in court as it was totally unnecessary,” he said. “The litigation was waste of tax payer’s money. Officials must be held accountable and liable for the decisions or indecisions they make,” he asserted.
He also added that those who no longer work for BEC but were employees of BEC between the stipulated periods can also come forward and claim. “This includes those who are deceased, their heirs must also claim on their behalf.” Meanwhile, in the heads of arguments, Ndadi narrated that BOPEU had, as far back as 2012, engaged BEC on salary disparities that existed among its staff, and, the talks culminated in BEC engaging consultants by the names Global Consultants and Swicon 360 to review the salary structures of BEC.
He pointed out that “from the Human Resource Committee (HRC) resolutions and recommendations, it is stated that it was observed that most of BEC employees earned salaries below market rate, mainly due to BEC pay practices that made it impossible for any progression to be achieved.”
It is understood that the said HRC report observed that since 2007, majority of BEC employees were on band minima (lowest band) and consequently recommended that such employees should have their salaries raised to band midpoints. It was also recommended that raising the minimum salaries from band minima to band mid points be done over a period of 2 years to minimize the effect that such adjustments may have on the budget without elongating the period required to address these disparities.
According to Ndadi, it was further recommended that in the spirit of fairness and equity, those employees who were not at band minima or band maxima should have their salaries raised by 3%. “On the 19th June 2013, the Governing Council adopted and approved, among other things, recommendations by the HRC. All e-mail was sent to all staff dated 24 June 2013 confirming the approval of the recommendations by HRC.”
He explained that the decision of the Governing Council was to effect on the 1st April 2013, and that letters were issued to all concerned staff evidencing that implementation of the resolution was underway. In 2013, he remembered that all concerned staff was then given half of the increase they were entitled to and the other half was to be effected the following year.
“However those who are entitled to an increase of 3% (as per the resolution that was aimed at achieving fairness and equity) have to date not received their salary increments,” Ndadi asserted, while pointing out that that wa the crux of the matter. He had requested the court that all staff, (present and past) that would have otherwise been entitled to an increase in April 2013, be awarded the increase, up to the time that they left employment or up to the time of their promotion or up to the time they died, whichever might be the case.
“Our view is that the operative words are clear and in that they show that the salaries must be raised over two successive years and not just two years.” The first year that the resolution was in April 2013 and it follows that the second year of implementation ought to have been April 2014, he submitted.
On the other hand however the BEC lawyer Batlhalefi Moeletsi of Moeletsi attorneys argued that both parties agreed that the issue to be determined in the matter is whether the Resolution passed by BEC on the 19th June 2013 entitles employees to back pays or not.
He submitted that it was not in dispute that no agreement was concluded between BOPEU and BEC on the issue of back pays or any issue in respect of the implementation of BEC’s resolution. “In fact, that much is admitted by BOPEU.” Moeletsi said the resolution was a decision of BEC on how it sought to address the problem in its salary structure and nothing more.
“Seeing that the argument on contract is untenable, BOPEU then claims that the consequences of the Resolution were also administrative in that the Resolution was an undertaking to increase salaries. It is submitted that there was no such undertaking to increase salaries,” Moeletsi pointed out. He said the Resolution, was about removing salary disparities, an exercise which could of course lead to an increase in an employee’s salary.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.