Newly elected President of Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU),Thatayoane Mokhurutshe has said that the working class should unsettle the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) at the 2019 general elections in a bid to strengthen their bargaining power.
In an exclusive interview with this publication this week, the youthful trade union activist said BLLAHWU, an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPPPUSU), will have a clearly defined role as the 2019 general elections approach.
“Trade union politics and mainstream politics are inseparable,” he said, “We need to raise political consciousness and have the working class have their voice heard by the public.” Mokhurutshe said people who continue to sponsor the diatribe on those who engage in issues of national politics are those who enjoy the support of the employers, and are doing so at the detriment of the workers.
Born only 32 years ago in Serowe, Mokhurutshe reminisce his early childhood days which led him to pursue the path that he has taken. His uncle, Montwedi Mokhurutshe cultivated the trade union and politics activism in him. He also called to mind his History teacher at Moeng College, Mr Buti, whom he credits for teaching him history in a passionate manner.
“These two people have influence in the path that I have taken. Learning history provoked something in me and also had major influence in shaping my consciousness,” he recalls. From Moeng College, Mokhurutshe found himself entangled in the rowdy student politics at University of Botswana (UB) where he was pursuing Bachelor of Adult Education, specialising in Community Development. He would find himself on the side of MASS-BNF, a Botswana National Front (BNF) structure in the university.
During his era at the university, he served for three years as MASS-BNF Secretary General in the Student Representative Council (SRC). He learned the art of militancy, taking the forefront in students protest and was involved in the infamous “David Olatotswe Strike” in which students vandalised property in a violent protest. At the centre of controversy were the book shop and the refectory saga.
In the aftermath, the university was closed as a result of growing violence from the protesting students. A few years down the line, Mokhurutshe was at the forefront of another strike, this time around at national level in the BOFEPUSU (now BOFEPPPUSU) 2011 Mother of all strikes.
After graduating from the UB, he was employed by government under Local Government, where he was based in Kanye. “I was never recruited to join the union. The first day at work I asked where I can find the membership forms,” recalls Mokhurutshe, “I immediately joined and appointed myself shop steward at work.”
He would find himself at the thick of the things during the 2011 public servant strike and credits himself as a great organizer. Using his own Nissan vehicle, he took a leading role in mobilising and organising the workers during the entire strike period which lasted for nearly three months.
In 2014 he was elected the Chairman of Kanye Branch, which he says he led with distinction. “I fought for workers at the work place, and I have always been passionate about defending employees in disciplinary hearings,” he said. “We had 14 cases which I participated in and we only lost one.”
In 2015, Mokhurutshe jetted out of the country to pursue a post graduate Degree at Global Labour University. The scholarship was sponsored by the university and the Brazil government. While at college he kept in contact with his comrades in Botswana. It was during this tenure that he was requested by various structures to accept the responsibility of taking charge of BLLAHWU leadership. Having declined the same offers previously, he accepted this time around.
Upon his return in 2016, he solicited for support in union structures. With his track record in the union, and a hailed organiser, it was not surprising when in December last year he ascended to the helm of the union. He was elected the president of the union, with 174 votes, beating Bernard Moseru who garnered 126. Mokhurutshe replaced Disang Mokwape who did not defend his position.
VISION FOR BLLAHWU
Mokhurutshe said BLLAHWU has always distinguished itself as a vanguard of the working class and has remained one of the most militant unions in the country; torch bearer of progressive politics and is leaning to the left. During his tenure, BLLAHWU will continue to mount campaigns against privatisation which has lead to many public servants losing their jobs.
“The employer is capitalist and has the tendency of exploiting workers,” he said. Mokhurutshe spoke against trade unions’ obsession with business ventures as he expressed that “It’s not primary role of the trade unions.” He described it as “Business Trade Unionism’’ or “Yellow Unionism” and blamed it for loss of focus for unions in their primary mandate which is to defend the welfare and rights of the working class.
“Unions should invest to finance the struggle and besides that it will be a loss of focus for unions. Workers will lose if unions do that,” he remarked. He said under his leadership he will embark on extensive membership drive and expand the scope of BLLAWHU membership and include others which were not catered for in the past. BLLAWHU initially focused on health workers, local government employees and land board employees. Presently, BLLAHWU membership stands at over 13000. Mokhurutshe said since returning from the elective congress, BLLAWHU is united and the departure of dissidents has helped bring peace in the union.
ON BOFEPPPUSU TOWARDS 2019
In December, affiliates of BOFEPPPUSU met and took radical resolutions, among them to mobilise its members in preparation for the highly anticipated 2019 general elections. BOFEPPPUSU, which threw its weight behind the opposition coalition, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in 2014 general election has been at odds with government for some time now. Their battles have been defined by endless court battles.
Mokhurutshe is of the view that, BOFEPPPUSU and its affiliates are within their right in determining who governs the country in the next elections. He said unions should also look for leaders who are pro-workers. According to him, the worker’s resentment against the current regime is caused by income disparities. He said government has failed to deal with public service salary disparities and failed to utilise its resources for the economy to reach full employment.
“We cannot be spectators in our own economy. Highest income inequality is not natural, it is created by government through its policies,” he said. While government always prefers increment which is a fixed percentage across the board, Mokhurutshe prefers a pyramid structure in which the lowest earning employees will get a bigger increment while highest earning will get a lesser increment.
Botswana remains one of most unequal societies in the world, with salaries in public service attesting to that. Those in the lower structure can get away with a paltry increment of P37 while the top earners will walk away with as much as P1100. Mokhurutshe affirmed that BLLAHWU remains a committed member of BOFEPPPUSU and in the lead to 2019 general elections, its role will be clearly defined. “Government is under pressure hence the decisions they have been making recently, but as workers we do not realise the enormous power that we possess,” he stated.
“BOFEPPPUSU will remain resilient and we will not limit our bargaining power.” Even though Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) has de-affiliated from BOFEPPPUSU, Mokhurutshe remains confident that the federation is still intact and influential.
“The withdrawal of BOPEU is of course something not to be celebrated, but BOFEPPPUSU remains strong. We still have good leaders such as Rari [Tobokani], Motshwarakgole [Johnson] and Motshegwa [Ketlhalefile] and others who were at the forefront during the 2011 public servant strike,” he said.
Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review indicates that Botswana will fail to meet some of its Vision 2036 targets, particularly unemployment reduction and reaching high-income status.
The report says this is mainly due to the slow economic growth that the country is currently experiencing. This Quarterly Economic Review focuses on the 2020 Budget Speech.
The first paper reviews the entire budget with its key observations being that this budget is prepared as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act; the priorities it seeks to address are drawn from Vision 2036 and the eleventh
The 2020 budget Speech, which was the maiden speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, and the first after the 2019 general elections, was delivered to Parliament on the 4th of February 2020.
It has been well received by the labour unions, business community, and the public at large as well as international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
It mainly derived its support from key facets including, emphasis on changing the business-as-usual approach to development; outlining the transformation agenda; fiscal reform that minimizes the negative impact on economic development and human welfare, competiveness and the decision to implement the 2019 negotiated and agreed public sector.
The budget’s progress review shows that economic growth was consistent with the NDP 11 projections, with growth of around 4 percent. At this growth rate, the country would neither ascend to a high-income status nor reduce unemployment towards the Vision 2036 target of a single digit.
Simple calculations of this review confirm that the economy will need to grow the Vision 2036’s target of 6 percent over the next 16 years for per capita income to increase from around USD 8,000.00 to above USD 12,000.00 in current prices.
Further, the population is anticipated to grow by only 2 percent per annum.
For this reason, the focal areas for the forthcoming FY’s budget include measures to increase economic growth towards an average of 6 percent per annum.
Economic diversification is reportedly progressing fairly well. The report says, the share of the non-mining private sector in value added has risen to 66 percent in 2018 from to 63 percent in 2015.
The sectoral pattern of growth showed that the performance of services sector (particularly transport & communications, trade, hotels & restaurants, and finance & business services) has been the silver lining and that of mining sector was subdued whilst the utility sector disappointed.
The drive towards the service sector of the economy, especially to low-productivity activities (tourism, public administration, wholesaling and retailing) does not bode well for the country’s development aspirations.
In the previous versions of this Quarterly Review, it was noted that there is need for the rethinking of economic diversification. Since the country’s domestic market is small, it is inevitable that economic diversification not only focus on broadening the product mix, but also the composition of exports and markets.
This understanding of economic diversification has not been embraced by this year’s budget. Consequently, Botswana’s exports are still overwhelmingly diamonds, which means that the rest of economic sectors are still highly dependent on foreign-exchange earnings from diamonds. Thus, “the transformation programme requires a review of the country’s entire ecosystem”.
The budget review of the economic context also depicts that an economy with positive medium-term prospects, with growth expected to recover to 4.4 percent in 2020 from the expected growth of 36 percent in 2019 largely due to faster growth of services sectors and, thereafter, to slow-down to 4 percent in 2021.
These projected growth rates are comparable to those of the IMF staff’s baseline scenario of 4.2 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2021. Thus, the business-as-usual scenario produces growth rates that are still too low to achieve Botswana’s development objectives and create enough jobs to absorb the new entrants into the labour market.
Trade tensions between the two major markets for diamond exports, viz., the United States of America and China, is one of the factors that are cited as contributing to, indeed, undermining not only the domestic growth, but also the fiscal position.
Another notable downside risk to both global and domestic growth is outbreak of the coronavirus in China around January 2020. This has been declared as a global health emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Chinese authorities have ordered city lockdowns and extended holidays, of course, at the expense of near- term economic growth, according to the new Stanbic Bank Botswana report.
According to Nomura Holdings Inc., fewer migrant workers returned for work than in previous years and business activities have been slow to pick up. The havoc wreaked by the virus on the world’s second largest economy is likely to spill over to the global economy. In fact, it has resulted in a glut in crude oil and, thereby placed oil markets into a contango, i.e., a market structure where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts.
It also presents significant risks one of Botswana’s main drivers of economic growth, diversification and foreign exchange earnings. According to the Financial Times (February 13, 2020), Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018. Regardless of whether the growth materializes, the projected domestic growth rate would not transform the economy to a high-income one.
Progress towards reduction of unemployment, to a target of single digit, and poverty and achieving inclusive growth has also been relatively slow, the Stanbic Bank Botswana Review says.
Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MOPAGPA) has through the Office of the President (OP) proposed to avail Orapa House for use by private training institutions as well as research institutions involved in the area of technology development.
For a very long time the monumental building located in the heart of the city has been a white elephant, despite government purchasing it for nearly P80 million from De Beers in 2012.
However, government has now identified a productive use for the iconic building. “The overall vision is for the building to be transformed into a hub for digital technology research and development to be carried-out by institutions, such as; Limkokwing University, BIUST, BITRI and other relevant stakeholders.”
The decision was taken as government traverse a new path of transforming the economy from a mineral led economy to a knowledge based economy through the promotion of research and innovation. However, the facility will need major maintenance to be carried-out in order to meet the requirements of the proposed change in use.
“The work will include provision of laboratories, work stations, production areas and seminar rooms; audio visual centre, high speed internet connectivity, exhibition areas and offices,” reads the proposal note for the development.
These developments will be done through the refurbishment and maintenance of the main building, workshop, and ablution block, gate house, parking area, grounds, and access control and security service.
“There will be minimal modifications to the structure as it stands. The project is estimated to cost approximately P50, 000, 000,” says the report. In this regard, it is said, the initial scope of the OP facility will be modified to accommodate the envisaged digital technology research and development hub.
With funds needed to improve the building, OP has requested that; “the 2020/21 annual budget provision for Orapa House will need to be increased by P37,500,000 from P2,500,000 to P40,000,000 to kick start the maintenance works.” Funds will be sourced from the projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19 protocols during the 2020/21 financial year.
The building has been a thorny issue for government for years. Initially, OP was expected to move there but the move never materialised. At one point it was a question of whether the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development were planning to override a decision by Parliament which rejected the proposal to buy Orapa House under the belief that government may be buying its own property. The building was to be bought at a negotiated cost of P79 million.
Again in 2012, Government had wanted to buy Orapa House for a negotiated P79m but the Finance and Estimates Committee of Parliament had rejected the request because of the inconsistencies realised in the supporting documents of the proposed procurement. The valuation of the building was put at P74 million.
The Ministry of Lands and Housing had initially offered De Beers P73, 000,000 as the purchase price. However, De Beers countered with P85, 000,000. On negotiation and converging of the minds, the selling price was finally agreed at P79, 000,000.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele, has expressed discontentment at the worrying and deteriorating state of brigades in the country.
In an audit inspection which was carried out at Tshwaragano Brigade in Gabane, a number of observations showed weaknesses and shortcomings in the conduct of the financial affairs of the institution.
According to Letebele’s report, former students of the brigade had been engaged to carry out maintenance works on the school premises, comprising of painting, tiling, plumbing and electrical works, which covered the period from July 2017 to June 2018.
Although the agreed maintenance period had elapsed, the works had not been completed because of unavailability of funds and this situation had persisted up till the time of inspection in November 2019.
Auditor General says arrangements should have been made in time for funds to be available to complete these relatively minor works even before the works commenced.
Various contractors had been engaged for clearing the bush and for the supply of concrete stones, pit and river sand and hiring equipment for digging the trench towards the construction of an auto mechanics workshop, the report said.
It stated that the cost of services and supplies provided totalled P117 949.80. However, despite the services and the supplies having been paid for, the construction works had not commenced for a long period afterwards, resulting in the trench filling back in.
The audit inquiries had not elicited satisfactory responses as both the institution and the Ministry had not accepted the responsibility for the project, although orders for the provision for the supplies had been made. For their part, the Ministry had stated that they had sub warranted funds for the purchase of porta cabins.
Letebele indicated that it is therefore confusing that a project which is critical to the functioning of an institution such as this one would commence without a well-defined plan.
Furthermore, the accounting and maintenance of records for the supplies items were not of the standard prescribed by the Supplies Regulations and Procedures in that the supplies ledger cards, the main accounting records for Government assets, were not properly maintained for the recording of receipts and issues.
This had resulted in significant discrepancies between physical and ledger balances, while in other instances the supplies items had not been recorded at all.
The report says 24 of the 91 new computers found in the computer laboratory at Kumakwane ABC campus were not recorded anywhere, as were the other computers in the storeroom which could not be counted due to the disorderly storage conditions.
The institution had entered into a contract agreement with a security company for the provision of security services at Tshwaragano Brigade, ABC and Horticulture campuses at Kumakwane for a 2-year period which ended in June 2018, WeekendPost learnt.
After the contract expired in June 2018, an extension was granted till the 30th September 2018. Since then, there has been no security service coverage for the institution to-date. According to Auditor General, in the face of prevailing crimes, it is of paramount importance that government properties be protected by provision of security services at all times.
At Tlokweng Brigade, it was noted that the kitchen staff were working under difficult conditions as the kitchen facilities and equipment, such as the cold room, tilting pot, food warmers and solar power for hot water were dysfunctional. The kitchen roof was leaking and men’s restrooms was not working. All these need to be brought to a reasonable and functional state of repair.
The kitchen staff should use a purpose-designed Rations Ledger for the recording of receipts and issues of foodstuffs to reflect the usage of those items. As far back as 2014 the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services had found that the house occupied by the bursar was uninhabitable on account of structural defects, the report said.
A site visit during the audit had established that the house was indeed unfit for occupation as there were cracks on the walls, power switches were not working and the roof was leaking. On a sadder note, there were a number of finished items of clothing, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets from students’ practical exercises from the Fashion Design Textiles Workshop.
Auditor General shared her take on this, saying: “I have not been able to ascertain the policy on the disposal of products from these practicals. A trace of 103 green acid-proof overalls which had been purchased in August 2018 had indicated that there was no record of these items having been recorded or issued, nor were they available in stock. I was not able to obtain any explanation for this situation.”
Kgatleng brigade was also audited and inspected by Auditor General who observed that the brigade has 26 institutional houses at Bokaa, both old campus and new campus. Some of these houses are very old and dilapidated, with two declared uninhabitable. The condition of the houses is a clear indication of lack of care and maintenance of these properties.
At the time of the audit, there was no contractor engaged for the provision of security guard services at the new campus, after expiry of the previous one in July 2019. It is hoped that steps would be taken to safeguard the security of the premises and government properties against any acts of hooliganism.
In August 2019, there was a break-in at the electrical and at the plumbing maintenance workshops and a number of high value items, such as drilling machines, bolt cutters, spanners and cables, were stolen. The break-in and theft were reported to the police.
“However, at the time of writing this report I was not aware of the outcome of the police investigation, nor of any loss report submitted in terms of the Supplies Regulations and Procedures,” Letebele said.