Khama openly snubs workers in his SONA

SHARE   |   Sunday, 30 November 2014   |   By Justin Hunyepa
Khama Khama RICARDO KANONO

Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) is concerned that President Ian Khama snubbed and demonstrated clearly that he has strong disdain and deep seated hatred for the workers who are creators of wealth in this country. In his recent state of the nation address (SONA), Khama dedicates a vague line (not paragraph) to the workers in his 116 paragraph speech. He states that “Having successfully weathered the storm of the economic downturn, we can look forward to better days ahead, with economic growth buttressed by reduced inflation. These positive trends should allow us to revive some of our postponed projects, along with outstanding issues affecting the conditions of service among public employees”. This was the only phrase he made about the workers. All the previous years, the president addressed workers under two comprehensive and separate paragraphs, Labour and Home Affairs as well as under Public Service. While the country is relatively rich, the wealth is still not equitably distributed as the working class are still poor and their salaries have been stagnant for years now. UDC position is that workers have to be given priority and government should ensure their improved condition of service. In the same breadth, the president expressed interest in diversifying the economy through foreign direct investment and outlined a number of other key initiatives that will develop this country. To his credit, he has come with a social protection service plan for the vulnerable groups. The plan would have been good if juxtaposed and balanced with public service and labour plans. While Khama has declared that he is for the vulnerable groups, he is equally duty-bound to also motivate and recognise the workers so that they drive the economic, social and political sectors of this country in the next five years. Because of the devastating historic 2011 public sector strike and the recent call for regime change by public sector employees in the 2014 general elections, we can hypothetically deduce that Khama is angry with the workers, who ironically, are tax-payers and are paying through their noses for his upkeep and the government. A street youth who loses his cool due to a rough tackle, would collect his valuable plastic ball and walk away from the other players, upsetting an otherwise bright and jolly afternoon. In this instance, Khama cannot walk away from the other key players who are working hard to drive this nation to prosperity. This country is run by both private and public sector workers, and the nation wants to hear about the state of labour, public service and what laws, policies, programmes and initiatives are in store for them. This is very critical as the workforce does not expect the president to pounce on them with far-reaching legislative amendments. The president made it clear in the past his intention to amend the Public Service and Trade Dispute Acts soon, as vengeance against the untameable public service, especially teachers and other cadres who are seen as essential. 

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A re-read of his previous SONA, dating back to his maiden 2008 SONA speech up to 2013, clearly shows that President Khama should update the nation on what transpired under labour and public service. A thorough progress report and accountability is needed, especially that this marks his last term.

In his maiden 2008 SONA, Khama talked of promotion of mutual interest between labour and employer; social dialogue and promotion of quality life and productivity of labour force; public service standards; introduction of e-service. He said labour intensive public works were a short term job creation programme, but will now become a permanent programme. He said that the success of all of these programmes, projects and initiatives will require effective monitoring and evaluation, to allow us to track progress and redirect our plans as appropriate... He said that “development requires accountability and commitment. To achieve such discipline, six monthly reviews have been instituted across all branches of government, by which ministers and permanent secretaries are held accountable and are rated for the performance of their ministries. I also have quarterly briefings with all ministries. I have further warned that failure to perform, at both the political and official level, will have consequences” (SONA 2008).

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In 2009, Khama added the principle of “delivery”. He called on the re-doubling of anti-corruption efforts so as to maintain Botswana's status as Africa's least corrupt country. He also spoke of adopting standards of service in both public and private sector; implementing a broader e-government strategy; Human Resource Management strategy; improvement in performance by most ministries; business re-engineering; labour inspections, trade dispute resolution, social security protection, the registration of job-seekers and promoting good industrial relations, occupational safety and health and workers' compensation; social dialogue, the planned establishment of an independent dispute resolution service and development of an action programme; trade unions’ pivotal role as the watchdogs of worker interests. (SONA 2009).

In his 2010 SONA, Khama stated that there will be constant productivity improvement of our workforce in both public and private sector. He commended the public service for improved service delivery across the public sector. In a jolly mood, he said that the government shall continue to uphold workers’ rights and will remain supportive of labour (SONA 2010).

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In 2011, Khama’s tone changed as he expressed concern about the effects of the longest public sector strike in Botswana. He condemned those who were on the legal strike and praised those who were not. This was seen as very divisive. Khama further re-assured the nation on upholding the labour laws without fear or favour; re-affirmed government’s commitment to working with the unions,” (SONA 2011). 

In 2012 SONA, Khama spoke of “harmonious industrial relations; legislative gaps and administrative inefficiencies and employers to achieve win-win outcomes; amendments to the Trade Disputes Act to overcome unnecessary delays in resolving disputes; developing a National Occupational Health and Safety Policy to improve productivity and working conditions; review of the Public Service Act of 2008; operational Public Service Bargaining Council; the 2012 salary negotiations that were concluded, reflecting government’s commitment to the welfare of public officers,” (SONA 2012).  The president had expressed some reservations against some trade unions and wanted the PSA to be reviewed.

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In 2013, his the president the stated importance of implementing government plans, policies and programmes; public sector performance; engagement of consultancy on public service conditions of service; restructuring of DPSM for policy direction and monitoring. He stated that the TDA was being reviewed. He observed that some trade unions were contravening the Trade Union and Employers’ Organisations Act. His hatred of trade unions had become clear (SONA 2013). 

In the recent 2014 SONA, the president openly snubbed both the public service and labour slots as he did not write anything on them. Ironically, it is the public service that drives the government programmes and initiatives. There was need for the president to demonstrate progress and not leave issues hanging. For instance, to update the nation on the state of the public service reforms, including issues of productivity. In the previous addresses, he had raised issues promoting labour relations between government and trade unions; productivity and man others. The lack of salary increment for the past five years in the public sector has directly influenced employers in the private sector not to increase too. This has seriously eroded the buying power of Batswana workers. The Bargaining Council has been rendered useless by the Khama administration. It was therefore expected that the president will update the nation on this and other several issues that he has not updated us about their progress. In the past, President Khama had also talked of e-government and e-service; business process re-engineering; human resource systems; anti-corruption; etcetra. E-services should have been rolled out as this would have long reduced long queues in government offices, especially at Transport, Immigration, Omang offices, revenue offices plus others.

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The public service’s morale is at its lowest levels due to low salaries; no salary increment for the past five years; general poor working and living conditions like hours of work (especially teachers); poor accommodation for teachers, police officers, BDF, prison officers, nurses; poor dispute resolution mechanism in the public service regarding transfers, promotions and further studies. This has led to many cases taken to the Industrial and High Court which are also bursting at the seam. The other cases are a result of government intolerance towards the registered and recognised trade unions. 

Privatisation (outsourcing) of public assets seems to be bumpy. Privatisation master plan should be regularly visited and an update given. There is concern over the privatisation of CTO fuel points and garages. The future of the messengers, drivers, cleaners, gardeners, watchmen to mention but a few, is unknown and President Khama should have updated the nation on that. Thousands of jobs will be lost and this is a serious concern to the UDC family. 

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A progress report of what he found out after meeting the public work force; the outcome of the consultancy to improve conditions of service; progress on the targeted interventions to improve delivery of quality service is needed from the president. In response to his 2014 SONA, MP for Gaborone Central, Phenyo Butale, was spot-on by calling on the president to account. In 2008, Khama had said that the success of all government programmes, projects and initiatives will require effective monitoring and evaluation to allow us to track progress and redirect our plans as appropriate. The president has to account to the nation through our legislative organ. This is the only window of opportunity to get an update and clarity on the issues that the president left out in the 2014 SONA.

While President Khama may not say everything from the previous SONA speeches, it is paramount for him to link them up and demonstrate progress made since then. For instance, what is the state of industrial relations between him and the public sector workers; is he happy with progress at the Bargaining Council? (he has interrupted its processes through kgotla remarks); progress on the pending amendments of the Public Service and Trade Disputes Act; labour inspections, trade dispute resolution, social security protection, the registration of job-seekers and promotion of good industrial relations, occupational safety and health and workers' compensation; social dialogue, the planned establishment of an independent dispute resolution service and development of an action programme; trade unions’ pivotal role as the watchdogs of workers’ interest progress on National Occupational Health and Safety Policy and others. 

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It is on this basis that Khama should bring to closure the initiatives of his first term, and open a new chapter for his last term. 

Justin Hunyepa

UDC Labour Secretary



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