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Mabeo gives ILO middle finger

Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development Tshenolo Mabeo was not apologetic about his government’s stance following the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention that found the country had contravened the ratified standards.

The Committee on Application of Standards concluded that the government of Botswana violated the Conventions and that “corrective measures ought to be made” to rectify the transgression. In particular the committee ordered that Botswana should allow Prisons Service employees to unionise in compliance with ILO conventions 87 and that there be amendment of the controversial Trade Dispute Act for conformity with contravention 87, among other recommendations.

Botswana was given a deadline to report progress made to the Committee of Application of standards on or before November 2017. However shortly after landing at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSKI) in Gaborone from Geneva on Friday, Mabeo denounced the ILO recommendations. He told a pack of journalists who graced the press conference that: “ILO is not a court.”

When Weekend Post sought clarity on the words of the minister that fall short of undermining ILO and whether that meant Botswana is not in a position to implement the body’s recommendations, Mabeo was non-committal. “ILO cannot make labour laws for member states or amend them, but it can advise on the compliance of the laws to the conventions ratified by member states.”

He emphasised boldly that ILO is just an international organization whose role is only to advise member states on implementation of ILO conventions and recommendations and cannot claim to be or act like a court. The minister continued to dismiss ILO saying “yes individual sovereign countries have their own constitutions. In our case as an example parliament makes laws. It’s important that the conventions, which we have ratified, can be of benefit to us and see that the local law is compatible with the ILO conventions. We are going to continue making laws as we have been, at parliament.”

Mabeo also highlighted that as government of Botswana, they went to ILO for the issue of essential services but “if you look at the ILO recommendations” it does not come out “clearly and separately”. “And I will tell you why,” he said adding that “it is the contradictions that we have said the employers group expressed during their presentation at ILO. We pointed a finger at ILO saying the organ is not specific and crystal clear on their recommendations.”

“When the recommendations were handed over to us,” the Botswana Minister said they, together with some African countries were complaining about the biasness of ILO. Mabeo justified that “the shortlisted countries in contravention of ILO conventions were mostly from African countries. We want this process to be transparent, as it is now, it not transparent.” “I can give you another example to show this unfairness, when we were given the recommendations; we were not given an opportunity to respond on it,” he pointed out.

“Countries were concerned.  The issue was that when a committee has any findings on a country, government must be given an opportunity to respond. That is even procedure at a court of law. Countries felt there is no transparency. The process is very secretive. And member states were dissatisfied.” He added that they had about 40 countries in the list but they don’t know what happened with them eventually.

“We are not happy that we have made to the list. It is detrimental for our country’s growth, economic prosperity and foreign investment. We understand that countries who have made it before, were sanctioned. But of course that comes after countless long battles.” According to Mabeo, a number of delegates at ILO also expressed dissatisfaction relating to the processes followed by the Committee of Application of Conventions and Recommendations that found Botswana of wrong doings.

 “In particular, lack of transparency, failure to look at positive events, and citing of negative events in countries were cited as examples.” In terms of amending the Trade Dispute Act which was cited by ILO also as a recommendation, Mabeo also poured cold water on the recommendation instead justifying the need for the existing law as is. “The list of essential services in the Trade Disputes Act, 2016 was developed in good faith, considering the unique circumstances prevailing in Botswana as determined by Parliament,” he explained.  

The Minister of Employment said the list comprised services whose interruption might lead to conditions that might endanger life, personal safety or health of the population. The contentions of local trade unions has been that, categorisation of professions such as as teachers, Government Broadcasting services and Immigration and Customs Services as essential cannot endanger anyone at their work stations.  

The ILO Committee of Experts on the Applications of Conventions and recommendations considers essential services to be the interruption would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population. With regard to unionisation by prison officers, contrary to ILO’s, Mabeo said Government’s position is that: Prison officers are members of the disciplined forces; Prison officers are custodians of public safety and security; and support staff or administrative staff in the Department of Prisons and Rehabilitation are allowed to unionise as their responsibilities does not border on security.

With these clear contraventions, Mabeo insisted that, he still believes it was also premature for Botswana to have made it on the list of shortlisted countries accused of contravening ILO conventions. It is not the first time Mabeo rebuffs ILO. Recently before attending the ILO conference, he told this publication that ILO cannot solve our problems but only “us” domestically can do that.  “We do not need anyone from outside to dictate to us how to solve our issues and that’s my departure point,” he said then.

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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

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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