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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to BOFEPUSU, when it endorsed BOFEPUSU in 2014, it stated that the endorsement is not a blank cheque, and it can be withdrawn if the endorsed political party does not advance its members’ agenda.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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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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