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.
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.