After assuming office, President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi went to great lengths to repair the turbulent relationship between government and civil servants thatdeteriorated particularly during the 2011 public sector strike. Of note is the fact that at the time of this strike Masisi was the minister in the presidency responsible amongst others, overseeing the public service. It was therefore important for him politically and otherwise to bring the public service closer to him. To achieve this, he had to make promises which unfortunately have up to now not borne any fruit. Nothing suggests for now, given what unfolded this week, that those promises will be realised.
Masisi promised that the aborted Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) would be up and running by September 2018 or thereabout. Further to this, he promised that the PEMANDU consultancy report which government commissioned in 2017 at great cost to make recommendations on improving public servants conditions of service amongst others, would be implemented by June this year. Nothing tangible has come out of these promises. Naturally, public servants were buoyed by the announcement by government that the PEMANDU recommendations would be implemented. But things took a turn for the worst this week when the Vice President Slumber Tsogwane announced that government does not have the financial muscle to implement the widely expected cash-in by public servants from the PEMANDU report. The announcement by the Vice President must have hit the public servants very badly and would be the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
Conspicuously and perhaps as fate would have it, the man who promised the public servants the goodies and freebies from the PEMANDU report did not deliver sad news on government’s somersault on implementing the recommendations. It tells me rightly or wrongly that by delegating his right hand man to deliver the sad news, the President somewhat signalled the beginning of the end with public servants. Put differently, the relationship he was trying to establish with public servants is as good as dashed permanently for now I should dare say. Consequently, public servants would feel, justifiably so, that they have been taken for a ride and that the President dealt with them in bad faith.
By any measure imaginable, promises made by the President should have been two-fold. Firstly, they would be a motivating factor for the public servants to say, after working for a reasonable period without a reasonable and significant improvement on their remuneration and other related issues, here is a President who is having the welfare of public servants at heart. He would undoubtedly be their darling. Secondly, those promises would work in favour of the President politically particularly with the upcoming general election. The implementation of the PEMANDU report would surely guarantee the President’s political party with a fair amount of votes considering that the prevailing political landscape does not favour the ruling party. Without saying it, the public service vote is more likely to go somewhere- most likely to the main challenger the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) as a protest vote to the detriment of the President’s party.
As I write, public servants through their respective trade unions are holding consultative meetings to chart the way forward in light of the Vice President’s announcement. And it appears from what I gather that the consensus seems to revolve around punishing the President’s party at the polls. The President’s woes have not been made any better by the fact that the security agencies in the form of the Botswana Defence Force and the Botswana Police have respectively received mouth- watering remuneration upgrades while public servants are left in the lurch. Naturally and justifiably, public servants would feel hard done by.
It would appear the President’s relationship with public servants has broken down irretrievably and that the two are surely on a collision course. It would also appear that given the President’s inability to deliver his promises to public servants particularly with respect to the PEMANDU report, he has very little if any to untangle himself from his current precarious situation. He faces two unenviable positions: either to implement the report and please the public servants with the expectation that he will cash in at the polls or do so with government services to the citizenry facing instant collapse due to accompanying budget deficit occasioned by the expected huge salary bill. He has to choose one of the options. Either way, there is a lot at stake for the President. Just why the President promised the implementation of the PEMANDU report given the fact that the economy is in the Intensive Care Unit is beyond me. It would appear it was more populist for political expediency than realistic considering the slow rate of economic development the county currently faces.
When all is said and done, and unless the President pulls out some miracle of Biblical proportions, the 2011 strike emotions may very well be on the horizon if the undercurrents in the trade union movement are anything to go by. One thing is palpable though: that the relationship between the President and the public servants through their trade unions is on the rocks and that it looks highly unlikely to be restored anytime soon. Or should I say the jury is still out there? Your guess is as good as mine. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise. That said, enjoy your long weekend. Judge for Yourself!