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Mabeo rebuffs ILO

The Minister responsible for Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, Tshenolo Mabeo has hauled Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sectors Union (BOFEPPPUSU) over hot coals for reporting the government of Botswana to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) based in Geneva, Switzerland.


BOFEPUSU had reported the government at the ILO for what they regard as “trampling and disregarding the lawfully instituted Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC)” and also query the controversial amendment of the Trade Dispute Act. WeekendPost has established that the international body, ILO representative, under the Freedom of Association branch, Keren Curtis visited Botswana this week in a move to meet the tripartite structure to follow up on the BOFEPPPUSU letter reporting key violations of workers’ rights in the country.


As a result, Curtis met Minister Mabeo, as well as Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Thato Kwerepe, and former Attorney General Athaliah Molokomme. She also met BOFEPPPUSU and Business Botswana – all of which are tripartite stakeholders in Botswana. In accordance with International Labour Standards on Tripartite consultation, the ILO is based on the principle of tripartism – dialogue and cooperation between governments, employers, and workers – in the formulation of standards and policies dealing with labour matters.


It is understood that the ILO representative was primarily consulting on the issues raised by BOFEPUSU relating to violations of workers’ rights in contravention of ILO standards and policies while the country has ratified various conventions. “Yes it is true that ILO representative Curtis was in Botswana to meet key stakeholders under tripartite arrangement,” Minister Mabeo told Weekend Post adding that she met on official capacity, specifically “Mabeo, Kwerepe, Molokomme, BOFEPUSU and Business Botswana to discuss labour issues of concern.”


Mabeo stressed that ILO cannot solve Botswana’s labour relations issues but instead the parties involved can do so on their own (without the help of ILO). Repeatedly, the Minister insisted that “dialogue” is very important between the unions and government. He said the sour relationship and failure by parties to meet at the negotiating table of the Bargaining Council could only be resolved by dialogue. He emphasised: “ILO cannot solve our problems but only us domestically can do that. We should exhaust all the means before we ask for mediation outside the country.”


The minister said the unions should know that it’s important to note that building the economy lies with the citizenry before anyone else. On his own account, Mabeo explained that “I told ILO envoy Curtis during the meeting this week that we do not need anyone from outside to dictate to us how to solve our issues and that’s my departure point.” He also said he has met the Federations several times and they both agree that dialogue is crucial and can solve the acrimony that currently exists between government and unions.


“The union federations informed me that they did not have the platform to negotiate so I brought them closer to us as government so that we can dialogue. And there are indications that we are in the right way. As a ministry we will continue encouraging dialogue.” He said: “I believe PSBC should make dialogue, talk about the issues they face, resolve them on their own. PSBC is a lawful constituted body. I believe PSBC should do their job.”


According to the Minister the main problem between parties at the Bargaining Council is that there is lack of tolerance by all parties in the negotiations. We should, he observed, be able to speak around the table but if there is not trust, as I see, there cannot be proper dialogue. In terms of the Trade Dispute Act, Mabeo highlighted that initially they thought they were solving a problem but later found out, after some court cases, that there was need to align the Act with the constitution.


He added that law was not cast in stone and that is why they continued to amend them while also noting that “we can’t all get what we want all the time”. “But moving forward, doors are open for any amendments that we may deem necessary, all is not lost,” Mabeo pointed out. In relation to concerns they raised at the ILO, Trade Union Federation cried foul over government’s attitude of being prone to bypassing the legally constituted body which is mandated with the negotiation of salaries and conditions of service of all the public servants in Botswana.


PSBC is currently at the centre of dispute before the Courts of law over issues of scope. Of concern also to BOFEPUSU which has been put forward to the attention of ILO is the controversial amendment of the Trade Dispute Act (TDA) which consequently categorized non essential services such as teachers, Government Broadcasting services and Immigration and Customs Services as essential, once again violating ILO standards.


The government had also previously made Veterinary, Diamond Sorting, Cutting and selling services essential services but through courts intervention they lost the matter and the unlawful move was reversed. It is understood that in amending the TDA, to include more cadres as essential, government sought to reduce the bargaining power of the said professionals particularly teachers as well as circumvent their ability and right to strike. This was as a result of the notorious 2011 nationwide Industrial strike which almost plunged the education system into paralysis of unequivocal standards.


The unique tripartite structure of the ILO gives an equal voice to workers, employers and governments to ensure that the views of the social partners are closely reflected in labour standards and in shaping policies and programmes. BOFEPUSU had stated in the letter to the labour organisation dated 25th July 2016 titled “letter of complaint against the government of Botswana” they stated that they would prefer that the international organisation assist in referring the complaint as enunciated in the introductory letter and in the report on the amended Trade Dispute Act that they sent.


“We also would like to request the ILO office to prepare an informal opinion to the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations. And similarly, we request the ILO office to prepare an informal opinion on the matter to guide the federation in lobbying both domestically and abroad including at the 2017 ILO conference,” BOFEPUSU Secretary General Tobokani Rari had written.


The main objectives of the ILO are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues. It remains to be seen whether ILO will take necessary disciplinary steps towards the Botswana government in the fullness of time – in relations to violations which has been reported to the world body.

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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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