President Ian Khama has heaped praises on Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) calling it the most responsible union, as it is driven by its explicit goal of representing the worker in the country.
Khama seized this rare opportunity in Palapye this week where he was invited to speak at BOPEU’s Annual General Convention (AGC) to castigate other unions, describing them as difficult to work with and being obsessing with the pursuit of political agendas.
President Khama says BOPEU has proven to be a union which truly represents the interests of the workers as compared to other unions.
Khama has experienced a turbulent relationship with the unions since ascending to the country’s top seat. It was for the first time in the history of Botswana under the Presidency of Khama that thousands of public service workers down tools and took to the streets in protest against government’s failure to increase their salaries.
The public servants under BOFEPUSU, of which BOPEU is an affiliate, had staged a protest in which they demanded 16 percent increase while the government offered only three percent.
Khama says BOFEPUSU demands were unreasonable and could not be met by government since the country was experiencing an economic down-turn. The strike, which lasted for nearly three months, resulted in a significant number of public officers, including BOPEU members, losing their jobs.
Government refused to reinstate majority of those who were fired, and appealed and won an earlier decision by the High Court to reinstate all dismissed employees unconditionally.
Khama blamed lack of progress on the intransigency of some unionist that were difficult to deal with.
He said there were some in the unions “who bring forward unreasonable demands” so that when government did not accede it could be portrayed as uncaring about the welfare of its workers.
“We know that the problems you are talking about are real but you should be grateful as unions that during the economic decline the government did not retrench its employees, but instead preserved their jobs,” the President said.
Khama says unions should also compromise to show patriotism, saying even where the law grants them certain privileges; at times civil servants should be flexible outside the law in order to move the country forward.
Khama says the public service is not doing a satisfactory job and the public is complaining about the services it receives from government employees.
“I get feedback from Batswana in Kgotla meetings and other forums that the public is not happy with the level of service delivery they get from civil service,” he said.
To improve service delivery, Khama said he would introduce a reward system for performance so employees who work hard could be rewarded for their efforts.
Khama then noted that just like former President, Festus Mogae, he still “believes Botswana’s civil service is the best in Africa”.
Khama says they introduced inflation allowance during the economic decline and they were in the process of introducing housing and upkeep allowance for lowly paid workers.
In addition Khama says he has also granted civil servants their wish to start business while working for government.
The President Khama expressed his disdain for the Bargaining Council, saying it was made up of people who had political agendas, therefore making it hard to reach an agreement.
Khama says since BOPEU has proven that “it is not driven by political agendas”, he would be happy to meet with its leadership anytime at his office to discuss issues pertaining to workers’ welfare and conditions of service.
“You do not have to wait for the Bargaining Council to resume,” he assured, “We can have talks first and reach an agreement before we go for Bargaining Council.”
BOFEPUSU Secretary General Tobokani Rari, who was also present at the convention, said President Khama’s open door policy was aimed at turning unions into beggars and stripping them of their bargaining powers.
“We know what he (Khama) did in the past, going around making pronouncements on salary increment when the talks at Bargaining Council were underway,” says Rari.
Khama says with the new civil service leadership he is hoping that the relationship between his government and unions will improve.
“I hope it will turn a new leaf with unions and public service in general,” he said.
Subsequent to 2014 general elections, Khama made several changes to the office responsible for public service. Eric Molale, the former Private Secretary to the President (PSP), has been appointed the new Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Carter Morupisi, who was the Director of the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) replaced Molale as the PSP while Ruth Maporisa took over at DPSM on promotion from Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture.
Last week, Abram Kesupile, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Member of Parliament (MP) for Kanye South, said Khama has packed the leadership of public service with people known to be anti-workers and it could “spell another tumultuous relationship with the government in the next five years”.
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.