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More equal than others

STUART WHITE
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE

You are probably aware that there is a general election currently underway in the United Kingdom.  Perhaps that ought to read ‘another election’ since this is now the third such public plebiscite in 4 years and if you add in 2 referenda, one on Scottish independence, the other on leaving the European Union, the British public might be forgiven for feeling somewhat jaded with the whole business of putting a cross in a box.

It is all the more bizarre because when you think of the UK in terms of its politics, the word ‘stable’ would be one that comes to mind,  compared to Italy, say, where they seem to change governments with the frequency that some of us change our socks.   Prior to 2011 the rule of thumb was every  5 years, unless the sitting Prime Minister chose to hold one earlier but that year saw the introduction of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which dictated that elections could not be brought forward – they had to last the full 5 years, except under special circumstances but as far as the past 4 years are concerned that seems to be ‘a custom more honoured in the breach than in the observance’, to quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

So there they are in Britain, gearing up for another vote,  referred to as a ‘snap election’ because it has been called and prepared for in double-quick time to ensure a decision is in place well before the festive season.  And as you would expect, the politicians are out in force, promising the moon and sixpence if you will give them and their party your vote. ‘We’ll get us out of the European Union’, ‘We’ll make sure we stay in the European Union’, ‘We’ll have another vote on the European Union’, and a plethora of pledges on the Utopian land that will be created if this or that party gets into power.  

And thus into the mix  comes a promise from the Labour Party to reimburse WASPI women.  Unsure who they are?  Me too.  In the ‘80s the acronym WASP was a demographic group which stood for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant so my first thought was a mental picture of an army of middle-class white women who had been identified for a government windfall, which seemed somewhat curious in the culturally-diverse society that modern Britain is.   However, it seems that WASPIs are not necessarily WASPs, though probably some might be both.

The new acronym stands for  Women Against State Pension Inequality and refers to the  estimated 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who were adversely affected  by a change in state pension age from 60 to 65. The pension age shake-up was introduced by successive governments in 1995, 2007, and 2011 to bring women's state pension age in line with men and to account for the fact that people are both living and working for longer. 

Previously women qualified for the State Pension at age 60, whereas men had to wait till 65 and it was decided that in view of equality of the sexes, combined with the  fact that on average women live  longer than men, it was decided that there would be a gradual increase in the pensionable age for women to bring them in line with their male counterparts.  

Without going into the technicalities of the WASPI’s complaints,  a change in the tax relief threshold   which meant that many of Britain's poorest-paid workers were not able to claim tax relief on their pensions disadvantaged some women to the tune of around £64 (around P1000) a  year. Some of the worst affected were the 300,000 women born between December 1953 and October 1954, who were made to wait an extra 18 months before they could retire.

Cue another election promise!  Responding to the campaign, Labour jumped on that bandwagon chop chop.   Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said "We've prepared a scheme to compensate these women for a historical wrong.  It's one that they were not been able to prepare for and for which they've had to suffer serious financial consequences for as a result.  These changes were imposed upon them by a Tory-led government. So we have a historical debt of honour to them and when we go into government we are going to fulfil that debt."
The party said the payout could amount to £58billion over five years – with individual payments averaging £15,380 running to a maximum of £31,300.

The Tories, traditionally the more fiscally-responsive party, refused to be drawn on  a compensation pledge.  In a televised election special debate on November 22, an audience member asked Boris Johnson to correct the injustice.  But the PM said that while he sympathised deeply, he could not promise to "magic up that money" for them.  He further described a Labour promise to compensate the women as "very expensive".

The interesting HR point here is the equality issue concerning pensionable age.  The  alternative would have been to reduce the retirement age for men and allow everyone to stop working at age 60.  The PC argument against this is that both men and women are living longer so why then should they not be expected to stay in work longer but logically, of course, as women live longer than men, common sense says surely then men should be allowed to retire earlier? But we all know it doesn’t work like that, does it guys?!

And thus into the mix  comes a promise from the Labour Party to reimburse WASPI women.  Unsure who they are?  Me too.  In the ‘80s the acronym WASP was a demographic group which stood for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant so my first thought was a mental picture of an army of middle-class white women who had been identified for a government windfall, which seemed somewhat curious in the culturally-diverse society that modern Britain is.   However, it seems that WASPIs are not necessarily WASPs, though probably some might be both.

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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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