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Job losses as Gov’t chops private tertiary cake

Some welcome recommendations of the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) are said to be taking toll and threatening the survival of the local tertiary institutions, especially those that are privately owned.

In particular, HRDC has advised government through Department of Tertiary Education and Financing (DTEF) not to sponsor some courses which they deem not critical for the job market. It is understood that in so doing, they are also addressing the scorching issue of skills mismatch that has inundated the country’s employment marketplace.

Weekend Post has established that the development is severely upsetting the private tertiary institutions’ enrolment which heavily hinges on government sponsored students for continued existence.

HRDC’s main objectives are to provide for policy advice with regard to the National Human Resource Development Strategy, coordination and implementation of the strategy, planning and advising on Tertiary Education Financing and work place planning in Botswana.

Speaking in an interview this week, Botho University Marketing and Communications Manager, Tebogo Matebesi confirmed that the government is not adequately ancillary to private institutions.

“It is a reality that government sponsored student numbers have been low; not only in this year but also in the past few years. This has affected the entire higher education system, both public and private negatively. At Botho we have many programmes where we have had very small enrolments or no enrolment at all,” he pointed out.

As a result of reduced government funding, Botho University is said to be undertaking cost-cutting measures to scale up with the expurgated number of prospective students to the university.

It is understood that some staff members who are Degree holders are the latest casualties in the economising exercise as the university have turned their back on them. Notwithstanding that initially the Degrees were a pre-requisite to be employed by the university and indications suggest that now the tables have turned. 

Some staff members who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity insisted that many employees have been fired willy-nilly at the university. They pointed out that currently there are on ongoing talks including disciplinary meetings with the university with intention to lay off more staff members.

“It’s terrible, the BU management is saying they want to down size employees as they are not receiving sufficient support from government through sponsored students. So some employees are pushed out on account of forged papers, some are dumped on the basis that they are not in possession of Masters qualifications’ and even where some were left with for example 2 years as per their contracts, they are never compensated,” one disgruntled staff member who face the chop revealed.  

The matter is exacerbated, he said, by the ‘firing team’ which is composed of majority of university Human Resource (HR) employees which is intimidating. “Both the committee chair, deputy, HR Manager, and the Secretary are from the institution HR department.” Only two are said to be from the victim’s department and he lamented, “so you see, it’s the whole team against you.”

He also mentioned that the committee “disregards the rules of natural justice” and during the hearings you are not even entitled to a lawyer representative but only someone from internal.  

In contrast, the University Marketing and Communications Manager, Matebesi defended BU by inharmoniously stating that they value their staff and see them as the most important asset.

“We believe that our staff members must have growth opportunities and hence where possible new positions are advertised internally. We have remained steadfastly focused on staff wellbeing by ensuring that we remain a leading institution,” Matebesi contended.

He said to date they have spent close to 4 million Pula on staff development in which around 60 staff members have taken advantage of this policy and have upgraded their qualifications.

Matebesi also stressed out that: “as a university we naturally have to give importance to higher qualified staff and hence we have put in place a strong staff development policy whereby any staff member wishing to study further any programme relevant to the institution will be fully supported.”

In justifying the contentious move, Matebesi went to state that they have matured from a college to become a fully-fledged university and many of their programmes have over the years evolved away from shorter programmes such as Certificate and Diplomas to become Degree programmes. He explained further that: “hence some staff members have been found to have qualifications below the minimum requirements.”  

Although many employees are continually being chopped off in the reduction of the university expenditure, the Botho University spokesperson maintained that where possible they have tried their best to reassign staff to other administrative or support roles.

Other private institutions notably Limkokwing University have been also enforced to take similar belt-tightening measures as a result of shrunk government sponsored student intake and in the process dismissed some employees at the institution.

In addition, others also have been hit hard comprising Boitekanelo College which sacked even its Vice Chancellor and other staff employees earlier this year. Other private universities facing a similar predicament includes ABM University College, Gaborone Institute of Professional Studies (GIPS), Baisago University among others.

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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

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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