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Is BOPEU a sellout?

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Recently, there have been allegations that there are some within the Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU), Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) itself and the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) who regard BOPEU as a sellout.

Apparently, those who accuse BOPEU of being a sellout cite BOPEU’s opposition to politicization of trade unions, BOPEU’s disinvestment from UNIGEM, and BOPEU’s meetings with Office of the President (OP). In this article, we consider whether or not the aforesaid actions make BOPEU a sellout.

Firstly, BOPEU’s opposition to politicization of trade unions. As argued before, BOFEPUSU’s decision to support the UDC in last year’s general elections was wrong. It was wrong because it was inconsiderate of the fact that its members support various political parties and ‘compelling’ them to support a particular political party violates their rights to the freedoms of conscience, association and choice. Such ‘compulsion’ could also lead to conflicts and splits within the federation. It is as a result of the decision to support the UDC that today there is disunity between BOPEU and the other BOFEPUSU affiliates.  

It was also wrong because the decision would inevitably attract the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the government’s wrath. No political party and government would celebrate the fact that one is opposed to it, especially if one makes such public and exhorts those under their influence, especially public servants, not to vote for it. If such a political party is in government, as the BDP is, endorsing the Opposition and calling for regime change would be met with remorseless reprisal which can only be prejudicial to BOFEPUSU’s members.

Those who criticize BOPEU for its opposition to politicization of trade unions argue that its position was in defiance of a resolution taken by the federation’s general membership. Alternatively, they contend, even if the general membership did not pass the resolution in the exact manner executed by the leadership, the leadership had the mandate to give effect to the resolution as it deemed fit. They also contend that even if the resolution was wrong BOPEU was duty bound to support the majority’s decision. This cannot be correct.

Given the sensitivity of such a resolution, it should have, following adequate notice and publication, been debated thoroughly from the branch level. Therefore, by the time it reached the national level, if it ever did, the entire federation and the nation should have been aware of the exact contents of the draft resolution. The fact that there is no consensus as to whether this in fact happened brings doubt on the legitimacy of the resolution.

Supposing the general membership did not pass the resolution, can it be right that the federation leadership, e.g. the National Governing Council (NGC) had the mandate to pass the resolution on the members’ behalf? Though in a representative democracy the leadership is endowed with the power to act on the members’ behalf, considering the seriousness of the resolution in issue, the leadership had a duty to defer the matter to the general membership in the form of the federation’s highest decision making body, e.g. the Delegates Congress (DC).

Therefore, if BOFEPUSU’s general membership never consciously passed the resolution to support the UDC at its highest decision making forum, BOPEU cannot be regarded as a sellout for opposing the decision. In fact, as a defender of the federation’s constitution, BOPEU should be praised for being opposed to the leadership’s decision which was ultra vires its constitutional mandate.     

Secondly, BOPEU’s disinvestment from UNIGEM. At the time BOPEU showed intention to disinvest from UNIGEM the reason it gave was that UNIGEM was not a profitable venture and its members’ interest in terms of shareholder value was no longer assured. If UNIGEM is indeed no longer a going concern and provided after the disinvestment BOPEU would prudently invest the proceeds of the share sale BOPEU cannot be regarded as a sellout. On the contrary, it was, in exercise of the fiduciary duty it has to its members, and in observance of its obligations in terms of the Trade Unions and Employers Organizations Act, acting in its members’ best interests.

Thirdly, BOPEU’s meetings with OP. In accepting that BOPEU indeed engaged with OP, the BOPEU President, Andrew Motsamai, stated that there is nothing amiss with such engagement because a trade union, by its very nature, has to develop a working relationship with those in power to engage on issues affecting its members. In justifying why not all engagement with government cannot be through the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) Motsamai was quoted by this publication saying “ …some issues are not for bargaining but for consultation and policy.”  

Motsamai further contended that those opposed to BOPEU’s modus operandi are applying double standards because when Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) and Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) engage the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MESD) on Levels of Operation and supervision of sporting activities outside the PSBC it is viewed as legitimate, but when BOPEU engages OP it is regarded as a sellout. Motsamai further argues that “…BOPEU has to engage with OP because its membership cuts across the entire government spectrum.”

Motsamai also contends that BOPEU’s first point of call is the Directorate on Public Service Management (DPSM) which falls under the OP. Further that the head of the public service is the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) and when they engage the OP they are in fact administratively engaging the PSP.

The purpose of forming BOFEPUSU was for its members to act in cooperation with one another and to defend one another because of the popular trade union maxim “an injury to one is an injury to all”. Acting in cooperation means that the members’ efforts would not contravene each other. It also means that each member’s efforts, especially those of significance, would be known by other members. It, however, does not mean that each member’s peculiarity and identity ceases to exit. It also does not mean that members should be oblivious to sensitives which may exist at different times.

Considering the significance of a meeting with OP, especially at a time when the political environment was tense because of elections, BOPEU’s meeting with OP, regardless of its purpose, without the other BOFEPUSU affiliates’ knowledge, cannot have been right. Such a meeting would inevitably result in perceptions which unfortunately matter despite their veracity or lack thereof. So, while the meeting may have had a good purpose, it was wrong to the extent it disregarded the political sensitivities prevailing at the time.

This is evidenced by Motsamai’s own assertion that despite the current uproar on BOPEU’s engagement with OP, they have previously engaged with OP several times without such uproar. The uproar arose because of the concerned meeting’s political insensitiveness.   

Still regarding political sensitivities, the fact that in November 2014, only a month after the 2014 general elections, BOPEU invited President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama to officiate at its convention was imprudent. The same would be the case if it had invited Duma Boko of the UDC or Dumelang Saleshando of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP).  The fact that as a result of such invitation, President Khama hailed BOPEU as a responsible Union and invited its leadership to his office “anytime” demonstrates the political insensitiveness of BOPEU’s action. By referring to BOPEU as responsible President Khama was implying that other trade unions are irresponsible.

Motsamai argues that a smart trade union cannot miss an opportunity to engage with OP. Under normal circumstances this is true. But, the time BOPEU met with OP was not normal and it was always going to elicit suspicions. The fact that some of the meeting(s) are alleged to have happened around the time when Motsamai was alleged to have declined contesting the Gaborone Central constituency under the UDC banner does not help the situation.

Motsamai also argues that BOPEU members are able to separate the office of the President from the person or the party. This is not true. Though my view is based on anecdotal evidence, in Botswana, as is the case in many other countries, there is no such separation. This has been evidenced by the fact that weak candidates win elections simply because they contest in their political party’s safe constituency.

BOPEU obviously acted imprudently by meeting the OP at the time and under the prevailing circumstances, but whether that makes it a sellout or not depends on what transpired at the meetings. If neither the workers’ agenda nor BOFEPUSU’s wellbeing were compromised by such meetings BOPEU cannot be labelled a sellout. It just lacked judgment and it is an indiscretion for which it can be forgiven.

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DIS Parley Committee selection disingenuous 

25th November 2020

Intelligence and Security Service Act, which is a law that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DIS), provides for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee. Recently, the President announced nine names of Members of Parliament he had appointed to the Committee.

This announcement was preceded by a meeting the President held with the Speaker and the Leader of Opposition. Following the announcement of Committee MPs by the President, the opposition, through its leader, made it clear that it will not participate in the Committee unless certain conditions that would ensure effective oversight are met. The opposition acted on the non-participation threat through resignation of its three MPs from the Committee.

The Act at Section 38 provides for the establishment of the Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. The law provides that the Parliamentary Committee shall have the same powers and privileges set out under the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.

On composition, the Committee shall consist of nine members who shall not be members of Cabinet and its quorum shall be five members.  The MPs in the Committee elect a chairperson from among their number at their first meeting.

The Members of the Committee are appointed by the President after consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. It is the provision of the law that the Committee, relative to its size, reflect the numerical strengths of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The Act provides that that a member of the Committee holds office for the duration of the Parliament in which he or she is appointed.  The Committee is mandated to make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the President and may at any time report to him or her on any matter relating to the discharge of those functions.

The Minister responsible for intelligence and security is obliged to lay before the National Assembly a copy of each annual report made by the Committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of the provision of the Act.

If it appears to the Minister, after consultation with the Parliamentary Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Directorate, the Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the National Assembly.

So, what are the specific demands of the Opposition and why are they not participating in the Committee? What should happen as a way forward? The Opposition demanded that there be a forensic audit of the Directorate. The DIS has never been audited since it was set up in 2008, more than a decade ago.

The institution has been a law unto itself for a longtime, feared by all oversight bodies. The Auditor General, who had no security of tenure, could not audit the DIS. The Directorate’s personnel, especially at a high level, have been implicated in corruption.  Some of its operatives are in courts of law defending corruption charges preferred against them. Some of the corruption cases which appeared in the media have not made it to the courts.

The DIS has been accused of non-accountability and unethical practices as well as of being a burden on the fiscus.  So, the Opposition demanded, from the President, a forensic audit for the purpose of cleaning up the DIS.  They demand a start from a clean slate.

The second demand by the Opposition is that the law be reviewed to ensure greater accountability of the DIS to Parliament. What are some of the issues that the opposition think should be reviewed? The contention is that the executive cannot appoint a Committee of Parliament to scrutinize an executive institution.

Already, it is argued, Parliament is less independent and it is dominated by the executive. It is contended that the Committee should be established by the Standing Orders and be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament. There is also an argument that the Committee should report to Parliament and not to the President and that the Minister should not have any role in the Committee.

Democratic and Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence is relatively a new phenomenon across the World. Even developed democracies are still grappling with some of these issues. However, there are acceptable standards or what might be called international best practices which have evolved over the past two or so decades.

In the UK for instance, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Houses of Parliament, having been nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. This is a good balancing exercise of involvement of both the executive and the legislature. Consultation is taken for granted in Botswana context in the sense that it has been reduced to just informing the Leader of Opposition without much regard to his or her ideas; they are never taken seriously.

Furthermore, the current Committee in the UK has four Members of the ruling party and five MPs from the opposition. It is a fairly balanced Committee in terms of Parliamentary representation. However, as said above, the President of Botswana appointed six ruling party MPs and three from the opposition.

The imbalance is preposterous and more pronounced with clear intentions of getting the executive way through the ruling party representatives in the Committee. The intention to avoid scrutiny is clear from the numbers of the ruling party MPs in the Committee.

There is also an international standard of removing sensitive parts which may harm national security from the report before it is tabled in the legislature. The previous and current reluctance of the executive arms to open up on Defence and Security matters emanate from this very reason of preserving and protecting national security.

But national security should be balanced with public interest and other democratic principles. The decision to expunge certain information which may be prejudicial to national security should not be an arbitrary and exclusive decision of the executive but a collective decision of a well fairly balanced Committee in consultation with the Speaker and the minister responsible.

There is no doubt that the DIS has been a rogue institution. The reluctance by the President to commit to democratic-parliamentary oversight reforms presupposes a lack of commitment to democratization. The President has no interest in seeing a reformed DIS with effective oversight of the agency.

He is insincere. This is because the President loathes the idea losing an iota of power and sharing it with any other democratic institution. He sees the agency as his power lever to sustain his stay in the high office. He thought he could sanitize himself with an ineffective DIS Committee that would dance to his tune.

The non-participation of the opposition MPs renders the Committee dysfunctional; it cannot function as this would be unlawful. Participation of the opposition is a legal requirement. Even if it can meet, it would lack legitimacy; it cannot be taken seriously. The President should therefore act on the oversight demands and reform the DIS if he is to be taken seriously.

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The Maccabean Uprising

25th November 2020
Jewish freedom fighters

 Jews drive away occupying power under the command of guerrilla leader Judas Maccabees but only just

Although it was the Desolation Sacrilege act, General Atiku, that officially sparked the Maccabean revolt, it in truth simply stoked the fires of an already simmering revolution. How so General?

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Atomic (CON)Fusion

25th November 2020

For years I have trained people about paradigm shifts – those light-bulb-switch-on moments – where there is a seismic change from the usual way of thinking about something to a newer, better way. 

I like to refer to them as ‘aha’ moments because of the sudden understanding of something which was previously incomprehensible. However,  the topic of today’s article is the complete antithesis of ‘aha’.  Though I’d love to tell you I’d had a ‘eureka ‘, ‘problem solved’ moment, I am faced with the complete opposite – an ‘oh-no’ moment or Lost Leader Syndrome.

No matter how well prepared or capable a leader is. they often find themselves facing perplexing events, confounding information, or puzzling situations. Confused by developments of which they can’t make sense and by challenges that they don’t know how to solve they become confused, sometimes lost and completely clueless about what to do.

I am told by Jentz and Murphy (JM) in ‘What leaders do when they don’t know what to do’ that this is normal, and that rapid change is making confusion a defining feature of management in the 21st century.  Now doesn’t that sound like the story of 2020 summed up in a single sentence?

The basic premise of their writing is that “confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling issues.

In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.”

The problem with this ideology however is that it doesn’t help my overwhelming feelings of fear and panic which is exacerbated by a tape playing on a loop in my head saying  ‘you’re supposed to know what to do, do something’. My angst is compounded by annoying motivational phrases also unhelpfully playing in my head like.

  • Nothing happens until something moves
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started


  • Act or be acted upon

All these platitudes are urging me to pull something out of the bag, but I know that this is a trap. This need to forge ahead is nothing but a coping mechanism and disguise. Instead of owning the fact that I haven’t got a foggy about what to do, part of me worries that I’ll lose authority if I acknowledge that I can’t provide direction – I’m supposed to know the answers, I’m the MD!  This feeling of not being in control is common for managers in ‘oh no’ situations and as a result they often start reflexively and unilaterally attempting to impose quick fixes to restore equilibrium because, lets be honest, sometimes we find it hard to resist hiding our confusion.

To admit that I am lost in an “Oh, No!” moment opens the door not only to the fear of losing authority but also to a plethora of other troubling emotions and thoughts:  *Shame and loss of face: “You’ll look like a fool!” * Panic and loss of control: “You’ve let this get out of hand!” * Incompetence and incapacitation: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

As if by saying “I’m at a loss here” is tantamount to declaring “I am not fit to lead.” Of course the real problem for me and any other leader is if they don’t admit when they are disoriented, it sends a signal to others in the organisation stating it’s not cool to be lost and that, by its very nature encourages them to hide.  What’s the saying about ‘a real man never asks for direction. they end up driving around in circles’.

As managers we need to embrace the confusion, show vulnerability (remember that’s not a bad word) and accept that leadership is not about pretending to have all the answers but about having the courage to search with others to discover a solution.

JM point out that “being confused, however, does not mean being incapacitated.  Indeed, one of the most liberating truths of leadership is that confusion is not quicksand from which to escape but rather the potter’s clay of leadership – the very stuff with which managers can work.”

2020 has certainly been a year to remember and all indications are that the confusion which has characterised this year will still follow us into the New Year, thereby making confusion a defining characteristic of the new normal and how managers need to manage. Our competence as leaders will then surely be measured not only by ‘what I know’ but increasingly by ‘how I behave when I accept, I don’t know, lose my sense of direction and become confused.

.I guess the message for all organizational cultures going forward is that sticking with the belief that we need all-knowing, omni-competent executives will cost them dearly and send a message to managers that it is better to hide their confusion than to address it openly and constructively.

Take comfort in these wise words ‘Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not yet understood’!

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