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Botswana Government goes viral to worker’s rights

The country enclosed in Southern Africa, with a tiny population of estimated two million inhabitants and better known for its diamonds exploits, with a history of Africa’s shinning democracy appears to regress from its gains since attaining independence in 1966.

The tranquillity and harmony that prevailed in Botswana is customarily derived from the prism of the old Tswana adage that vernacularly runs, “Ntwa kgolo ke ya molomo.” That means Batswana treasured freedom of expression which afforded everyone the liberty to articulate their views without hesitation. Currently Batswana, particularly public service employees are not free to express divergent views because of the State’s Big-brother supremacy.


In 1997 Botswana government ratified international labour standards to promote worker’s rights and welfare. Amongst the domesticated international laws are conventions 87 and 98, which gave workers the latitude to congregate with assemblages of their choice and the freedom to collectively bargain for better conditions of workers and salary negotiations. The move prompted trade unions to play a significant part in advocating for worker’s rights and conditions of service. However, the government played no part in sensitising workers about these conventions, and therefore, workers organisations had to fend for themselves.


Additionally, major feat witnessed the government of Botswana enacting a progressive Public Service Act (PSA) of 2008, which amongst the advanced articles of the act gave trade unions a leeway to engage in a legal strike. This witnessed Botswana Federation of Public Service Trade Union (BOFEPUSU) engaging in an epic national strike that lasted for three months in 2011 over salary increment dispute.

 

PSA of 2008 had another progressive article which afforded trade unions bargaining power to discuss issues affecting and afflicting workers bordering on conditions of service and salary negotiations. Chief among the articles was the one affording workers collective bargaining rights by establishing the National Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC).


National PSBC gave workers through their representation hope that conditions of their service would be discussed in a legally recognised establishment. The government and workers representation at the National PSBC had equal representation though government representatives always had hegemonic power because they mainly negotiated in bad faith.

 

Trade Unions representation could always move from their initial demands but the other party never shook from their positions. The major achievement of workers representatives that will go down in the history of Botswana PSBC was the attainment of public service housing allowance. Though it is minimal the government acceded to the reasons advanced by the workers representatives. The workers representation also pushed for workers to be fully salaried while on study leave, which was never the case before.


The establishment of the PSBC strengthened trade unions and workers consciousness grew tremendously. In times of salary standoffs trade unions’ picketed workers and moved around the country informing members of PSBC talks. More workers started to learn about their rights and trade unions became stronger because they articulated issues that prompted workers associate.

 

When the government technocrats realised that Bofepusu has grown in leaps and bounds they orchestrated the scheme to destroy the federation and make it irrelevant. PSBC was mainly targeted since the government rightly observed that the forum was the main source of strength of the federation. They came up with legal reforms to amend the Public Service Act to weaken trade union bargaining leverage in the PSBC. The following captured summations are some of the amended laws which are intended to cripple trade unions:


Only Public Officers can be representatives of trade unions admitted to the PSBC. Previously trade unions had freedom to choose their bargaining representatives without the interference of the government. Trade unions could hire academia, professionals and university dons to represent them on specific issues of discussion. They could as well invite trade union employees who brought immense knowledge and expertise to the bargaining council. Since public service trade unions have financial muscle they also poached experts from the government to counteract the regime’s moves. The government then formulated this draconian law to curtail workers power.


The recognition will entitle a union to one seat at the PSBC. Bofepusu is the only federation in the public sector with legal bargaining rights in the country. It has four affiliates and it means that each trade union will bring a single representative, basically one representation in an Acting Jointly Arrangement (AJA) model. The model allows trade unions to form a coalition for purposes of bargaining provided one of the parties meets the employer’s threshold. Previously trade union representatives were eight in number with an additional observer team. This entitlement should be left to the constitution of the PSBC to determine the scope of representation, which must be a consensus of both the employer and workers organisations.


The government can confer a benefit to an employee notwithstanding ongoing negotiations. This move intends to divide trade unions as the government may award salary increment or any other benefit despite ongoing salary talks. The government may award the benefits in the pretext that workers need increment notwithstanding ongoing negotiations.

 

The government recently awarded a unilateral paltry salary increment to workers, which Bofepusu took the matter to court for overruling PSBC. The decision has since been rescinded as the case went into Bofepusu favour. Now the PSBC has strengthened workers hegemony, that ultimately angered the government and it reacted by altering the PSA draconian articles to pass into new law.


The Secretariat of the PSBC shall be the Director of Public Service Management and under the supervision of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Administration. The duty of the General Secretary encompasses the administrative running of the council. Amazingly, it also gives the Minister the powers to appoint the Chairperson and the deputy of the Council. The decision to adjust this clause is solely to appoint government stooges who will work on commands and under full supervision of government enclave. Previously the PSBC Secretariat was appointed by the consensus of both the employer and employees.


That disputes or appeals thereto, between public officers and the employer will be referred to the Commissioner of labour in terms of the Trade Dispute Act, 2003 instead of the PSBC. This was another great law that has since been regrettably amended. The PSBC could attend to disputes referred as appeals and the matter viewed with two lenses by both parties. To give the Commissioner the powers to preside over the appeal is regressive because he is a government employee working under direct supervision of the Minister of Labour. Trade union activists targeted by the employer may not have fair hearings given the position of the Commissioner.


Every trade union recognised under this Act may, at the Government’s discretion, be entitled to have authorised representatives of a union who are public officers granted access to Government’s premises for purposes of recruiting members, or holding meetings. Trade union employees normally working as organisers will be barred from entering government premises for purposes of organising.

 

Trade union Organisers are employed on permanent basis to help solidify trade unions structures run effectively. Experience has shown that trade union organisers immensely contribute to edifying organisations because they are chiefly on the ground. Surprisingly, the employer may also impose frequency of visits, duration of interacting with members and control places of convening meetings. This is crystal clear that the government is all out to stifle trade unions organise effectively. Accounting offices in various government offices may celebrate the coming in of this draconian bill to subject workers to servitude.


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. Botswana’s trade unions mainly are economic trade union type, basically business unionism. The unions tend to operate as commercial entities, rather than member-driven organisations. Often unions are financially dependent on income generated by deals on discounted retail goods and services.

 

Sometimes unions partner with business entities for economic burgeoning. The motive is to augment union finances in the endeavour to assisting members meet their needs. At present, majority of Botswana Unions have respectively a Thrift and Loan Scheme for its members. The government move intends to close capital channels for trade unions since they could use capital to sponsor political parties advocating for workers agenda.


The motive of the bill is a clear war waged against Botswana public service employees, primarily BOFEPUSU. The scheme anticipates closing down bargaining council, as well as trade unions by enacting retrogressive objects. Steps used by the regime to close trade unions may temporarily work for the State, but it would be short-lived because the era of rogue and uncompromising governments is over.

 

Progressive governments have gained centre-stage, as collectivism, patriotism, democracy and freedom are tenets of good governance. Regrettably, these new bills conspicuously omit these critical national doctrines. These objects do not even come closer to our national principles which are democracy, unity, development and self-realise.
 

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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022
piracy

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Opinions

Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022
Craig-Cloud

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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