14 August 2017

Botswana: Political Expediency or Genuine Offer?

An announcement by Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) on Tuesday that Government will pay salary increment arrears to April 2016 for public officers belonging to members of BOFEPUSU affiliated trade unions has been received with mixed feelings.

While beneficiaries will be smiling all the way to the bank, as their financial situation is set to improve, some believe the ruling party is engaged in political expediency to avoid a ruthless backlash from public officers in the fast approaching Bulela Ditswe 2017.

The announcement comes just two weeks after the High Court ruled that public officers were free to vote in party primary elections, thus reversing a 2013 directive by Government blocking them from such participation. Back then, Government claimed that voting in primary elections amounted to political activism.

Meanwhile political parties have welcomed the court decision. BNF spokesperson, Justin Hunyepa, said their members who are public officers have been yearning for that decision and have been demanding it. Their main gripe was that it was unreasonable to expect them to choose between candidates at national elections whom they have not participated in electing at lower levels, being primary elections.

"Without their input in primary elections, that amounts to imposing candidates on them. From the very beginning of the process civil servants should be able to assess primary election candidates and vote the one they are comfortable with," said Hunyepa.

Buoyed by the victory in the case pursued by National Amalgamated Local and Central Government, parastatal Workers Union, and Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), BOFEPUSU has already set plans in motion to mobilise public officers to register with political parties to implement their resolution to participate in what they term 'political economy'. Welcoming the judgment, Secretary General Tobokani Rari said this week that the judgment has equipped public officers with the much needed ammunition to influence political representation in local authorities and central government. He hailed the decision as quite progressive and opens doors for civil servants to screen potential MPs and Councillors at a lower level. "This judgment comes at the right time when the federation has engaged in the past and intends to engage going forward in establishing a lists of politician whose behaviour, conduct and deeds are anti-workers. Now civil servants would commence the process of screening politicians at primary elections level. This will enhance our democracy and keep politicians accountable at least in as far as matters of public officers are concerned," he said. Rari said public officers are citizens of the country and are therefore entitled to enjoy all the rights like any other citizen as enshrined in the constitution of the republic including among others the right to freedom of association and freedom of speech. He said they have always maintained that such rights and freedoms cannot just be curtailed by the mere reason that someone is a public officer, hence the reason they have always insisted that public officers cannot be disenfranchised at party level as that infringes the right of freedom of association. "It does not make any sense at all that one could be permitted to vote at national level and be denied to select the very people whom s/he is going to vote. What this would effectively mean is that at the national level, one would be making a choice between people that have been imposed on him/her," he said.

At the time BOFEPUSU was giving an update about the salary adjustment arrears on Tuesday, across town the BDP announced that Cabinet had agreed to award back-pays to public officers who did not benefit. Government awarded a unilateral increment of 3 and 4% for financial years 2016/17 and 2017/18 respectively to non-unionised public officers and members of trade unions that do not form part of BOFEPUSU. Government had refused to backdate the salary adjustment consequent to a protracted battle between Government and BOFEPUSU over salary negotiations and the functionality of Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). A salary adjustment of 3% for financial year 2016/17 and 4% for 2017/18 were awarded effective June 2017 to members of unions affiliated to the federation being NALCGPWU, BTU, BLLAHWU and BOSETU. In July 2017, the federation resuscitated the arrears issue through a letter to the Director of DPSM indicating that it is necessary to make payment of salary increment arrears to their members for the purpose of equity. Other public officers were awarded the increment effective 1st April 2016 for 2016/17 and 1st April 2017 for 2017/18. Also requesting a meeting to find closure on the matter, the federation argued in the letter that the funds for the increment were already budgeted for. DPSM never responded to the request. On Tuesday BOFEPUSU delivered a follow up letter to DPSM, and advised the Director of DPSM about the need to close the matter. Curiously, the response to the federation's request came not from the employer but from the BDP Secretary General Mpho Balopi, who on Tuesday said such letters were an attempt by BOFEPUSU to steal the limelight. He said his party has been engaging government to pay the arrears to improve the financial position of affected public officers and that Cabinet finally approved the request on Monday.

Deputy Secretary General of BOFEPUSU Ketlhalefile Motshegwa expressed shock at the accusations, saying the BDP is not an employer of public officers and therefore has no jurisdiction to make pronouncements on their salaries. He said from the onset cabinet, which is made up of BDP MPs, was aware that refusal to pay public officers increment in retrospect was illegal but deliberately wanted to use it as a political weapon to drive them into desperation. "We suspect that DPSM is dodging engagement on the matter to allow for BDP to effect its attempt of political expediency. We note attempts to politicise the whole process by making it seem as if the BDP thought good for the workers," said Motshegwa, adding that they do not care who makes the announcement as long as their members get what is due to them. Until recently Government had through public announcements by the Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Eric Molale, remained adamant that there will be no payment of salary increments retrospectively to April 2016. The refusal by Government was precipitated by reports in state media (Btv and Daily News) where Molale was quoted while addressing public officers in Thabala village, near Serowe saying: "Ka gore gase rona re dirileng gore ere di 01 tsa April wa 2016 abo le sa duelwe, ga rena gole duela di back pay". [Since we are not responsible for the omission to pay (3% increase to BOFEPUSU members) on 01 April 2016, we are not going to award the back pays].It was not until late Friday afternoon that DPSM Director Ruth Maphorisa issued a directive informing different departments and ministries that Government has taken a decision to pay 3% for 2016/17 and 4% for April - May 2017 salary increment back pays to affected employees.

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