Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) caucus for Members of Parliament held on Tuesday this week discussed the proposed the Presidents (Gratuity, Pensions and Retirement Benefits) Bill, 2016 and President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama’s proposal did not get much love from mostly the party’s backbenchers.
On 24th March 2016, government published the Presidents (Gratuity, Pensions and Retirement Benefits) Bill, 2016. Through this Bill, government intends to amend the Presidents (Pensions and Retirement Benefits) Act, 1998 (hereinafter referred to as the Act).
Information reaching this publication suggests that the BDP MPs did not even want to deal with the contents or the merits of the proposed Bill. Instead they made it clear to President Khama that if he wants them to deliberate on his request, he should first address the plight of civil servants, Dikgosi, Members of Parliament, Councillors and Dikgosi. A handful of those who voiced out indicated that these four groups have been asking Government to review their conditions of service but with no success.
Members of Parliament including Polson Majaga of Nata-Gweta and Kosta Markus of Maun East made it clear that they will not support the Bill if it does not address the other four groups. The Maun West MP made it known that the President is in office by virtue of MPs being elected from their respective constituencies. He is reported to have stated that if he had failed to win the Maun West constituency this could have hampered Khama’s chances of being President therefore MPs and Councillors as well as the ordinary voters who are also civil servants should also be considered for improved packages.
Majaga pointed out that Khama will not be president in 2019 when they go for the polls against the opposition. He said it is important that they support a Bill that they will be in a position to explain to the voters during campaigns. He is also reported to have stated that there is nothing in place for the retiring Vice President, Ministers and Members of Parliament. Weekend Post learns that Majaga called for a holistic approach to the correction of benefits for the civil service, ministers, MPs, Councillors and then the retirement package of the president.
Tati East Member of Parliament Samson Guma Moyo also objected to the proposed law. He was concerned that there are groups that have been urging government to refine their conditions of service but nothing has been done to date.
It has emerged that although cabinet had approved the proposed Bill, only one minister spoke in defense of the proposed law. One insider indicated to this publication that ministers could have chickened out of speaking for the proposal because of the “riotous” manner of the debates.
However it is expected that President Khama will bring the proposed law back to the BDP caucus for approval before it goes to Parliament for debate. The opposition has already made it clear that it will not support the proposed law hence the need for Khama to get the support of his own party Members of Parliament. The opposition and some of the BDP backbenchers are of the view that the Bill is self-serving and tends to breach some of the country’s practices where a person will be entitled to both pension and gratuity, they argue that a person should only claim one of the two.
Why BDP MPs shun the proposed Bill
Government recently announced a 3 percent salary hike for Civil Servants which was shunned by public service trade unions. Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) even challenged it in court because it argued that it was not agreed at a legally recognized bargaining structure. On the other hand Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) relegated it to a bonus award.
Dikgosi during their July sitting have made it abundantly clear that they want government to review their conditions of service. Chairman of Ntlo Ya Dikgosi, Kgosi Puso Gaborone is expected to have handed a proposal to the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development as per the request of members of Ntlo Ya Dikgosi.
Members of Parliament are also up in arms demanding that their conditions of service be reviewed and be aligned to those of the SADC region. Over a period of time a number of assessments in relation to Members of Parliament’s packages have been carried out but nothing has come out of such initiatives. At some point President Khama had accused some MPs who were pushing for salary increase for behaving like vultures. MPs last year had their salaries increased by about 35 percent, which to some was still small adjustment in comparative terms.
Councillors are concerned that there appears to be no one speaking for them when it comes to conditions of service. They point out that they do the most work at ward level and during the campaigns but when it comes to being paid they are the least rewarded. Through their Association, the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) they have tried to lobby for improved conditions of service, but at the time when Members of Parliament got a 35 percent salary increase, councilors got roughly 18 percent salary increase. Councillors still earn less than P10 000 a month.
The proposed law in brief
The Bill seeks to amend section 3 of the Act by introducing the payment of gratuity. It provides that “the President shall upon dissolution of Parliament, or immediately upon ceasing to hold office as such, be entitled to receive a gratuity equal to 30 percent of his or her current monthly basic salary multiplied by the number of months completed by him or her as President.”
Under the Act, “a tax free monthly pension equivalent to the monthly basic salary attached to the office at the time that that person ceased to hold office, or 80% of the incumbent President’s salary, whichever is greater, is payable. This pension benefit will also be retained under the amended Act.
Further, a surviving spouse of a person, who has held the Office of President- “(b) who dies after ceasing to hold office shall be paid a tax free monthly pension at the rate of 50 percent of the pension that that person would have received but for the occurrence of such death”
Section 4(2) of the Act provides that “without prejudice to the provisions of subsection (1), any surviving spouse shall be paid a tax free annual pension of P 98, 268.00 provided that the President may, by order, amend this subsection by increasing the amount of pension payable thereunder.”
The Bill also seeks to repeal section 6(2) of the Act which provides that “if a person who ceases to be President directly or indirectly holds any paid office, in the service of the State, or in the employment of any person, any pension or benefits to which such person is entitled under this Act shall be suspended for the period that that person holds such office.”
Repealing section 6(2) of the Act will in effect allow a retired President to be paid monthly pension, for example, even if he or she is employed by government, the private sector or international organizations. Clearly, this is unjust because by its very nature pension is only payable to one who is no longer in employment.
The Bill also seeks to amend the schedule of benefits provided for in terms of section 3(b) of the Act. Paragraph 2(a) of the schedule is amended by giving the retired president the option to choose between having an office, where he or she prefers, of the standard and size specified by the President or receiving office accommodation allowance using the prevailing Gaborone market rental rates.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.