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80 Shades of Beige

Stuart White

Flip Dictionary! If that phrase leaves you lost for words you clearly haven’t got a copy. Designed and compiled by Barbara Ann Kiffer, the person responsible for the Millennium update of Roget’s Thesaurus, the Flip Dictionary solves the problem of when you know what you want to say, it’s right on the tip of your tongue but you just can’t quite think of it. 

It goes beyond the standard dictionary format by offering cues and clue words to lead you to the precise phrase or specific term you need.  (note to self – ‘look up phrase ‘flip dictionary’). There’s even an online Adobe Acrobat version available for people with a fear of paper (papyrophobia) or even worse, fear of paper cuts (pulpuslacerataphobia).

As you can see, the Flip Dictionary is full of amazingly useful and totally useless titbits.  For instance, we may have been led to believe there are 50 shades of grey but did you know there are more than 80 different shades of the colour brown and in case you don’t believe me here is a sample to whet your literary appetite; anthracene, beaver, bistre, brindle, buff, doeskin, dun, fallow, fulvous, nutria, pongee, raffia, seal, sorrel, taupe and umber.

Now I am not quite sure where I can slip these extensions to my vocabulary into the conversation or even this column but I’m working on it and it did get me thinking that there is so much that is useless or inappropriate in the business world that it would be handy to have a flip corporate manual to assist in offering 79 other choices to specific situations, standard problems, accepted solutions and clichéd practises. Maybe the Flip Policy Manual or whatever could advise you what was no longer useful or completely redundant?

Having 80 different colours of brown may seem superfluous and overkill but so too are the many activities, rituals and norms we have in the corporate world. So here are some grey areas we should find alternatives for.

Team Building Retreats – I am referring here to the old ‘build a raft and climb a rock face’ interventions that are supposed to develop closeness and camaraderie through a shared near-death or severe deprivation experience away from the work environment, a sort of right-of-passage ritual for suits. These kinds of exercises are usually heavily over-subscribed by executives secretly harbouring a desire to be daredevil thrill seekers who can only usually get their adrenalin rush watching Mission Impossible movies.

In the real world team building can better be accomplished by using common sense and a few fundamental principles such as getting people to recognise that together they perform better and produce more than individually, by establishing an environment of trust, involving and including everyone and then recognising the efforts and attainments of the team, rather than by silly virtual reality war games or scripted, controlled and orchestrated adventures, the results of which rarely last much longer than the end-of-exercise party at the bar.  Face it, Tom Cruise most of you ain’t.

Mission Statements – A litany of self-delusion that everyone has to have but never remembers the wording or why it was put there in the first place. I am a great believer in ‘if its not working, toss it out’ and in my humble opinion I would have expected by now that Mission Statements would have fallen into a state of total disuse. Surprisingly they continue to be considered one of the most popular end-product management tools in the world, even ranked as one of the top two corporate practices in global usage by Bain & Company since 1993.

I do believe in the old expression, "No wind favours the ship that has no charted course” so I appreciate the critical need for organisational direction but don’t kid myself that the Mission Statement is the vehicle that will make it happen; they’re simply not worth the paper on which they are written. The average Mission Statement is a lofty, unattainable piece of pomposity which is, as John Philpott in ‘People Management’ says, “little better than a secular version of the religious pieties that in early times were hung above the door of the workhouses in England.”

Corporate Uniforms – Now I know I am going to be hugely unpopular with this one but let’s face it, having a dress code is the ultimate in management command and control. I have worked for organisations that branded you a black sheep, sent you home and docked you a day’s pay because you exercised a bit of personal choice in the threads department, thus leaving the work to be carried out by the mindless sheep happy to be all dressed the same way giving the same lousy service. But at least, the corporate thinking goes, they are uniformed and uniform in their lousy service. Fortunately in this country the not wearing of ties and tights is not too much of a criminal offence anymore.

Security Sign-In Procedure – This is a whole redundant employment industry on its own, requiring a superannuated security guard whose only responsibility is to ensure that the access register is completed. I love it when they get pernickety about the time “Excuse me sir but it is 4.23 and you have entered 4.25.

‘The fact that you recorded your name as Rumpelstiltskin and listed the reason for the visit under ‘Business, as in none of yours’ is neither here nor there. The only people who benefit from access-control security guards are the printers and stationery store owners purveying those massive and massively-expensively bound attendance ledgers, made of nothing but the best quality paper. They have to go, the books and the guards!

So Flip Manuals are in and team building, mission statements and uniformed time lords are out.  Or maybe not? Shall we flip for it?

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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