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Gov’t in 5 million pula back pay deal

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. 

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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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