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Motsamai’s legacy divides opinions

Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU)’s outgoing President; Andrew Motsamai’s role in trade unionism has divided opinions from detractors and admirers alike. Motsamai will leave the BOPEU presidency to head the commercial wing of the union in March this year.


Moeti Mohwasa, Secretary General of Botswana National Front (BNF) remarked that although Motsamai and BNF had a few differences, both believed in the uplifting of workers.“That is one thing that we shared. He did not believe that trade unions should endorse political parties.

But we strongly believed that trade unions should endorse political movements which share the same vision as theirs,” he and added that, “As the Secretary General of BOFEPUSU he was able to lead workers during the 2011 public servants strike in which the workers were able to exercise their right of withdrawing their labour. We believe the right to strike is a fundamental tool for workers to use to bargain for better working conditions and Motsamai helped the workers in doing that.”


Mohwasa added that Motsamai was part of the Botswana Federation of Public Private and Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPPPUSU then BOFEPUSU) team which helped found the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) together with Johnson Motshwarakgole after the collapse of the initial talks.


“We met as BNF at Oasis Motel where he shared with us the need for opposition parties to work together which ultimately led to the formation of UDC though without Botswana Congress Party (BCP). Other than the little differences we had, we shared a common goal on the issues of the plight of workers.”


However, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) Secretary General, Botsalo Ntuane who described the relationship between his party and outgoing BOPEU president as cordial, has praised Motsamai’s decision to lead BOPEU out of the BOFEPPPUSU federation, as he noted that it was a wise decision.


“We worked well and enjoyed cordial relations with Comrade Motsamai and we hope to maintain the same with his successor and BOPEU at large. Most importantly, we admire him for being part of the BOPEU collective decision to withdraw the union from partisan politics. Our position as the BDP is that unions should not align with political parties because that only serves to divide the membership and subordinates the welfare and interests of workers to partisan agendas,” he said


Ntuane further contended that BOPEU’s withdrawal “was a courageous decision in a union environment characterised by intimidation and intolerance of diverse views. No less important and in testimony to the visionary he is, Comrade Motsamai and his team invested BOPEU time and resources from self serving partisan politics to creating a viable commercial arm meant to improve the livelihood of members. We wish him well and even better success in his new endeavours. Indeed for those with eyes and can see, Comrade Motsamai is possibly a man for the future.”


Meanwhile Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) parliamentary caucus spokesperson and Gaborone Central legislator, Dr Phenyo Butale, expressed disappointment at Motsamai’s decision to pull BOPEU out of BOFEPPPUSU, saying that it defeated the purpose of a strong and united labour movement.


“We have always engaged all players and we believe workers are an important part of our democracy. We have at times solicited ideas from him on issues of labour but one cannot overlook the fact that they were divisions in the labour movements at the time he was at the helm,” he stated.


Butale’s added that, “We believe this happened at a time when workers needed to be more united than ever. You will recall the 3 percent salary increment in which the other segment of the workers accepted while others fought for something better. We had fundamental differences because we believed nobody should be a spectator and there is a need for trade unions to be involved in the political game but he believed otherwise. Our relationship with him was cordial but had its own challenges because of the divisions in the labour movements.”


Motsamai, who came to power in 2007 was part of the transformation that ushered in the new BOPEU. BOPEU started as staff association as far back as 1942, and then known as Bechuanaland Protectorate Junior Civil Service Association. It later in the 1960s merged with Bechuanaland Protectorate European Senior Civil Service Association to establish Bechuanaland Civil Service Association (BCSA), which after independence, transformed into the Botswana Civil Service Association.


The association went through another transformation process in the 1990s’ when it was now called Botswana Civil Servants Association. In 2007, the association attained Trade Union status, thus giving birth to BOPEU.


BOPEU LEADERSHIP


When Motsamai ascended to the presidency of the newly formed union in 2007, BOPEU had barely 15 000 members, but almost a decade later, the membership stands at more than 32 000, more than 100 percent growth. Perhaps the most significant and also controversial is the transformation of BOPEU’s commercial wing which has paid dividends.   BOPEU’s assets base grew from P10 million in 2008 to P120 million currently, an achievement Motsamai has stated he is proud of.BOPEU has however come under fire often times for its commercialisation route, as many view it as trailing outside of trade unionism whose core mandate is to advocate for workers’ rights and welfare.


SECRETARY GENERAL OF BOFEPPPUSU


Motsamai was the secretary general of BOFEPUSU (now BOFEPPPUSU) when the federation resolved to go on the infamous ‘mother of all strikes’ in 2011. The aftermath of the strike was a broken relationship between government and the unions, expulsion of over 700 public servants and the birth of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).


FORMATION OF UDC


Motsamai is often credited with having played a role in the formation of opposition coalition, UDC, which comprised of; Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP). During the 2011 public servants strike, BOFEPUSU leadership had promised to rally behind opposition, provided they contested as one entity.

 

The 100 000 membership of BOFEPPUSU made a compelling case. However the talks soon collapsed. Motsamai was instrumental in resuscitating the talks, meeting the leadership of both political parties in order to convince them to reverse their earlier decision. All opposition parties save for Botswana Congress Party (BCP), which was part of the initial talks agreed to return to the negotiation table. The end result was the formation of the UDC.


BOPEU WITHDRAWAL FROM BOFEPPPUSU
 

The relationship between BOPEU and other BOFEPPPUSU affiliates hit an all time low when the former refused to be part of the resolution that endorsed UDC ahead of the 2014 general elections. BOPEU reasoned that it did not have a mandate to do so while other affiliates opined that having helped found UDC, they had moral obligation to support it. The fall-out set in motion a chain of events which led to the departure of BOPEU from BOFEPPPUSU. The resolution was reached by a majority at the 2015 BOPEU congress. Since then BOPEU and BOFEPPPUSU have been at loggerheads, the latest being a contention over who was eligible to be part of the bargaining council between the two unions.

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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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