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University of Botswana: a university facing an existential and identity crises and yearning for reform

A lot has been said and written in the media about the University of Botswana (UB) of recent, especially prior to and after the recent closure of the University that lasted for about one month.

The decision to close the University came from the Chairman of the governing Council of the University. Most, if not all, of what was in the media was blame game, character assassination and an over simplification of the recurrent problems at the institution. Consequently, the media missed an opportunity to take a comprehensive analysis of the problems at UB by going beyond finger pointing and name calling and became part of the problem. The student riot that led to the closure of UB was nothing but a symptom of bigger malaise at UB.

 

Therefore while closing UB, appointing an acting Vice Chancellor (VC), and forming a committee to find a replacement for the former VC who resigned out of frustration with stakeholders, were all necessary, they are insufficient in themselves as far as finding a lasting solution to the problems at UB.  Reactive measures instead of a more comprehensive analyses and understanding of the situation will only perpetuate the problems.


Just like the media missed the opportunity to critically analyse the situation, the government through its Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology missed the opportunity to comprehensively analyse and advise government on the way forward. UB is a flagship University for which Botswana as a country and Batswana as a people have a big stake and have invested in heavily. It is therefore in the interest of government to see to it that it is well managed to provide the required human resources to drive the economic development of the country.

 

The problems of UB have grown dire over the past decade or so. The scope of the problems can be categorised as structural (poor policy framework), leadership (lack of visionary leadership at all levels and by all stakeholders), human capital (incompetent and poor human resources), poor funding (funding crunch), and poor discipline (irresponsible and ill-discipline of students and staff). Permit me to examine these problems one by one.


The policy framework, which was set in place by the then Vice Chancellor Profs Sharon Siverts and Bojosi Otlhogile, was premised on the assumption that UB should be run based on a business or corporate model. The basic conception of the business or corporate model is driven, often, by short term profits. Usually, vision and mission statements and strategic goals are myopic and do not capture long-term additive and multiplicative value of education.

 

As Prof Mahamood Mamdani (1993) would put it, a university is not a business venture. It is more of an infrastructure comparable to a bridge, power station or a road. Returns on such investments are not measured only in monetary terms. The returns are not only economic or quantitative but are social as well as qualitative and often unquantifiable and unmeasurable Mamdani (1993).


To enhance efficiency, so Profs Sharon Siverts and Bojosi Otlhogile believed, they created about 20 directorates, each with a director, deputy director, assistant directors, secretaries and office attendants. Directors are paid at the level of professors and deputy directors at the level of associate professors. This policy resulted into a bloated administrative staff and consequently huge administrative and overhead costs. Unfortunately these costs were completely unrelated to the core activities of the University (teaching, research, and community service).

 

Similarly, the creation of the Centre for Continuing Education (CCE) may have been appropriate at the time but unsustainable and duplicates activities of other academic centres. For instance, all courses taught at CCE can be better offered in other academic centres (faculties). This renders CCE unnecessary and expensive project. Closing CCE down will save UB a lot of money and make other academic centres more efficient. Another section that would benefit from reorganisation is the Graduate School.

 

Does UB really need a Faculty of Graduate Studies? Probably not. Graduate education is best handled in the respective faculties coordinated by an Associate Dean responsible for research and graduate studies. Furthermore, two thirds of Secretaries and Office Attendants have nothing to do all day long except gossip on phone and spend time in the Staff Canteen drinking tea and eating fat cakes from 9 -11 am, eating lunch from 12:00 noon to 2:30, and knocking off at 4:00 pm. The majority of workers in the Maintenance Department have nothing to do all day long.

 

They report to work at 9 am and play board games the whole day. As a result of these redundancies, the number of support staff is more than double the number of academic staff. Consequently, these “waste centres” (e.g., the Directorates, CCE, Graduate School, Secretaries, Administrative Staff, Maintenance Staff, etc.), are a few examples where UB can reorganise and save space and money especially during this time of funding crunch.

 

When Prof Thabo Fako tried to reorganise the university to make it lean and mean and focus on the core mandates of teaching, research, and community service, he met with stiff resistance and an avalanche of court cases. Without a painful and radical reform of the current structures and policy frameworks, UB will collapse under the weight of its unnecessary and expensive “super administrative structure”. It is high time the stakeholders understand that UB cannot be run by courts. Running to courts when the University has structures and fora where such issues can be addressed, is childish, an abuse of the judicial system, and a waste of time. The courts should not interfere with the running of government and its departments. This undermines the principle of the separation of powers.


The second major problem at UB is leadership: leadership at all levels from Sections, Departments, Faculties/Directorates, Senior Management, Senate, Council, and Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology. UB has leaders at all levels whose understanding of the local and international higher education landscape leave alone the idea of university education is terribly lacking.

 

If you listen to the higher echelon of leaders at the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology talk about higher education, one cannot help but cry! They do not have a clue leave alone a vision for higher education in the country. This is evidenced in the proliferation of not only substandard but unnecessary universities in this country. Besides, apparently, there is no regulator with the capacity to assure quality of lecturers, programmes, and students admitted to the so called universities, which, in fact, are big secondary schools.


UB council comprises people who have no knowledge of how institutions of higher education should be governed. When students rioted because their allowances were not paid in time, the Chairman of the UB Council decided to close the university. The students who were rioting were less than 150 in number! This number translates to only 1 percent of the total number of students enrolled at UB. Moreover, this group of students were the criminal-minded hooligans who went on to loot shops, vandalise property, and abused national symbols.

 

The same group of students had previously looted and vandalised property on campus. Deploying riot Police to round up this group of hooligans would have secured the university and prevented an otherwise unnecessary closure of UB and destruction of property. To close UB because of the action of one per cent of the student population was uncalled for and ill-conceived. For sure, the Chairman Council did not think of the enormous reputation damage that the closure did to UB. Industry and international research organisations funding are very sensitive to riots and strikes in universities. Has anyone ever heard of Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford closed due to student riots?


The quality of leadership among lecturers even those with PhDs, is appalling. One often hears ‘yunibesithi tse tsa rona’, especially among the citizen lecturers. The word "university" originates from the Latin phrase universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which translates to "congregation of teachers and scholars” whose main life goal is pursuit of knowledge and truth. A university is an oasis where scholars and teachers from all over the world come to quench their thirst for the truth and knowledge.  Citizenship in universities is universal. To think of a University as “ours” and not “theirs” is parochial and small-mindedness. In addition, such lecturers do not have an inkling of how the human resources of this country should be trained by the best brains from all over the world.


Academic leadership at Departmental and Faculty levels is woefully lacking. The majority of lecturers, especially citizens, are what one may term as “armchair academics”. By Thursday evening most of them are already off to the Cattle Posts only to return on Monday evening. If in doubt, a visit to the University on Fridays will help clear your doubts. This “cattle post mentality” is a hindrance to teaching, supervision of masters and PhD students, and research.

 

No wonder, the majority of the professors shy away from supervising postgraduate students leaving one wondering what they profess! Many of the professors have not published a single article or presented at a conference for the past three or even four years. When the former Vice Chancellor, Prof Thabo Fako began to emphasise performance, the non-performers were all up in arms against him. In fact, the mechanism of mediocrity at UB is so strong that it will require a mad VC to handle. In the Faculty of Education, Department of Guidance and Counselling, there are over 100 students pursuing a degree in counselling and being supervised by less than 8 lecturers who have never published or presented at a conference in the past three or four years! The students are not only half-baked but ill-prepared to function in the world of work.


At Departmental and Faculty levels, supervision is appalling: absentee heads of departments or Deans without any inkling of academic leadership. Majority of lecturers only come to the university when they are scheduled to teach and leave immediately thereafter. Those who stay a little longer congregate in the corridors, walkways, or staff lounge to gossip and talk about anything but academics.

 

The majority of the Heads of Departments and Deans are mainly bent on creating a chiefdom over which they superintend and will do nothing to rock the boat. In the Faculty of Social Sciences for example, a former Deputy Dean who was relieved of his duties was promoted to Associate Professor yet he had only consultancy reports and a few low quality articles in local and some Indian-based journals! Moreover, this same deputy Dean had been sponsored by UB to pursue a PhD abroad but was unable to complete because he spent all his time abroad drinking and smoking. In many universities, even on the African continent, he would not qualify to teach at the University, if only for reasons of failing to complete his PhD despite enormous investments by the university.


Another leadership problem at UB is that it operates as if it is still the only university in the country. It requires leadership to gain an understanding of the current higher education terrain in the country, especially with the proliferation of universities in Botswana. UB acts arrogantly and insenfdsitively to all its clients including students.


Perhaps the greatest weakness at UB is poor human capital. To begin with, UB has more politicians than academics. Political activities are more pronounced at UB than academic activities. For the majority of the lecturers, especially the citizens, the main question is to which political party one belongs. Many of the lecturers talk more about politics than top journals within their fields of study, that is, if they know of any.

 

UB is probably the only premier university with “random professors”, that is, professors without a field of study who publish randomly on any subject in any field and get promoted for being just that, random academics. Absurdly, one does not require a PhD in order to be promoted to the rank of associate or full professor. Yet UB should be in a league of universities where a PhD should be a minimum requirement to be recruited as a lecturer.


What is even worse, many of the professors are engaged in “fake research” and are protected by their heads of Departments and Deans. The majority of UB academics publish in bogus and often poor quality journals and publishing houses with low or no impact factor at all. Moreover, only a handful of UB academics get cited at all by their peers within their scientific communities.

 

If you disregard self-citation, you will hardly find UB academics with more than 20 citations in a year! If in doubt, check Google Scholar citation indices and enter their names. Worse of all, plagiarism has taken root in almost all departments. For example, a Nigerian professor of Statistics who is a well-known plagiarist and was found guilty of plagiarism by the Disciplinary Committee is still in the Department of Statistics. Another Indian professor in the same Department of Statistics who is famous for plagiarism is proudly referred to as the father of the Department.

 

A former Dean who was relieved of his duties for misconduct and incompetence had previously brought to the Department of Psychology a “fake professor” from Nigeria who was plagiarising and recycling his publications with academic members of the Department of Psychology. The current head of Psychology had to fight hard to get rid of the Nigerian professor and his local partners with whom he plagiarised and recycled his previous publications at will and with the protection of then Dean. In the Department of Economics, for example, more than 70% of their publications are in two journal outlets (Botswana Journal of Economics and Asia-Africa Journal of Economics and Econometrics ) whose editors in chief are the two professors in the same department.

 

Does this ring a bell? The two journal outlets are the factories for plagiarism and recycling previously published articles. In the faculties of Business and Education, professors who are known to plagiarise are protected and shielded by their respective Deans because the Deans want to build a power base to enable them become Deputy VCs or VCs in future. Moreover, promotion at UB is based on fake publications in predatory journals without any review processes and often plagiarised and published within days upon payment. UB is choking with plagiarism and it is high time the few clean academicians stand up to challenge and change the status quo.


To make matters worse, the uncritical media refers to such disgraced professors and Deans as decorated professors and VC materials. Yet these professors have never received any accolades whatsoever. Currently, these same failed and disgraced Deans are behaving like hyenas. They are all over campus adorned in fancy suits and garbs talking to groups of lecturers trying to build support for their candidacy for the vacant VC position. Aside from the structural, leadership, and human capital problems, UB is in financial crisis.

 

UB gets more than 90% of its operating and capital funding from government. Globally, funding for education, especially university education from government has been declining over the years and may continue to decline for the foreseeable future. With the proliferation of tertiary institutions in the Botswana, all looking to government for funding, the future looks bleak and funding crunch is anticipated to continue.

 

The question then is what is the way forward? UB needs to work hard to attract industry and international research organisations’ funding. But, does UB have the calibre of academic staff that can attract funding for the university? Again, the former VC, Prof Thabo Fako tried to restructure UB management to include a division to be headed by the deputy VC for Research and Innovation with a mandate to drive the research and innovation agenda of the university and get industry funding. Again, unless the quality of human capital at UB is radically improved, achieving the mandate of this division will be difficult.


Very few professors at UB can write a proposal for a research grant leave alone win a competitive research grant from international research organisations such as National Institute of Health (NIH), Wellcome Trust (WT), the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), CODESRIA,  etc. Many universities in the region such as the University of Pretoria get 60% of its funding from industry income and research grants from research organisations and the majority of employees get paid through industry funding.

 

This can only happen if the quality of human capital is high. Many of the professors and senior academics at UB would rather do consultancies. The difference between research and consultancy is that in research, the researcher formulates the research questions and is driven by quest for knowledge whereas in consultancy the client frames the research question and is driven by the quest for money.

 

In sum, you do not need to think in order to do consultancies. UB has been turned into a consultancy factory for lecturers to get side income for themselves and not UB where they are employed. With such magnificent and world class infrastructure, UB can only make it to the league of world class 21st century universities if the quality of human capital with visionary and competent leadership, is urgently attended to.


Finally, two issues regarding students in tertiary education require urgent debate: student financing and discipline. First student financing should be opened for debate. Currently, government pays tuition, living-out allowances, book allowances, among other things. In light of the current economic reality and competing demands, isn’t it time to debate whether government should continue picking all the student bills? To begin with, which socio-economic backgrounds are these students from? Isn’t it true that the majority of the students are from Marua-Pula, St Joseph’s, Rainbow, Legae, and other private schools where their parent spend a lot of money for their education?

 

Is it morally right for government to continue footing the educational bill of students whose parents are well to do and could afford to send their children to elite well-resourced secondary schools that afforded them the opportunity to come to university in the first place? Instead of giving students book allowances why not use the funds to stock the library instead? Isn’t populist to even think of giving the students cash to buy books? Is Botswana creating a Nanny Society by nurturing the culture of entitlement to public resources by those who are well to do? Is it time for cost sharing? As a country, these questions should be soberly debated in a non-partisan way to be able to arrive at a credible and morally acceptable student funding formulae. Such formulae would include those who truly deserve full, partial, or no scholarship at all.


Student discipline is an important area that should be addressed. Over the years, the rate at which students complete their programmes on time has plummeted and currently stands at a paltry 58%, that is, out of every 100 students who start their studies in first year, only 58 will complete in time. What a waste of resources! Majority of the students who do not complete in time do not attend classes, are lazy, abuse drugs and substances, and are just not interested in studies.

 

Their perception is that they are doing a favour to the country by pursuing higher education. It is all about their rights and not responsibilities. Why should government continue to spend money on these lazy and irresponsible students? The government is nurturing a mentality of entitlement to government resources which will ultimately lead to a Nanny society or a welfare state that encourages laziness and discourages innovation and the long-standing national value of self-reliance (Ipelegeng). As Prof Fako once lamented, this is likely to lead to “… less self-discipline, less willingness to work hard, less conscientiousness, less commitment, less selflessness, and less sense of a common purpose and destiny”.


The way forward for UB:
To move UB forward, all the stakeholders need to deeply reflect on the existential problems outlined above and radically reform. I will make some suggestions for reform:
What Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science & Technology can do:


First, immediately set up a Visitation Committee of eminent persons with sound knowledge of higher education landscape in the 21st century to critically analyse the perennial problems at UB and advise government accordingly. Membership should include persons from outside UB, if possible, outstanding academics from world class universities. The African saying that “it is the visitors who can see the cobweb in your house” may help.


Second, a rigorous independent oversight and monitoring agency should be put in place to provide oversight function to all tertiary education institutions. The agency should have the capacity to deliver and ensure high quality academic programmes and human resources in line with national development goals. Both Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) and Human Resources Development Council (HRDC) do not have the capacity to regulate all the universities and tertiary institutions in the country.


Third, diversify tertiary education. Not everyone who completes form five or high school should go to university! Wherever you go in this country, you will not find a citizen mechanic, electrician, plumber, and all other types of technicians and artisans. Government should make these and other trades attractive by offering full scholarships for them and partial scholarship for courses such as Media Studies, Economics, Law, Political Science, and other programmes in Social Sciences, Humanities, and Education.

 

In sum, government should put its money where its mouth is. Similarly, government should revisit the policy of ever increasing number of universities in this country while at the same time crying that there is no money. Increasing the number of universities leads to increased overhead administrative costs and loss of talents to administrative positions. For example, UB lost Prof Otlogetswe Totolo, a renowned scientist to Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST).

 

Prof Otlogetswe Totolo should be heading a research consortium on Climate Change in Botswana instead of being wasted to administration. Many professors and technocrats at UB left for BIUST as well. Yet, there are no courses at BIUST that could not be offered at UB. In fact, UB has better infrastructure than BIUST to offer all the courses currently offered at BIUST. Moreover BIUST sends their students to UB to access facilities and equipment they require for their studies. This is not a wise use of limited resources.


Fourth, government must come up with a credible and well thought out funding model for universities including UB. Parameters should include relevance of courses to national development, research output, patents, graduation numbers, maintenance of infrastructure, foundation courses such as Mathematics, Physics, Languages, Health, and not just student numbers. Ten students in a physics class may be more important to the national development goals of the country than 100 in Law, Economics, History, or Divinity.


Fifth, the university Act is not only outdated but out of synch with the exigencies and realities of the current higher education landscape. For example, the appointment of top officials of the University like the Vice Chancellor and deputy Vice Chancellors should be revised to safeguard the process from murky and often dirty institutional politics. For example the appointment of a VC could be done with the approval of Parliament. Similarly, members of the University Council should be nominated and approved by Parliament and should include eminent persons of repute and not carpenters or local mechanics with no clue of how a university should be run.


Sixth, there should also be legal clarity on the powers of staff and student unions. Currently, the staff union with only about 100 members and student SCR appear to be supreme over the University Council and are the cause of perennial riots and strikes. For example the current acting VC was one of those who signed a memorandum to Council against the former VC.

 

If the UB Council was not dancing to the tune of the staff Union, why was she appointed the acting VC when she was complicit and part of the problem at UB? The current search for a VC should exclude any professor from UB if the university is to radically and meaningfully transform because the majority are involved in dirty institutional politics to undo each other as they jostle for the offices of the deputy VC or VC. All what these professors are interested in is to be deputy VC or VC without any vision for the institution.


Finally, for equitable distribution of wealth and resources of the country, the government should decentralise student financing to districts through a quota system. This will go a long way in reducing the ugly inequality that is a time bomb for this country. Moreover, decentralising student financing will, in the long term, improve performance in the districts and tap the potentials of rural districts and reduce unemployment through access to higher education.


What UB can do?


First, UB needs to recalibrate and define its niche within the current tertiary education landscape in Botswana. UB currently faces an identity and existential crises with the proliferation of universities in the country. It has been an only child for far too long and now the parents have decided to have more children. With very young siblings to play with, UB looks awkward. At 35 years of age, UB should be in middle age and mature enough not to compete for undergraduate students with four- or five-year old Ba-Isago or Botho universities.

 

Currently, more than 90% of students at UB are at undergraduate level 99% of whom are citizens. UB has to change from a mainly undergraduate and instructional to a postgraduate and research university. The number of undergraduates should gradually reduce to make way for graduate students. Botswana as a country needs more well trained people with masters and PhD degrees in key sectors to manage and maintain the high middle income status.


Second, UB needs to develop its research capacity and become the “think tank” of the country. This will help drive the national research agenda for Botswana. These research agenda would include: climate change; economic diversification; water, energy, and food security; health; drug and substance use; and poverty alleviation among others. Training solid researchers, developing research themes, collaboration with and across disciplines, should be core activities of the research and innovation department.


Third, UB should open its doors to more self-sponsored students to reduce the number of government sponsored students. By doing so, UB will attract students from other countries within the SADC region and beyond. Similarly, since UB is operating a semester system, admission should be done every semester and not only once as it is the case now. All core courses should be offered every semester. This will make admissions more efficient and the system more flexible.


Fourth, universities in Botswana still operate like the public service. For instance, single spine salary structures, age limit requirements, localisation policy, permanent and pensionable employment terms, etc., do not belong to modern universities. Academics in a university should not be treated like public servants in a public service. Universities are universal institutions that should be globally structured while responding to national needs. Permanent and pensionable contracts make getting rid of deadwoods difficult and not an incentive for hard work and productivity. Localisation and age policies belong to public service and not universities.


Fifth, UB has redundant staff at all levels. There is need for a forensic human resource audit of all categories of staff including academic, administrative and support staff to establish whether they have adequate duties or workload to undertake during official working hours. All deadwoods must go! For instance, a grace period of between two to five years should be given to all lecturers without a PhD to upgrade or be fired.

 

All those with master’s degree only should be turned into Graduate Assistants and should be appointed on a two-year renewable contract and paid a stipend instead of a salary. Without this, UB will remain an undergraduate teaching institution without the academic cores to live up to the expectations of its vision statement: to be a leading centre of academic excellence in Africa and the world and join the league of world class universities.


In conclusion, UB has a 21st century infrastructure but the leadership,  human resources, and legal framework belong to the 19th century, the reason the University is out of synch and currently facing an existential and identity crises. At the moment, UB is yearning for radical reform. It is difficult to see whether this yearning for radical reform can come from within UB since that is where reform needs to happen in the first place. A visitor with a new broom is in a better position to see the cobweb of problems and the quagmire UB is in. While lack of money is a problem, it is certainly not the most important problem. The main problem to the perennial problems at UB is not funding, it is poor human capital.

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Opinions

Can we cure ourselves from the cancer of corruption?

28th October 2020
DCEC DIRECTOR: Tymon Katholo

Bokani Lisa Motsu

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan

Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.

This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.

The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.

Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.

Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.

Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?

This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.

The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.

So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?

This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.

Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.

I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’  I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’

Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message.  Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?

The answer is – as always: now.

This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.

We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.

It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.

Let us start today.

*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana

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Opinions

Accounting Officers are out of touch with reality

19th October 2020

Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.

So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair.  When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees.  They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.

It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government.  To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.

It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.

If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer.  It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.

An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.

On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.

Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country.
Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.

Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country.
The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?

Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.

When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised.  If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?

Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land.  Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.

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Is it possible to make people part of your business resilience planning after the State of Public Emergency?

12th October 2020

THABO MAJOLA

His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.

The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.

The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.

Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.

Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?

The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.

The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly.  So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?

COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.

Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.

Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.

Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.

Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.

Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.

Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!

This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety.  Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.

Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.

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