Like rival lovers, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and a union labour centre; Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sectors Union (BOFEPUSU) are bickering for the attention of the public servants.
This comes on the back of a cabinet decision last week to pay public servants increment arrears of 3% from June 2015 to June 2016 and another 4% from April to May 2016. The salary adjustments will be awarded to public servants who are affiliates of BOFEPUSU; being Manual Workers Union, Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Botswana Land Board & Local Authorities & Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU) and Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU).
The union members were previously excluded from back pays as a result of a court order initiated by BOFEPUSU that interdicted the government unilateralism of the salary adjustments. The increment was made outside the ambit of the Bargaining Council. Since BOFEPUSU’s disaffiliation from the Council, the workers were owed the reimbursements. However, following the cabinet decision both BDP and BOFEPUSU have laid claim to the influence that lead to the development. While BOFEPUSU claims that it was consequent to a protracted battle between BOFEPUSU and Government over salary negotiations and the functionality of Public Service Bargaining Council, BDP believes otherwise.
BDP Secretary General Mpho Balopi insisted with a grin this week that it is his party that took a resolution to cushion relations with workers by paying them the 3% from 2015 to 2016 in the form of back pays. “As I told you last time here when we were coming from the 2017 Tonota congress, BDP have the interest of Batswana at heart including the government workers. I would like to highlight to you that, at our Tonota congress recently there was a motion on the floor that requested that the public servants be paid the 3% as back pays,” Balopi said.
He added that following that motion, “just yesterday cabinet took a decision to pay the government workers from April 2015 the 3% back pays.” Balopi emphasized to the journalists that the union federation, BOFEPUSU went to court to interdict the 3% at the time, and lost the case, adding that they later disaffiliated from the bargaining council, ultimately affecting the operations of the latter. “So as a ruling party, which also have Batswana at heart and in particular the public servants, we took a decision influenced by Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Eric Molale after his nationwide tours to consult public servants who demanded they be re-imbursed the dues.”
According to Balopi, the motion at the BDP congress meticulously assisted the cabinet to reach the decision to pay the workers in line with their interests. “So jaanong, bangwe (BOFEPUSU) ba intsha bo majapolaelo jaaka re bala mo dipampiring (Others [BOFEPUSU] want to claim they are the ones that influenced this decision as we have learnt through the newspapers). They even wrote a letter to say that, with immediate effect, the public servants should be paid and the amount backdated. And they said this after the congress and after the press conference which we addressed here. It’s very important to note this,” Balopi maintained.
The BDP SG emphasized that the payment of government employees’ salaries is purely a decision by the BDP and the party did not necessarily endure any pressure from anyone including BOFEPUSU. “So these kinds of people should be taken with a pinch of salt, whether they genuinely respect the rights and interests of the workers, which I doubt it is. I only think that it is due to their political motivation like they have shown their colours previously when they endorsed opposition Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) during the build up to 2014.” “As we have said before, it is not all public servants that oppose the ruling BDP. We believe that Batswana who understand that our party is inclusive will continue voting for the party at the polls,” he continued.
He also declared: “and re tlaa tswelela ntse re ba direla tse di molelo le rona gore re ba ithatise le rona, hela jaaka bone bale (BOFEPUSU) baba ithatisa le bone ka go tlhoka go bua boammaruri le go dira dilo tse di hapogileng mo tseleng gore di utluse batho botlhoko ebile di ba gogomose maikutlo gore ba helele ba bona gore party ee busang ga se e ba ka nnang le bokamoso mo go yone( We too will continue to sweet talk them like BOFEPUSU so that they don’t lose trust in our party).”
Balopi stressed that it is the BDP who urged the government by way of also speaking to Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Eric Molale and Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Kenneth Mathambo and, they both agreed to assist in this regard and so we thank them. “They acted swiftly to address this issue which emanated from the BDP congress.” Meanwhile, on their part BOFEPUSU are also petting themselves on the back for pushing government to pay the workers their dues and basking on the credit.
Speaking to WeekendPost, BOFEPUSU Deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said they have noted attempts to politicise the whole process by BDP by making it seem as if the party acted in good thought for the workers. He said: “we suspect that the Directorate of Public Service Management’s evasion of the matter by avoiding BOFEPUSU is premised on agreed strategy of the back pays paid as it was with the mercy and grace of BDP political expediency.”
If the BDP Government is serious about mending relations with Trade Unions/workers, the BOFEPUSU leader said, then they better do it objectively and honestly, not when they engage in wicked scheming. He said this in light of the sentiments by BDP Secretary General Balopi. “Members of BOFEPUSU Unions know very well that they are entitled to the back pays as the 3% had been tabled at the Bargaining Council while the 4% was for all Public servants. Therefore, members of BOFEPUSU Unions will not be tricked with this short sighted ill thought strategy of the BDP.”
In all this, Motshegwa said Directorate of Public Service Management should be careful enough not to render itself to be seen as subcommittee of BDP, something that will cause it to lose the trust of labour relations partners/stakeholders such as Trade Unions. He pointed out that mending relations with Trade Unions should entail transparent, objective, productive engagement with leadership of Trade Unions, and not “such mafia scheming of trying to hoodwink workers for workers are far more consciousness and vigilant than that”. “The BDP never learn, as they are still using the same approach of 2011 that led to the historic 2011 Industrial action that torments the BDP to this day and will many years to come,” he concluded.
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.