Minister of Agriculture Ralotsia and other Members of the Parliament
Following the University of Botswana (UB)’s staff salary boost earlier this year in April, their equivalents at Botswana College of Agriculture (BCA) which is an associate institution of UB, this week withheld release of students’ results for this academic year until their salary variations have been addressed.
WeekendPost has established that everything has now come to a standstill at the solitary Agricultural College as after the lecturers had wrapped up marking the students’ examinations and, at a drop of a hat, executed an elongated resolution that was taken aback – that they be halted.
The suppression of the students’ grades which were in line for publication on Monday emanates from the Governing Council’s pronouncement in June this year that “BCA staff members be reimbursed the 35% that comprise of 20% transport allowance and 15% housing allowance.”
According to the memo from the College’s Services Manager titled, ‘Decisions of the Governing Council’ and passed to this publication, the Governing Council resolved that the remuneration cut across the board of staff basic salaries and to be back dated with effect from 1st April 2015.
The influential pivotal BCA governing council consists of among others, former Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary Dr. Marcus C. Chimbombi; UB Vice Chancellor Prof. Thabo T. Fako; Mrs. C. Koketso; Prof. M. Modisi; Mr O. Mphahudi; Dr. C. Sydes; Prof. H.K. Siphambe; Dr. H.K. Sigwele; Mr D. Ratsatsi; Prof. E B Khonga; Dr N. Batisani; Dr. U. Batlang; Mr. E Mbambo; and Dr. R G Chabo.
This publication has gathered that subsequent to the Governing Council meeting of 22 June 2015 which moved to approve the 35% windfall, the staff members on the other hand also decided that they will reserve the discharge of students’ results if the Council resolution is not implemented.
According to the petition, delivered to the Council, which Weekend Post is also in possession of; staff members warned that “failure to effect the Governing Council's decision of paying the overdue allowances will precipitate dire consequences including industrial action that will result in withholding this semester's examinations results and even withholding our core services to the college.”
The concerned group representing the BCA staff members insisted in the petition that in spite of the positive decision, seven months have elapsed without implementation of the decision which they say is a flagrant violation of the employment act of the country.
The BCA staff has maintained that subsequent failure by BCA management who are caught between the devil and deep blue sea, to implement the Governing Council's decision has exhausted BCA staff member's patience which they have exercised over this lengthy period.
Consequently, the management was urged at the eleventh hour to “exercise due diligence towards this sensitive matter that has greatly impacted our economic status to the lowest level being the lowest paid staff in an academic institution in Botswana.”
It is extensively believed that the new emolument structure will be unswerving and consistent with that of their UB counterparts.
Earlier this year, former Assistant Minister of Education Kgotla Autlwetse had informed parliament that UB pays average lecturers between P16,975 and P29,164 per month, while Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) pays theirs P32,060 monthly.
“The University of Botswana pays senior lecturers between P25,546 to P32,525 per month, while BIUST pays their senior lecturers P39,695 per month,” Autlwetse had told parliament then. He also informed the national assembly that associate professors at UB get remunerated between P30,936 and P35,532 per month, while BIUST pays them P49,969.
Reports indicate that law makers expressed deep reservations about UB and BIUST salary disparities and there was a general concern that only the BIUST academic staff was entitled to lucrative allowances including the housing allowance at the expense of their colleagues of the same ranking at UB.
As a result, UB was compensated with 35% enhancement allowances to their salaries in lieu of calming them down. As a result, the remunerations ended up being put at par with their BIUST counterparts.
In the meantime BCA, racing against the clock, did not want to be asleep at the switch and advocated for such developments as well which the governing council approved, however increments at that college were never implemented.
“So you see when UB applied these salary growths, it was supposed to be automatic and that they also apply to BCA lectures,” an immaculate source who sits on the board at the College (BCA) highlighted.
He said it is a bitter pill to swallow that staff members have written to the school board, Permanent Secretary, and Ministry to address the issue but almost a year on it’s still pending while adding that the withholding of students’ results may upset registration into the next academic year.
Recently, Minister of Education Dr. Unity Dow was also forced to intervene at the College following students’ demonstrations for what they termed “unconducive learning environment.”
Meanwhile Minister of Agriculture, Patrick Ralotsia told this publication on the sidelines of parliamentary proceedings on Wednesday that he is aware that staff members at BCA have not been paid their dues yet. He asserted, however that he was expecting to meet with BCA management to try to calm the waters and eventually resolve the matter which has clearly gotten out of hand.
Acting BCA Principal Dr. Mataba Tapela had not responded to e-mail inquiries on the issue at the time of going to press.
It is understood that the management has been caught off guard as they had shifted focus to the impending transformation of the institution from a College to fully fledged University, along the way forgetting other pressing subjects.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”