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Gov’t amends Public Service Act

President Lt. Gen. Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s administration is moving swiftly with pace and strong intentions to amend the contentious Public Service Act of 2008 following a resolution from cabinet recently.


The executive is said to have given the move a nod, and plans are underway to take it to the parliament floor for debating. Indications suggest that the goal is to present the bill at the national assembly’s next sitting (July). It is said that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) legislators are expected to knock down opposition party lawmakers in numbers in a move to rubber stamp the amendment bill into law. The said controversial bill (re-enactment) was gazetted on the 5th May 2017.


Some sections which leave a lot to be desired in the contentious bill include section 72 which states that the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) shall be the Secretariat of the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). The section is a departure from the previous arrangement where the Secretariat was appointed by independent bodies appointed by the Council so that it too remains autonomous.


Another controversial section is 73 (1) which posits “the Commissioner may, on application by an interested party, and on reasonable cause being shown, cancel the registration of the Council. (2) Any interested party aggrieved by a decision of the Commissioner to cancel registration of the Council, may appeal against that decision, to the Industrial Court.


In addition, section 74 (3) says: “representatives of both the trade unions and employer under subsections (1) and (2) shall be public officers” together with subsection (4) which mentions that “the Minister shall, from amongst persons who are not representatives, appoint a chairperson and a deputy chairperson” were also said to have been done in bad faith. Still on section 74, subsection (7b) states that 50 percent of the members, excluding the Chairperson and deputy Chairperson, shall constitute a quorum.


Moreover, some debatable sections to be amended also include section 79 (1) which says every trade union recognised under the Act shall be entitled to be a party in the Council and shall be entitled to have only one union representative at the Council. The section continues at subsection (2) citing that every trade union recognised under the Act shall be entitled to appoint public officers as representatives from among its members for purposes of (a) bargaining in good faith with government and b) representing its members in respect of disciplinary proceedings involving acts of serious misconduct.     


In terms of subscriptions “government shall not be required to deduct any trade union dues or levies from employees wages on behalf of any trade union save for union membership subscriptions,” reads section 79 (5) another section deemed as part of the controversial amendments to the Public Service Act of 2008. The Act which is being amended, (Public Service Act No 30 of 2008) is said to be a direct result of the ratification of three ILO Conventions by the Botswana Government ratified in 1997.


It was in 2010 that the objective of the 2008 Public Service Act was to provide for a single legislation governing employment of all employees of Government.  The Act also was to provide for the establishment of Public Service Bargaining Structures and recognized Public Service trade unions to engage in negotiations and bargaining over issues which have been identified and are matters for negotiation. The Act commenced on the 1st May 2010 and was published in the Botswana Gazette No. 11 of March 2010.


Previously it is understood that there were four pieces of legislation governing employment in the Public Service and these were the Public Service Act CAP 26:01, Unified Local Government Service Act, Teaching Service Act and Tribal Land Act Part II (a) to II (f). It was said then that the use of these separate laws resulted in inconsistencies in the conditions of service and uncoordinated relationships between Government as an employer and some civil servants.


“The Act thus establishes a single public service; ensures consistent terms and conditions of employment for all government employees; and installs systematic collective bargaining processes.” Meanwhile, it remains a mystery on what the government is trying to achieve by the impending amendment to the Act. Some say they are trying to climb down on the workers’ rights to bargain effectively. The new imminent amendments to the Act are seen as a target to the Bargaining Council which gives the government of the day sleepless nights.


Some say it is a drawback also to the current legislatures as it is moving away from the spirit of ILO in terms of standards and conventions of giving power to workers. When reached for comment concerning the amendments, a negotiating partner at the PSBC and part of the tripartite arrangement at ILO, Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sectors Union (BOFEPUSU) Secretary General Tobokani Rari said they were never consulted when the amendments were being made and as such don’t approve of them.


“We are surprised that the bill has now been gazetted contrary to all the promises. We would like to state for the record that there has not been any meaningful consultation,” he told Weekend Post in an interview this week. Rari narrated that they wrote to government requesting that they be given reasons for the intended amendment, but the employer never replied. He added that they nevertheless proceeded to write, providing their views on the intended amendments “hoping for further physical engagement on the same”.


“We then met Director of DPSM in March 2017 where we asked about the engagement on the proposed amendments. At this meeting the Director intimated to us that the amendments were about to be gazetted, but however stated that she would engage the Minister on the possibility of halting the process for further engagements,” the unionist pointed out.


Rari continued: “we then met Minister Mabeo recently during the month of April. We raised the same matter of consultation. At this meeting we came to a common ground that with the assistance of an ILO team of experts, the amendment of all the labour laws would be harmonised and as such we were assured of further engagement.”


During the month of the same month of April, Rari said they also met Assistant Minister in the Office of the President Thato Kwerepe whereat the very issue was raised yet again. According to Rari, Minister Kwerepe assured the delegation that BOFEPUSU would be consulted before gazetting the bill.


The BOFEPUSU SG stressed that the courts have on several occasions dealt with the concept of meaningful consultation or engagement. He said it involves parties exchanging views over a matter. “In this case our view is that there has not been any meaningful consultation,” he said of the Public Service Act pending amendments. What the union federation says about the bill


In a letter to DPSM Director Ruth Maphorisa, BOFEPUSU say they want her to share their reasons for seeking to depart from the existing practice, as per the 2008 Act, in appointing the PSBC Secretariat. In light of this the union stated: “the selection of the secretary of the council has since the inception of the PSBC been the joint responsibility of both government as well as Trade Unions sitting at the PSBC. Additionally, the discharge of the role has never been restricted to public servants.”
 


In another issue, the union says PSBC has been functioning effectively as a forum for dispute resolution, and it assists with evenly distributing the workload of dispute resolution. “The PSBC is especially the more ideal forum for public servants with grievances against the government as the officers presiding over the disputes are not public servants. It is furthermore open to everyone regardless of whether they are unionised or not and regardless of whether their union forms part of the PSBC,” they contended.

 
The union asked Maphorisa to shed more light in terms of the rationale for proposing the change so that they may make meaningful representations in respect of the same. “The aforementioned proposed amendment runs contrary to the spirit of negotiating in good faith. The hallmark of negotiating in good faith is that an employer must not take any steps averse to the party negotiating on behalf of its members.” They also asked the DPSM Director to confer a benefit on employees whilst negotiations are ongoing saying it makes a complete mockery of the entire bargaining process and it automatically tilts the scales in favour of government.


They continued: “clause 79 (1) provides that recognition will entitle a union to one seat at the PSBC. The implication of this provision is simply that a union like the National Amalgamated Local, Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPWU”) which has more than 20,000 members will have the same voice as a union like Trainers and Allied Workers Union (“TAWU”) which has less than 200 members.”


With this in mind, BOFEPUSU explained that they failed to appreciate the rationale behind granting a union whose members represent a negligible percentage of the entire workforce the opportunity to speak on behalf of everyone else. They also pointed out that clause 74 incorporates a proviso restricting representatives of trade unions admitted to the PSBC to public officers. “We would like to understand why there has been a drastic departure from ILO standards as well as local case law which has authoritatively pronounced on this issue,” the union highlighted.


They emphasised that the ILO position is to encourage collective bargaining as well as its autonomy. Article 3 of the ILO of 98, they said, provides as follows: Article 3. (1)   “Workers' and employers' organisations shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules, to elect their representatives in full freedom, to organise their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes. 3. (2)   the public authorities shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise thereof.”


According to BOFEPUSU, the issues they raised constitute some of concerns in relation to the proposed bill. In light of the foregoing, he said it is critical that government shares what informed the proposed change.

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Government ignores nurses’ COVID-19 anxieties

4th August 2021
Nurses

Health workers are at the front line fighting the deadly, contagious COVID-19. These workers have an immense challenge of welfare and government has since turned a blind eye to dares and crushing odds throttling health officers, particularly nurses.

Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) has once more called on government to invest in the country’s nurses and give the nursing profession dignity.

In May 2020, BONU President, Obonolo Rahube said government should, in line with the advocacy of World Health Organisation (WHO) invest more on nurses and midwives, and further advised government to address challenges that nurses are faced with. The proposal was made on International Nurses Day.

At the time, Rahube urged government to provide subsidised accommodation for nurses and midwives as it has emerged that during the fight against the Corona-virus, accommodation for nurses and midwives is very important. Rahube called on government to provide nurses and midwives with 100% medical cover.

He also called on government to introduce risk allowance for nurses and midwives, noting that as frontline workers during the pandemic, they are at high risk. Nurses also demanded Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a matter which they lost with costs in court. Also critical during the COVID-19 era for health workers, psychological support is what BONU maintains is still lacking.

In the same year (2020), the Union raised a number of other challenges they are being faced with. These challenges, they asserted, make it testing for them to undertake their duties, especially now that COVID-19 has shaken Botswana’s already weak health system.

BONU expressed disappointment at nurses’ pay, nurses who tested positive for COVID-19 at an alarming rate, violence against nurses, nurses’ contracts which were never renewed and a poorly coordinated vaccination plan for health workers.

Clearly, nurses are not only battling the COVID-19 virus, but also government who has since refused to come to the party.

This week once again, BONU tested waters and slammed government with more demands, some of which have turned into an everyday song while COVID-19 continues to kill more nurses.

At a press conference on Tuesday, BONU President Rahube said over 800 nurses have been infected with COVID-19. Of this number, 34 nurses lost their lives due to COVID-19 related infections.

WHO and other health experts say for countries to emerge victorious from the COVID-19 pandemic, they must fast-track the roll out of vaccine. In Botswana, there is no clear explanations of how the vaccination plan is going.

The situation around vaccination is chaotic, and this is evidenced by only 28% of nurses who have been vaccinated. President Mokgweetsi Masisi is also disturbed by the COVAX programme as Botswana vaccines arrive in the country missing, every time.

Debates in Parliament on which vaccine to adopt are failing to conclude, in fact, they never gained energy. Rahube told members of the media that nurses are overworked.

“Shortage of nurses puts those available at risk. Some nurses are on isolation, quarantine and some passed on. Nurses do both testing and contact tracing so they end up working stretched hours, at times from 6am to 10pm. There is no how nurses will be able to deliver while exhausted,” he said.

He further indicated that infection control practitioners are not recognised and deployed appropriately, and some regions have shortage of commodities and supplies such as water resistant gowns (nurses are forced to re-use those availed), masks, gloves, scrubs and uniforms.

Oxygen supply is said to be in shortage, something that mounts COVID-19 deaths.

“Patients lose their lives whilst still awaiting to be put on oxygen. Psychological services are in serious need as nurses continue to lose their significant others, faced with resource constraints and many of them are not vaccinated,” said Rahube.

Accommodation still remains a huge challenge for nurses. BONU President said nurses overcrowd with families and colleagues.

In Kauxwi, four nurses share a single house, in Moshaweng two nurses share a single bedroomed house together with their families, with no electricity yet the village is powered. In Kazungula, there are only two staff houses for 11 nurses and their families.

The union stressed that the Chief Nursing Officer is not coming to the party, and the expectation is that the office should be coordinating all nursing issues at the Health Ministry. Rahube indicated that transfers have been frozen, promotions stalled and they continue to lose nursing posts to other Ministries.

In a number of recommendations, BONU urged government to consider compensation and risk allowance for staff affected by COVID-19 related deaths and those infected. “COVID-19 has been declared an occupational health illness, in essence, the employer should facilitate its occupational health division, and there are lots of occupational health nurses who are wrongly deployed, who could be running such programs at the facilities.”

In regard to vaccinations, BONU underlined that there should be clear information relating to vaccines and they should be made accessible. “Local franchise manufacturing of vaccine could use Botswana Vaccines Institute (BVI) and government should be clear and transparent concerning procurement of vaccines. It should also allow stakeholders with capacities of procuring vaccines to do so.”

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Gov’t reforms public procurement

4th August 2021
-Masisi-Serame

Government is moving swiftly to completely overhaul public procurement — a new Bill has been tabled before Parliament this week by Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Peggy Serame and is scheduled for debate in the coming days of the current parliament sitting. 

Through this Bill the country’s purse bearer seeks to dismantle existing public procurement pieces of legislation, transform, merge and form a new public procurement arrangement. The existing public procurement high command base — the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPDB) would cease to exist.

This organisation will transition and assume the reigns of a regulator and oversight authority; the actual procurement; floating of tenders, accepting bids, adjudicating and awarding tenders will be fully taken over by Government departments accounting officers.

Accounting officers are Permanent Secretaries and statutory organisation heads and directors or any person who is responsible for the administration and day-to-day management of the affairs of a procuring entity, and any other person, who may be designated as such by the Minister under the act.

Speaking to this Bill this week, Serame revealed that the current Public Procurement and Asset Disposal arrangement will be merged with the local authority’s procurement Act.

“We will now have procurement under one roof, all overseen by accounting officers, it’s all government money coming from one port,” she said.

Minister Serame explained that PPADB will no longer be player and referee at the same time, with a view to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the regulation and management of public procurement processes.

According to Minister Serame, the new public procurement Act will promote competition among suppliers and contractors, and also provide for the fair, equal and equitable treatment of all suppliers and contractors.

PUBLIC PROCUREMENT REGULATORY AUTHORITY 

Should parliament pass this bill the current Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) will transition into a new body called Public Procurement Regulatory Authority.

The new Authority will be  mandated with setting standards and practices for the public procurement system, regulate and control the public procurement system, ensure the application of fair, equitable, competitive, transparent, accountable, efficient, non-discriminatory, honest, value for money and public confidence in procurement standards and practices.

Furthermore the Authority will monitor and enforce compliance with the new Act and any relevant law by a procuring entity.

For standardization and  ensuring of world class procurement best practices the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority will  monitor, assess, review and report on the performance of the public procurement system to the Minister and advise on desirable changes, and further issue standardized bidding documents to all procuring entities

This oversight and procurement regulator will conduct periodic inspections of the records and proceedings of a procuring entity to ensure compliance with the Act.

The regulator will institute periodically, in respect of any procurement —a procurement audit during a tender process, a contract audit in the course of execution of an awarded tender, a performance audit after the completion of a contract, and an investigation at any stage of a procurement process.

The Authority will continue to keep and maintain an up-to-date register of contractors, known as the “Contractors’ Register”, in works, services and supplies, or any combination thereof, however classified.

The new Public Procurement Regulatory Authority will be governed by a board of nine (9) non-executive directors appointed by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development.

The Public Procurement Board will be charged with directing the affairs of the Authority. Day to day executive activities of the Public Procurement Authority will be run by a Chief Executive Officer who will be appointed by the Minister on the recommendation of the board.

PROCURING ENTITIES AND ACCOUNTING OFFICERS 

The actual procurement will now be handled by the Accounting Officers who will lead their procuring entities. The entities will consist of the procurement oversight unit, a procurement unit, an ad hoc Evaluation Committee, the user Department; or any other appropriate structure put in place by the Government.

The Accounting Officer will be in charge of establishment of appropriate procurement structures to undertake the procurement functions under the new act, which shall be staffed at an appropriate level in line with the model structure issued by the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority.

The Accounting Officer will also be charged with establishment, as may be prescribed, of a committee within a procuring entity which will oversee procurement activities, establishment, as may be prescribed, of an oversight committee to monitor procurement activities in a procuring entity.

The primary role of the Accounting Officers will be adjudication and award of tenders, including the adjudication of a bid recommendation submitted to him/her through a procurement oversight unit.

The Accounting officer will have powers to cancel a tender process and reject a tender offer at any time prior to entering into a contract, in the manner as may be prescribed, and the Accounting Officer shall not compensate the bidder of a tender that has been cancelled.

Under this proposed Act new set of regulations and guidelines will direct procurement complaints and appeals.

COMPLAINTS & TENDER DISPUTES

A procuring entity  will, after the publication of an award decision — allow a cooling-off period of 10 days in order for the procuring entity to receive and address complaints, if any, from any contractor who is aggrieved by the award decision; and not enter into a contract relating to the award before the expiration of a cooling period.

A contractor who is aggrieved by a breach of any provision of this Act or claims to have suffered or is likely to suffer loss or damages due to a breach of a duty imposed on a procuring entity shall, at the first instance, lodge a complaint before an Accounting Officer for review.

A contractor who lodges a complaint shall have the right to participate in the review proceedings before an Accounting Officer. A contractor who fails to participate in the review proceedings shall be barred from subsequently lodging the same complaint.

Under this proposed Act an Accounting Officer will not entertain a complaint after a contract has entered into force. After considering a complaint and determining that the complaint is a frivolous or vexatious complaint, Accounting Officer shall dismiss such complaint.

Notwithstanding subsection (1), an Accounting Officer may refer a complaint considered and determined to be frivolous or vexatious to the Tribunal for the Tribunal to take any appropriate action as may be prescribed.

An aggrieved person shall submit his or her complaint in writing to an Accounting Officer within 10 days from the date of the publication of an award decision by the Accounting Officer, relating to the complaint.

The Accounting Officer will not entertain a complaint unless it is submitted to him/her within the period referred to under subsection.

A contractor who is aggrieved by a decision of an Accounting Officer may appeal to the Tribunal within 14 days from the date of the decision of the Accounting Officer.

Where a contract has been concluded by a procuring entity, based on an award decision of an Accounting Officer, the contract shall be irrevocable and its execution shall proceed without interruption whether the award decision by the Accounting Officer may in itself remain disputable by a contractor through the Tribunal.

Notwithstanding subsection (5), the Tribunal may suspend and subsequently revoke or terminate the execution of a contract if in the opinion of the Tribunal, sufficient evidence has been adduced to demonstrate that the execution of the contract may cause substantial loss to the public revenue or prejudicially affect public interest.

A complainant who wishes to lodge a complaint shall exhaust the dispute resolution processes provided in this Act before the complainant refers the complaint to a court.

PUBLIC PROCUREMENT TRIBUNAL 

The Tribunal will be a body established independently from Public Procurement Regulatory Authority, and shall constitute retired High Court judges or practicing attorneys who qualify to appoint high court judge.

The Tribunal shall adjudicate over any matter brought before it by a complainant for a breach of any of the provisions of this Act, or any appeal brought in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

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COVID-19 hits hard on BITC

4th August 2021
BITC

The COVID-19 pandemic which weakened world economies had left a devastating impact on Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) existence in 2020. According to the group’s 2019/2020 Annual Report, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) was sluggish for the first two quarters at P126 million and P426.96 million respectively. They then took an upward trajectory in Q3 and 4 at P1396 million and P1456 million respectively.

The year closed with a reduced performance at 73% for Q4. According to the financial report, export earnings opened the year at 83% which is approximately P671 million, before dropping to 81% (P1299.55 million). However, Quarter 3 experienced a slight rise in performance to 82%, or P1978.42 million before a drop in performance to close Quarter 4 at P74.9%, which was P2403.91 million.

Even if that is the case, the Centre continued to promote local investors by facilitating for local entrepreneurs to produce and find markets for their products both locally and internationally. The trend for Domestic Investment/Expansions indicated a continual upward performance surge from Quarter 1 through Quarter 4.

In percentage points, performance results reflected opening of 93% performance followed by a dip in performance to 82% Quarter 2, and then an increase to 100% in Quarter 3 and closing performance of 84.2% in Quarter 4.

For this financial year under review, BITC posted solid financial results with a surplus of P872.968, representing a decline from the previous year’s surplus of P13.991.337. The Centre started on track from the beginning of the financial year with successful execution of activities planned for the year.

However, following the subsequent onset of COVID-19 in the last quarter for the financial year, a few of the activities were negatively affected resulting from restricted cross border transfers. The impact is expected to be severe in the following financial year, especially on the Centre’s financial statements, clearly reflecting the negative impact of COVID-19.

In the financial year ended March 2020, BITC received a total subvention of P96.504.860 which represents a 5% decrease from the previous year’s subvention of P101.830.560. the Grant subvention received for the past 5 years has not been constant due to the financial constraints that the government has experienced over the years which prompted for alignment of financial resources to cover the Centre’s strategic imperatives.

For the year under review BITC’s annual FDI capital inflows realised stood at P1.456 billion against an annual target of P2 billion, which is largely attributable to more than expected performance from the Financial Services sector. The total Domestic Investment for the period was P875.5 million against the set stretched target of P952 million. The total number of jobs registered by the organisation during the year under review was 3329, against an annual target of 3340.

BITC ACHIEVEMENTS

Notwithstanding that, BITC realised high level achievements for the year under review. Chief Executive Officer Keletsositse Olebile said facilitated to establish the Selibe-Phikwe citrus project, which has a job creation expectation of 1000 vacancies as well as the expansion of Kromberg and Shubert Company through the allocation of land for construction of 7000 square metres factory to manufacture wire harness for Mercedes Benz, with over 800 jobs expected this year.

Further, the Centre continued to deliver improved investor facilitation services to both local and foreign investors through the Botswana one Stop service centre (BOSSC). “BOSSC houses relevant government departments under one roof to provide prompt, efficient and transparent services to investors. The services offered by this Centre have grown from slightly above 130 applications for government authorisation in 2013 to 752 in the year under review,” said Olebile.

BITC continued to monitor Botswana’s performance in global competitiveness indicators such as the World Bank’s ease of Doing Business Index. “In an endeavour to improve the investor facilitation mechanism in the country, we have motivated for the drafting of a Business Facilitation Law, which will expedite the setting up and operations of businesses in Botswana.”

ECONOMIC DIVERSIFICATION DRIVE

BITC continued to respond to government’s call to stimulate direct investment and growth of local companies by procuring goods and services from locally based manufactures and services providers. The message to promote locals to actively grow the national economy has been driven through campaigns such as ‘PushaBW’ which utilised an Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) approach. As at March 2020, local purchases constituted 84% (2019:85%) of the total procurement with foreign purchases at 16% (2019:15%).

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