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BFTU, BOFEPUSU fight over national labour centre status

The composition of union delegates who represented Botswana at the International Labour Conference (ILC) held at Geneva, Switzerland last week has led to further rifts between the two rival unions.

In addition to Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) was also recently recognised as a national labour centre.

The rivalry playing out between the two union federations has however taken its toll in their participation in the tripartite arrangement.

At the ILC, BFTU was engaged as a delegate while BOFEPUSU was involved by government as a companion of BFTU as well as an advisor to government.

As per the tripartite method, the delegation to the ILC should be comprised of two government delegates, one worker delegate and one employer.

In Botswana workers have all along been represented by BFTU as the National Labour Centre while employers by Business Botswana.

BFTU, which was previously the only recognised national labour centre sitting at the ILC categorically stated this week that they are not pleased with government’s decision of including BOFEPUSU in the Geneva expedition.

BFTU Secretary General Gadzani Mhotsha spelled out his concerns to a pack of journalists on Tuesday at Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) offices.

“We later learnt that the office of the Permanent Secretary at Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs has asked BOFEPUSU to submit names of their delegation directly to their office,” Mhotsha laid down his displeasure with the government.

He continued: “we further learnt that government has decided to sponsor one advisor from BOFEPUSU to accompany BFTU. It should be noted that such an advisor was never communicated to BFTU either by government or BOFEPUSU.”

He alluded to the fact that during the whole conference they never got to know or interact with the said advisor or his/her companions.

As such, the BFTU SG noted that the conduct of Botswana government was also contrary to the International Labour Organisations (ILO) procedures and that while BFTU desired to object to the composition of the Botswana delegation, it could not do so before objections could be closed due to logistical issues.

“We want to put it on record that what the government did was to encourage division of workers and thus weaken their strength,” Mhotsha pointed out.

He explained that: “BFTU is not against BOFEPUSU attending the ILC, but government should not be deciding for us who should go to the ILC as a titular delegate and who should be an advisor. It is for this reason that we wrote directly to BOFEPUSU to submit their delegates to BFTU so that we rightly receive them as our advisors.”

According to Mhotsha, their bone of contention is borne from the fact that ILO recognises only one National Labour Centre – which is thus far BFTU, and by trying to bypass that, government is in violation of the principles of ILO.

“If we don’t settle this issue by June, we will take it up with ILO,” he declared.

BFTU president Bohitlhetswe Lentswe also reiterated that currently ILO recognises BFTU as the only party representing unions to go to ILO.

“Government should go back and audit and declare whether BFTU is still the most representative to be named a labour centre,” he highlighted.

While he acknowledged that BOFEPUSU was a mere advisor at the ILC, Lentswe cautioned that “we don’t appoint advisors for government and they should not choose for us.

We failed to go there as a team because of this fracas.”

He clarified that: “we are not saying BOFEPUSU should not go there, but if BFTU remains a labour centre it should appoint their advisors.”  He however conceded that in other countries there are more than one labour centres.

MLHA long recognised BOFEPUSU

BOFEPUSU Secretary General Tobokani Rari has however elucidated that his union was long recognised as another labour centre since August last year.

“I don’t know why the issue confuses a lot of people. As BOFEPUSU we are now a labour centre. Therefore that means there are two labour centres in Botswana, that is BOFEPUSU and BFTU,” he explained.

“With that in mind, we have a right that we can even fight for in court – to sit in the tripartite structure,” Rari told WeekendPost in a separate interview.

According to a letter dated 18 August 2015 from Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs Pearl Ramokoka nee-Matome, which this publication has seen, the government resolved to recognise BOFEPUSU.

The MLHA PS said she is aware that BFTU has been the only organisation (federation) recognised to be representing all workers in the country.

“It is common cause that with the conclusion of court cases involving the registration of BOFEPUSU as a Federation of trade unions, it should also be recognised as a role player in our labour relations system,” the PS stated in the correspondence to BOFEPUSU.

The PS also emphasised that it is a legal requirement in terms of part XVI of the Employment Act 47:01 that when the minister considers it necessary to fix or adjust minimum wages, he shall refer the issues to the Minimum Wages Advisory Board for investigation and advice (which BFTU/BOFEPUSU should sit in).

Similarly, she said, part XVII of the same Act requires the minister to, where it is reasonably practical to do so, consult the Labour Advisory Board (which is inclusive of either BFTU/BOFEPUSU) before he introduces any Bill relating to employment into the National Assembly or before making any subsidiary legislation relating to employment.

Other consultative structures of arrangements that require the participation of workers’ and employers’ representatives (any national labour centre) include consultation on reports to the ILO, participation in the Decent Work Country Programme Steering Committee, ILC, Sectorial High Level Consultative Meetings and other engagements which require the input of workers and employers.

On another letter dated 13 May 2016 the PS reiterated that “you will recall that this ministry wrote to BOFEPUSU and BFTU on 18th August 2015 about the representation of workers in the social dialogue structures.”

In the correspondence she said they requested the two federations to work out an arrangement that would facilitate the representation of workers in meetings and activities that require workers’ participation.

“In view of the fact that this matter is still pending, we have decided that this year we will allow a delegate from BFTU to represent workers to the ILC. But this delegate shall be accompanied by an advisor from BOFEPUSU, and the expenses for the participation of the workers’ delegate and advisor shall be paid by government.”

Meanwhile, in November last year, Rari wrote to BFTU requesting for a meeting to discuss issues of workers’ representation in Social Dialogue structures.

“This comes in wake of BOFEPUSU being recognized and accorded the status of a Labour Centre in the country hence enjoying the right of representing workers in social Dialogue structures,” Rari had highlighted to BFTU then.

He maintained: “if such a meeting proceeds without us being represented, our constituents are bound to suffer owing to non – representation.” However, BFTU responded on 18th November indicating that they cannot meet BOFEPUSU on account that they had written to MLHA seeking further clarification on the matter.

BOPEU is also caught up in a court feud with BOFEPUSU regarding who should sit in the Public Service Bargaining Council – following the disaffiliation of BOPEU from the PSBC. BOPEU is currently carrying out due diligence on BFTU to weigh out options of whether to reach a final decision to affiliate.

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Botswana’s development agenda in jeopardy

21st September 2020
Botswana’s-development-agenda-in-jeopardy--water-construction

Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review indicates that Botswana will fail to meet some of its Vision 2036 targets, particularly unemployment reduction and reaching high-income status.

The report says this is mainly due to the slow economic growth that the country is currently experiencing. This Quarterly Economic Review focuses on the 2020 Budget Speech.

The first paper reviews the entire budget with its key observations being that this budget is prepared as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act; the priorities it seeks to address are drawn from Vision 2036 and the eleventh

The 2020 budget Speech, which was the maiden speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, and the first after the 2019 general elections, was delivered to Parliament on the 4th of February 2020.

It has been well received by the labour unions, business community, and the public at large as well as international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It mainly derived its support from key facets including, emphasis on changing the business-as-usual approach to development; outlining the transformation agenda; fiscal reform that minimizes the negative impact on economic development and human welfare, competiveness and the decision to implement the 2019 negotiated and agreed public sector.

The budget’s progress review shows that economic growth was consistent with the NDP 11 projections, with growth of around 4 percent. At this growth rate, the country would neither ascend to a high-income status nor reduce unemployment towards the Vision 2036 target of a single digit.

Simple calculations of this review confirm that the economy will need to grow the Vision 2036’s target of 6 percent over the next 16 years for per capita income to increase from around USD 8,000.00 to above USD 12,000.00 in current prices.

Further, the population is anticipated to grow by only 2 percent per annum.

For this reason, the focal areas for the forthcoming FY’s budget include measures to increase economic growth towards an average of 6 percent per annum.

Economic diversification is reportedly progressing fairly well. The report says, the share of the non-mining private sector in value added has risen to 66 percent in 2018 from to 63 percent in 2015.

The sectoral pattern of growth showed that the performance of services sector (particularly transport & communications, trade, hotels & restaurants, and finance & business services) has been the silver lining and that of mining sector was subdued whilst the utility sector disappointed.

The drive towards the service sector of the economy, especially to low-productivity activities (tourism, public administration, wholesaling and retailing) does not bode well for the country’s development aspirations.

In the previous versions of this Quarterly Review, it was noted that there is need for the rethinking of economic diversification. Since the country’s domestic market is small, it is inevitable that economic diversification not only focus on broadening the product mix, but also the composition of exports and markets.

This understanding of economic diversification has not been embraced by this year’s budget. Consequently, Botswana’s exports are still overwhelmingly diamonds, which means that the rest of economic sectors are still highly dependent on foreign-exchange earnings from diamonds. Thus, “the transformation programme requires a review of the country’s entire ecosystem”.

The budget review of the economic context also depicts that an economy with positive medium-term prospects, with growth expected to recover to 4.4 percent in 2020 from the expected growth of 36 percent in 2019 largely due to faster growth of services sectors and, thereafter, to slow-down to 4 percent in 2021.

These projected growth rates are comparable to those of the IMF staff’s baseline scenario of 4.2 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2021. Thus, the business-as-usual scenario produces growth rates that are still too low to achieve Botswana’s development objectives and create enough jobs to absorb the new entrants into the labour market.

Trade tensions between the two major markets for diamond exports, viz., the United States of America and China, is one of the factors that are cited as contributing to, indeed, undermining not only the domestic growth, but also the fiscal position.

Another notable downside risk to both global and domestic growth is outbreak of the coronavirus in China around January 2020. This has been declared as a global health emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Chinese authorities have ordered city lockdowns and extended holidays, of course, at the expense of near- term economic growth, according to the new Stanbic Bank Botswana report.

According to Nomura Holdings Inc., fewer migrant workers returned for work than in previous years and business activities have been slow to pick up. The havoc wreaked by the virus on the world’s second largest economy is likely to spill over to the global economy. In fact, it has resulted in a glut in crude oil and, thereby placed oil markets into a contango, i.e., a market structure where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts.

It also presents significant risks one of Botswana’s main drivers of economic growth, diversification and foreign exchange earnings. According to the Financial Times (February 13, 2020), Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018. Regardless of whether the growth materializes, the projected domestic growth rate would not transform the economy to a high-income one.

Progress towards reduction of unemployment, to a target of single digit, and poverty and achieving inclusive growth has also been relatively slow, the Stanbic Bank Botswana Review says.

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OP leases Orapa House

21st September 2020
Orapa House

Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MOPAGPA) has through the Office of the President (OP) proposed to avail Orapa House for use by private training institutions as well as research institutions involved in the area of technology development.

For a very long time the monumental building located in the heart of the city has been a white elephant, despite government purchasing it for nearly P80 million from De Beers in 2012.

However, government has now identified a productive use for the iconic building. “The overall vision is for the building to be transformed into a hub for digital technology research and development to be carried-out by institutions, such as; Limkokwing University, BIUST, BITRI and other relevant stakeholders.”

The decision was taken as government traverse a new path of transforming the economy from a mineral led economy to a knowledge based economy through the promotion of research and innovation. However, the facility will need major maintenance to be carried-out in order to meet the requirements of the proposed change in use.

“The work will include provision of laboratories, work stations, production areas and seminar rooms; audio visual centre, high speed internet connectivity, exhibition areas and offices,” reads the proposal note for the development.

These developments will be done through the refurbishment and maintenance of the main building, workshop, and ablution block, gate house, parking area, grounds, and access control and security service.

“There will be minimal modifications to the structure as it stands. The project is estimated to cost approximately P50, 000, 000,” says the report. In this regard, it is said, the initial scope of the OP facility will be modified to accommodate the envisaged digital technology research and development hub.

With funds needed to improve the building, OP has requested that; “the 2020/21 annual budget provision for Orapa House will need to be increased by P37,500,000 from P2,500,000 to P40,000,000 to kick start the maintenance works.” Funds will be sourced from the projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19 protocols during the 2020/21 financial year.

The building has been a thorny issue for government for years. Initially, OP was expected to move there but the move never materialised. At one point it was a question of whether the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development were planning to override a decision by Parliament which rejected the proposal to buy Orapa House under the belief that government may be buying its own property. The building was to be bought at a negotiated cost of P79 million.

Again in 2012, Government had wanted to buy Orapa House for a negotiated P79m but the Finance and Estimates Committee of Parliament had rejected the request because of the inconsistencies realised in the supporting documents of the proposed procurement. The valuation of the building was put at P74 million.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing had initially offered De Beers P73, 000,000 as the purchase price. However, De Beers countered with P85, 000,000. On negotiation and converging of the minds, the selling price was finally agreed at P79, 000,000.

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Sad state of Brigades: dumped and ignored!

21st September 2020
Brigades

Auditor General, Pulane Letebele, has expressed discontentment at the worrying and deteriorating state of brigades in the country.

In an audit inspection which was carried out at Tshwaragano Brigade in Gabane, a number of observations showed weaknesses and shortcomings in the conduct of the financial affairs of the institution.

According to Letebele’s report, former students of the brigade had been engaged to carry out maintenance works on the school premises, comprising of painting, tiling, plumbing and electrical works, which covered the period from July 2017 to June 2018.

Although the agreed maintenance period had elapsed, the works had not been completed because of unavailability of funds and this situation had persisted up till the time of inspection in November 2019.

Auditor General says arrangements should have been made in time for funds to be available to complete these relatively minor works even before the works commenced.

Various contractors had been engaged for clearing the bush and for the supply of concrete stones, pit and river sand and hiring equipment for digging the trench towards the construction of an auto mechanics workshop, the report said.

It stated that the cost of services and supplies provided totalled P117 949.80. However, despite the services and the supplies having been paid for, the construction works had not commenced for a long period afterwards, resulting in the trench filling back in.

The audit inquiries had not elicited satisfactory responses as both the institution and the Ministry had not accepted the responsibility for the project, although orders for the provision for the supplies had been made. For their part, the Ministry had stated that they had sub warranted funds for the purchase of porta cabins.

Letebele indicated that it is therefore confusing that a project which is critical to the functioning of an institution such as this one would commence without a well-defined plan.

Furthermore, the accounting and maintenance of records for the supplies items were not of the standard prescribed by the Supplies Regulations and Procedures in that the supplies ledger cards, the main accounting records for Government assets, were not properly maintained for the recording of receipts and issues.

This had resulted in significant discrepancies between physical and ledger balances, while in other instances the supplies items had not been recorded at all.

The report says 24 of the 91 new computers found in the computer laboratory at Kumakwane ABC campus were not recorded anywhere, as were the other computers in the storeroom which could not be counted due to the disorderly storage conditions.

The institution had entered into a contract agreement with a security company for the provision of security services at Tshwaragano Brigade, ABC and Horticulture campuses at Kumakwane for a 2-year period which ended in June 2018, WeekendPost learnt.

After the contract expired in June 2018, an extension was granted till the 30th September 2018. Since then, there has been no security service coverage for the institution to-date. According to Auditor General, in the face of prevailing crimes, it is of paramount importance that government properties be protected by provision of security services at all times.

At Tlokweng Brigade, it was noted that the kitchen staff were working under difficult conditions as the kitchen facilities and equipment, such as the cold room, tilting pot, food warmers and solar power for hot water were dysfunctional. The kitchen roof was leaking and men’s restrooms was not working. All these need to be brought to a reasonable and functional state of repair.

The kitchen staff should use a purpose-designed Rations Ledger for the recording of receipts and issues of foodstuffs to reflect the usage of those items. As far back as 2014 the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services had found that the house occupied by the bursar was uninhabitable on account of structural defects, the report said.

A site visit during the audit had established that the house was indeed unfit for occupation as there were cracks on the walls, power switches were not working and the roof was leaking. On a sadder note, there were a number of finished items of clothing, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets from students’ practical exercises from the Fashion Design Textiles Workshop.

Auditor General shared her take on this, saying: “I have not been able to ascertain the policy on the disposal of products from these practicals. A trace of 103 green acid-proof overalls which had been purchased in August 2018 had indicated that there was no record of these items having been recorded or issued, nor were they available in stock. I was not able to obtain any explanation for this situation.”

Kgatleng brigade was also audited and inspected by Auditor General who observed that the brigade has 26 institutional houses at Bokaa, both old campus and new campus. Some of these houses are very old and dilapidated, with two declared uninhabitable. The condition of the houses is a clear indication of lack of care and maintenance of these properties.

At the time of the audit, there was no contractor engaged for the provision of security guard services at the new campus, after expiry of the previous one in July 2019.  It is hoped that steps would be taken to safeguard the security of the premises and government properties against any acts of hooliganism.

In August 2019, there was a break-in at the electrical and at the plumbing maintenance workshops and a number of high value items, such as drilling machines, bolt cutters, spanners and cables, were stolen. The break-in and theft were reported to the police.

“However, at the time of writing this report I was not aware of the outcome of the police investigation, nor of any loss report submitted in terms of the Supplies Regulations and Procedures,” Letebele said.

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