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BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of the UDC: The risks & benefits

Ndulamo Anthony Morima


Sometime in August 2014 I wrote an article entitled “BOFEPUSU’s partisan politics: the risks and benefits”. The article was motivated by Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU)’s decision to support the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

It will be recalled that at the time, BOFEPUSU labelled several Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Members of Parliament (MPs) as enemies of democracy, and not only campaigned against them, but also implored its members not to vote for them. After the general elections, BOFEPUSU’s pro-UDC stance somewhat changed, with the leadership, or at least some of them, stating that it would support any political party, including the BDP, provided its policies and programmes are pro-labour.

However, recently, BOFEPUSU reaffirmed its endorsement of the UDC, stating that the BDP is anti-labour. This was after government and Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) succeeded in obtaining a stay of execution for Justice Motswagole’s decision interdicting Government from continuing to pay salaries of non-unionized public officers inclusive of three and four percent salary adjustment for the financial years 2016/17 and 2017/18 respectively.

It will be recalled that in response to BOFEPUSU’s statement aforesaid, the Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Ruth Maphorisa, issued media statements warning public servants not to engage in politics since that will be in contravention of the Public Service Act, 2008 and would warrant disciplinary action.    

BOFEPUSU’s decision and DPSM’s response have once more brought the issue of politicization of trade unions and, by extension, the workers to the fore. It is this latest development which has motivated me to write this article. As a prelude, a historical background is apposite.

Since the 2011 public sector strike BOFEPUSU has increasingly leaned towards opposition politics. While the Botswana National Front (BNF) and Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) were given platforms to address the striking workers the ruling BDP was not.

BOFEPUSU’s inclination towards opposition politics continued after the 2011 public sector strike.  During the Letlhakeng bye elections in April 2013, BOFEPUSU encouraged its members to vote for the UDC. In 2013, BOFEPUSU stated that it will fund and/or support opposition candidates during the 2014 general elections.

Still in 2013, BOFEPUSU, some of whose members often wore regalia associated with leftist political parties, resolved to name and shame politicians who are not supportive of the labour agenda, especially those contesting the 2014 general elections.

Sometime in August 2014, it was reported that during the launch of the UDC’s candidate for the Mankgodi-Gabane constituency, Major General Pius Mokgware, a BOFEPUSU leader announced BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of the UDC for the 2014 general elections. It was, however, reported that BOFEPUSU’s Secretary General, Tobokani Rari, distanced BOFEPUSU from such statements.

At the time, Rari was reported to have stated that the decision to endorse a political party or coalition will only be made after ascertaining each political party’s labour policy at a yet to be convened forum and after studying all the political parties’ manifestos.

I now discuss the risks and benefits of BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of the UDC. It is incontrovertible that BOFEPUSU’s members are affiliated to different political parties. Indeed, some of the members are not affiliated to any political party. It is, therefore, inarguable that BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of the UDC will alienate some of its members.

For instance, though not all BOPEU members were opposed to UDC’s endorsement, some were and it is this issue which, in the main, resulted in BOPEU’s disaffiliation from BOFEPUSU, something which, as evidenced by the recent court battles between BOFEPUSU and BOPEU, has splintered the trade union movement.    

Conversely, by endorsing the UDC, BOFEPUSU may benefit by retaining and/or attracting members from the UDC. However, the extent to which this can be a benefit depends on the number of members of the BDP or those that are apolitical that BOFEPUSU may lose.

Pre-2014, I was of the view that BOFEPUSU stood to lose from its endorsement of the UDC since it was likely to lose more members than it would gain considering the then larger following of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and BDP compared to that of the BNF, BMD and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP).

Considering UDC’s performance in the 2014 general elections, the BCP’s post-2014 joining of the UDC and government’s alienation of the workers through unilateral salary increases, my view has now changed. With respect to bargaining with government, BOFEPUSU stands to lose because government believes it is pursuing an opposition political agenda.  In 2014, government suspended its participation in the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC).

Government only returned to the PSBC following court action by BOFEPUSU though that was to no benefit since no meaningful negotiations have been held since, resulting in government’s unilateral increases of public servants’ salaries which led to protracted court battles and BOFEPUSU’s recent withdrawal from the PSBC.

BOFEPUSU also stands to lose since government may deny it non-statutory benefits. For instance, had it not been for the courts, government would have terminated the secondment of trade union Secretary Generals under the pretext that they uttered political statements.

President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama has been quoted as having informed civil servants that he is ready for battle with trade unions if they do not desist from open political activity. As shown above, this battle was indeed fought during the 2014/15 and 2015/16 salary negotiations which were deadlocked resulting in litigation.

Not only that. Government has taken away the administration of the Government Enabled Motor Vehicle Aid Schemes (GEMVAS) from trade unions; taken away the right to strike away from teachers, inter alia, by declaring them as essential service employees; and dismissed some BOFEPUSU leaders, for instance, BOFEPUSU’s Deputy Secretary General, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa.

Obviously in an act of vengeance, government attempted to frustrate some BOFEPUSU leaders by transferring them to departments not related to their professions. An example is government’s April 2016 attempt to transfer BOFEPUSU president, Johannes Tshukudu, from his position as Senior Lecturer at Tlokweng College of Education to the Ministry of Transport and Communication as Chief Administration Officer, which was interdicted by the courts.      

Still with respect to relations with government, BOFEPUSU and, by extension, the workers stand to lose in that government, in retribution, is likely to enact laws and make policies that are adverse to unions and workers. As shown above, this actually obtained as evidenced by government’s declaration of teaching, among other professions, as an essential service, effectively taking the right to strike away from them in an attempt to weaken the trade unions’ impact in the event there is a public sector strike.

Recently, government published a Bill seeking to amend the Public Service Act, 2008. Among the proposed amendments are making DPSM the PSBC Secretariat; taking the power of adjudicating disciplinary cases from the PSBC to the Permanent Secretary to the President(PSP) and restricting salary deductions to union subscriptions to the exclusion of such amenities as funeral cover and loan repayments.

Owing to the political pressure that BOFEPUSU’s UDC endorsement may bring to bear on government, BOFEPUSU may benefit because government may accede to its proposals during negotiations. Also, government may, in an effort to outclass the UDC and to placate the workers, initiate terms and conditions of service which are favorable to workers.

For instance, following the deadlock of the 2014/15 salary negotiations, government unilaterally implemented positive terms and conditions of service. These included expanding housing loans to include top earners; interest free salary advances for low bracket employees; and increasing the GEMVAS loan repayment period from 10 years to 20 years.

BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of the UDC is also likely to alienate its current and prospective partners and funders. Prospective partners and funders who are apolitical and do not want their political allegiance exposed will most likely disassociate with BOFEPUSU.

Antithetical to that, BOFEPUSU may gain the partners and funders who are pro-UDC and/or are not afraid of the BDP’s retribution. The reality, though, is that the gains may be outweighed by the losses considering that most significant prospective partners and funders are unlikely to support an opposition political party or coalition.

As evidenced by South Africa’s case, the political party that a trade union endorses is not necessarily always pro-labour. For instance, despite being in an alliance with the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the African National Congress (ANC) has developed laws, policies and projects which are anti-labour.

An example is the toll gate project which the ANC implemented despite opposition from COSATU. Not only that. The ANC has failed to outlaw labour brokering despite COSATU’s opposition to it. The relationship between COSATU and the ANC has soured, mainly because of COSATU’s calls for President Jacob Zuma to resign because of allegations of his capture by the Gupta family, to the extent that COSATU recently barred president Zuma from addressing any of its gatherings.  

Therefore, BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of the UDC does not guarantee support for the workers’ agenda. This notwithstanding, just like many ANC policies are pro- labour, the UDC may, in the main, develop pro- labour policies because of BOFEPUSU’s endorsement.

BOFEPUSU’s endorsement and subsequent collaboration with the UDC may result in conflict and splits. As stated above, though not all BOPEU members were opposed to BOFEPUSU’s decision to endorse the UDC, some were and the endorsement is one of the reasons why BOPEU disaffiliated from BOFEPUSU.

Similarly, not all BOFEPUSU members are in support of BOFEPUSU’s decision to endorse the UDC. This may result in a split in BOFEPUSU, especially if the UDC betrays the workers. In South Africa, the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) withheld its subscriptions from COSATU and was ultimately expelled partly because it was of the view that the alliance with the ANC was no longer beneficial to workers.

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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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