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BOFEPUSU is right on political neutrality

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

This week, the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) passed a resolution that it will not endorse any political party during this year’s general elections as it did in 2014 when it endorsed the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

Expectedly, this resolution was met with mixed reaction, with some calling the federation’s leadership sellouts while others have welcomed it, arguing that the federation should not have endorsed the UDC in 2014 because its membership comprises members of different political parties while others are apolitical. Others have accused BOFEPUSU’s leadership of not being bold enough to face its members, the UDC, its funders and strategic partners, many of whom subscribe to Socialism, with a decision to endorse the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), a Capitalist political party.

According to this school of thought, BOFEPUSU’s decision not to endorse a particular political party this year is effectively an endorsement of the BDP and a vote of no confidence against its longtime ally, the UDC. But in fairness to BOFEPUSU, when it endorsed BOFEPUSU in 2014, it stated that the endorsement is not a blank cheque, and it can be withdrawn if the endorsed political party does not advance its members’ agenda.        

In 2014, I wrote an article in which I argued against a trade union’s endorsement of any particular political party. Naturally, my view was not popular among some trade union leaders and members. I am, however, pleased that many have come to accept that while endorsing a particular political party may have some positives, such are outweighed by the negatives. But the fact that some still subscribe to the endorsement idea means there is need for further discussion on the matter, hence this article.  

It is incontrovertible that BOFEPUSU’s members belong to different political parties and/or subscribe to different political ideologies. Indeed, some of BOFEPUSU’s members do not subscribe to any political party, coalition or ideology. To this extent, it is inarguable that BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of a political party, coalition or ideology would alienate some of its members. As argued in 2014, if BOFEPUSU endorses a political party, coalition or ideology, it will inevitably lose those of its members who belong to a different political party, coalition or ideology.

Conversely, by endorsing a particular political party, coalition or ideology, BOFEPUSU may benefit by retaining and/or attracting members from such a political persuasion. However, the extent to which this can be a benefit depends on the number of members from the unendorsed political parties that BOFEPUSU may lose.

It appears to me that, this year, considering the change in the political landscape, if BOFEPUSU endorses the UDC, for example, it stands to lose more since it is likely to lose more members who may have realigned with the Botswana Democratic Party(BDP) following the assumption of the presidency by His Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi.

With respect to bargaining with government, BOFEPUSU, in my view, stands to lose if government believes it is pursuing a political agenda. It will be recalled that in 2014, when government believed BOFEPUSU was pro-UDC, it suffered a backlash from government. Government suspended its participation in the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) and attempted to terminate the secondment of trade union Secretary Generals for alleged utterance of political statements.

The then president, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, was quoted as having informed civil servants that he is ready for battle with trade unions if they do not desist from open political activity. This battle was indeed fought during the 2014/15 salary negotiations which ended in a deadlock, the result being government’s unilateral 4% salary increment and BOFEPUSU’s unsuccessful urgent application to interdict the increment.

This year, because of improved relations between government and trade unions, salary negotiations were conducted harmoniously and the outcome, 10% for A and B scales and 6% for C and D scales, was generally acceptable to trade unions. Also, though many public servants remain dissatisfied with their terms and conditions of service, the PEMANDU facilitated negotiations produced an outcome which was also generally acceptable among public servants, especially members of the Manual Workers Union.

Though controversial and divisive even within the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) itself and other disciplined forces, the Ntlole phenomena has, no doubt, placated many. Still with respect to relations with government, BOFEPUSU and, by extension, the workers, stand to lose if they endorse an opposition political party in that government, in vengeance, is likely to enact laws and make policies that are adverse to unions and workers.

This actually obtained when, immediately after the 2011 public sector strikes, government, obviously for the purpose of reducing the public sector’s striking power, instituted a statutory instrument that declared, as an essential service, teaching, among others. Fortunately, the Court of Appeal declared that as unconstitutional, but government enacted primary legislation in that regard, though it recently amended the list of essential services by removing teaching from the list, something which obviously did to placate workers for the forthcoming general elections.    

BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of a particular political party, especially from the Opposition, may, however, have some benefits. For instance, owing to the political pressure that the political party endorsed by BOFEPUSU may bring to bear on government, BOFEPUSU may benefit in that government may accede to its proposals during negotiations.

Also, government may, in an effort to outclass the endorsed political party 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 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 Government Enabled Motor Vehicle Aid Schemes (GEMVAS)’s loan repayment period from 10 years to 20 years.  In fact, I wish to argue that BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of the UDC in 2014 has borne fruit. In my view, were it not for such endorsement, which nearly resulted in the BDP losing power in 2014, the positive developments discussed above may not have obtained.

On a negative front, BOFEPUSU’s partisan politics is likely to alienate its current and prospective partners, sympathizers and funders. Partners, sympathizers and funders who are apolitical and those who do not want their political allegiance exposed would most likely disassociate with BOFEPUSU. Antithetical to that, BOFEPUSU may gain the partners, sympathizers and funders who are pro the endorsed political party 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 partners and funders are unlikely to support an opposition political party or coalition.

Still on a negative note, because of competing political and economic interests, the political party that a trade union endorses does not necessarily remain pro-labour when it is in government. For instance, despite being in an alliance with the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP) have developed laws, policies and projects which are anti labour.

Examples are the toll gate project and labour brokers which the ANC implemented and failed to outlaw despite opposition from COSATU. Therefore, BOFEPUSU’s endorsement of a political party or coalition does not guarantee support for the workers’ agenda. This notwithstanding, just like many ANC policies are pro labour, the political party or coalition that BOFEPUSU endorses may, in the main, develop pro labour policies.

Unfortunately, once a trade union endorses a political party, it becomes beholden to it, and fails to bring it to book, something which can only thrive at the expense of the members. This becomes worse when such a political party is in government. BOFEPUSU’s endorsement and subsequent collaboration with a political party or coalition may result in conflict and splits. This is inevitable since the politicians will strive to control the unionists and vice versa. The split may also be as a result of irreconcilable differences in political ideologies and/or priorities as regards policies and programmes.

In South Africa, for example, ANC’s conflicts have brought disunity in COSATU. Consequently, the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) disaffiliated from COSATU and formed a workers’ political party. In response, the ANC and the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM) are engineering the formation of a pro COSATU and ANC metal workers union. In view of the aforegoing, I still hold that it is not advisable for a trade union to endorse any particular political party. I, therefore, commend BOFEPUSU for its decision not to endorse a particular political party this year.   

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Economic Resurgence Options: Is Export-Led Growth Tenable For Botswana?

22nd September 2020

The world in which we live is a criminally unequal one. In his iconic 1945 allegorical novella,  Animal Farm, a satire on the facetiousness  of the then Soviet Empire’s crackbrained experiment with a command economy, the legendary George Orwell in my view hit the nail squarely on the head when he said all animals were equal but some animals were more equal than others.

That’s the never-ending dichotomy of the so-called First World and its polar opposite, the so-called Third World as Orwell’s cleverly-couched diatribe applies as much to the tread-of-the-mill laissez faire economics of our day as it did to Marxist-Leninist Russia a generation back.

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Victory is Won

22nd September 2020

Israelites take Canaan under General Joshua

Even as the Nation of Israeli braced to militarily take possession of the Promised Land, General, its top three senior citizens, namely Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, were not destined to share in this god-conferred bequest. All three died before the lottery was won.

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Finance Bills: What are they about?

22nd September 2020

Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and Accountants (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were expeditiously passed by parliament on Thursday.

What are these two Bills really about?  The Bills are essentially about professional values that are applicable to auditors and accountants in their practice. The Bills seeks to basically enhance existing laws to ensure more uprightness, fairness, professional proficiency, due care, expertise and or professional technical standards.

The Financial Reporting Act, 2010 (FRA) establishes the Botswana Accountancy Oversight Authority (BAOA), as the country’s independent regulator of the accounting and auditing profession. BAOA is responsible for the oversight and registration of audit firms and certified auditors of public interest entities.

In the same vein, there is the Accountants Act, 2010 establishing the Botswana Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) which is responsible for the registration and regulation of the accounting and auditing profession. This consequently infers that some auditors have to register first with BICA as certified auditors, and also with BAOA as certified auditors of public bodies. So, the Bills sought to avert the duplication.

According to Minister Matsheka, the duplication of efforts in the regulation of auditors, which is done by both BICA and BAOA, creates a substantial gap on oversight of certified auditors in Botswana, as the two entities have different review procedures. He contends that the enforcement of sanctions becomes problematic and, thus, leads to offenders going Scot-Free, and audit quality standards also continue to plunge.

The Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020, in the view of the Minister, brings the oversight and regulation of all auditors in Botswana under the jurisdiction of the Accountancy Oversight Authority and that Bringing all auditors within one roof, under the supervision of BAOA would therefore reinforce their oversight and significantly enhance accountability.

He also pointed that the Bill broadens the current mandate of the Authority by redefining public interest entities to include public bodies, defined as boards, tribunals, commissions, councils, committees, other body corporate or unincorporated established under any enactment.

This covers any company in which government has an equity shareholding. In order to enable the process of instituting fitting sanctions against violation of its provisions, the Bill clearly lays down acts and lapses that constitute professional misconduct.

This Bill further strengthens the sanctions for breach of the Act by public interest entities, officers, firms, and certified auditors. Reinforcing the law with respect to such sanctions will act as an effective deterrent for breach of the Act.

The Accountants Bill also strengthens the current mandate of the Institute by making it obligatory for those who provide accountancy services in Botswana to register with the Institute, and for all employers to hire accountants who are registered with the Institute.

The Minister reasons that in line with the spirit of citizen empowerment, this Bill proposes reservation of at least 50% of the Council membership for citizens. This, he says, is to empower citizens and ensure that citizenries play an active role in the affairs of the Institute, and ultimately in the development of the accounting profession in Botswana.

The Bills come at a point when Botswana’s financial sector is in a quagmire. The country has been blacklisted by the European Union. Its international rankings on Corruption Perception Index have slightly reduced.  According to recent reports by Afro Barometer survey, perceptions of corruption in the public service have soured and so is mistrust in public institutions.

Rating agencies, Standard Poor’s and Moody’s have downgraded Botswana, albeit slightly. The reasons are that there continues to be corruption, fiscal and revenue crimes such as money laundering and general unethical governance in the country. There are still loopholes in many laws despite the enactments and amendments of more than thirty laws in the last two years.

One of the most critical aspect of enhancing transparency and accountability and general good governance, is to have a strong auditing and accounting systems. Therefore, such professions must be properly regulated to ensure that public monies are protected against white color crime. It is well known that some audit firms are highly unprincipled.

They are responsible for tax avoidance and tax evasions of some major companies. Some are responsible for fraud that has been committed. They are more loyal to money paid by clients than to ethical professional standards. They shield clients against accountability. Some companies and parastatals have collapsed or have been ruined financially despite complementary reports by auditors.

In some cases, we have seen audit firms auditing parastatals several times to almost becoming resident auditors. This is bad practice which is undesirable. Some auditors who were appointed liquidators of big companies have committee heinous crimes of corruption, imprudent management, fraud and outright recklessness without serious consequences.

There is also a need to protect whistleblowers as they have been victimized for blowing the whistle on impropriety. In fact, in some cases, audit firms have exonerated culprits who are usually corrupt corporate executives.

The accounting and auditing professions have been dominated by foreigners for a very long time. Most major auditing firms used by state entities and big private sector companies are owned by foreigners. There has to be a deliberate plan to have Batswana in this profession.

While there are many Batswana who are accountants, less are chartered accountants. There must be deliberate steps to wrestle the profession from foreigners by making citizens to be chartered.  It is also important to strengthen the Auditor General. The office is created by the constitution.

The security of tenure is clearly secured in the constitution. However, this security of tenure was undermined by the appointing authority in many instances whereby the Auditor General was appointed on a short-term contract. The office is part of the civil service and is not independent at all.

The Auditor General is placed, in terms of scale, at Permanent Secretary level and is looked at as a peer by others who think they can’t be instructed by their equivalent to comply. Some have failed to submit books of accounts for audits, e.g. for special funds without fear or respect of the office. There is need to relook this office by making it more independent and place it higher than Permanent Secretaries.

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