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BOFEPUSU moves to block 3% salary hike

Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) has filed an application with the High Court seeking a review and setting aside of the decision taken by Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) to unilaterally increase the salaries of public officers employed in terms of the Public Service Act by 3 percent prior to the conclusion of wage negotiations.

In stating grounds for review Rari writes that the decision to unilaterally increase salaries is a breach of the Government’s duty to bargain in good faith at the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC).   He further argues that implementing an increment in respect of non-unionised employees of Government (comprising both managerial and non-management employees) undermines and violates the legislative role of the PSBC.

“Government as an employer and as a member of the PSBC therefore has a duty in terms of the law to conduct itself in good faith as regards conditions of service, which conditions of service must be deliberated upon and discussed at the Council. Salaries as an integral component of employment must be deliberated and discussed at the Council,” he states.

Rari says he is advised that the unilateral decision taken by government is a classic form of bad faith bargaining. The employer party cannot resort to unilateral action as this makes nonsense of the entire bargaining process, says Rari.  He says this remains the case whether or not negotiations are on-going at the PSBC.  

“The Applicant trade unions are members of the PSBC and this means that the government owes them as members a duty to bargain with them in good faith.” Rari further posits that the decision to unilaterally increase salaries makes nonsense of the usefulness and relevance of Applicant trade unions to the entire bargaining process.  

“It certainly gives the impression to the Applicant’s members that they are better off not being members of the Applicants and that they can get better conditions of service without the Applicants (BOFEPUSU)” .

Rari says the PSBC has the sole responsibility of determining terms and conditions in the public service, “and this is especially so because it is registered as a joint industrial council which by definition negotiates terms and conditions of employment for employees in the industry.”

He says in terms of the PSBC constitution, all members of the public service (except the disciplined forces) fall within its scope of reach. He states that it matters not whether or not the employee is unionised or non-unionised; all outcomes and resolutions at the Council affect the entire public service.

“Non-unionised employees will comprise both managerial and non-management employees as both managerial and non-management employees are all employees of the public service. The PSA does not exclude members of management from the scope of operation of the PSA. As long as the employee is governed by the PSA, such an employee is a member of the public service and falls within the scope of reach of the PSBC.”

BOFEPUSU says on 11th March 2016, government’s intention to implement salary increases for non-unionised public officers falling within the scope of the Council to the exclusion of other public officers, was brought to their attention by a source within government. Through their Attorneys on 14th March 2016 they sought a written undertaking that government will not unilaterally implement a salary increase for non-unionised public officers for the year 2016/17 until the lawfulness thereof had been established. Rari explains that government did not respond to the notice.  

While Rari had been “reliably informed” that government had been advised that payroll system will be unable to differentiate between non-unionised employees and unionised employees for purposes of an increment which made him conclude that there would be no unilateral increment, he was shocked on 31 March 2016 when he received a Directive dated 30 March 2016 authored by DPSM, Ms Ruth Maphorisa, announcing a unilateral salary increment for all public officers, of 3 %.

Rari said the Directive shocked him because they have for the last several years negotiated salary increases through the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). “Last year we were able to achieve a 6 % increase following extensive negotiations,” he says in his affidavit.  

Rari argues that the decision to proceed with a unilateral increment is undoubtedly a breach of the duty to bargain in good faith. He states that government ought to have returned to the PSBC following the noting of appeal. “Even if one assumes that the PSBC was dysfunctional, its dysfunctionality or non-existence did not negate government’s obligations to bargain at the workplace on an individual basis with the unions that fall under BOFEPUSU,” writes Rari.

According to BOFEPUSU secretary general, whether there is PSBC or not, their members will always have a right in law to bargain collectively for their members as long as they remain recognised and do not breach resolutions of the PSBC. “Any unilateral changes to the remuneration of public officers falling within the scope of the PSBC is thus unlawful,” he says.  

PSBC was ready to start verification of members

Meanwhile the PSBC was ready to kickstart the membership verification process for recognised unions to prepare for salary negotiations. The General Secretary of the PSBC Mr Patla Ulaula had written to recognised unions in reference to the Court of Appeal ruling of 17th June 2016. He stated that the Council had been instructed to conduct a determination of union membership figures. He further wrote that they were still studying the judgement with the view to ensure that its contents are sufficiently internalised and effectively implemented.

Ulaula appreciated that the Court of Appeal has not specified any timeframe for the verification process, but he stated that it is a consuming and engaging process that requires more time and human resource efforts and there is need to be diligent and pay attention to detail. He also communicated that they will be done with their internal processes by around July 5th and should be in a position to invite unions to submit their packages by around July 8th.

But following the BOFEPUSU application before the court seeking a review of the decision to unilaterally implement a 3 percent salary increase, PSBC may be forced to revise its dates because the court process will also take a bit of time. Public servants will once again have to give the courts time to deal matters of law before actual bargaining starts.

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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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