Fantan: Public servants' Messiah?

SHARE   |   Monday, 07 November 2016   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
Tsetsele Fantan Tsetsele Fantan

The newly elected independent chairperson of the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) Tsetsele Fantan has her job cut out when facilitating negotiations for the 2016/17 public service salaries which got underway on Friday. Her biggest advantage is that she enjoys support from the negotiating parties, as shown by the confidence bestowed on her by councillors from across the aisle. She confirmed on Friday evening that the PSBC convened and formed a quorum to lay the ground for negotiations to start. Although she said she is happy with the attendance, she declined to discuss the details of the meeting as the negotiations are confidential. Put to her that negotiations often drag on because either of the parties fail to honour scheduled meetings and what her intervention is in that case, she replied; "my duty is to facilitate the negotiations to the best of my ability to find an amicable solution".  Initially roped in last year as an independent facilitator to replace Modiri Mbaakanyi - who was taken ill on prolonged sick leave - Fantan has been given full mandate after being elected at an AGM on October 27. Her job is to preside over negotiation meetings and assist parties to reach an agreement. Thousands of public servants are pinning their hopes on Fantan to effectively guide the negotiations and win a decent increment for them, to mitigate the impact of rising cost of living. She has to draw from her extensive experience as an executive in numerous boardrooms to manage the bargaining process to fruitful conclusion. Time is not on her side. The PSBC has to conclude business as early as yesterday, and consider the 2017/18 salary negotiations, which should have been undertaken between the months of September/October in order to align them with Government budgeting cycle. This resolution was taken last year. 

Long before bargaining proper begins, already there are huge disparities between proposals submitted by councillors appointed by government and the trade union party under the BOFEPUSU family. Among a number of proposals to improve the conditions of service of public servants, the trade unions have proposed a 13.5% salary increase while the only item in government's proposal is the 3% salary increase already awarded other public servants. Battle lines have been drawn between the 16 councillors and it will be a long day before an agreement is reached, as in previous years. Either of the parties is not likely to concede their position without intensive persuasion from the other side, which will lead to cool off periods for councillors to seek new mandate, and even declaration of deadlocks before the commissioner of labour. However, sources say in previous years negotiations were delayed by the absence of employer councillors engaged in their daily duties in different government departments. Although negotiations dragged for many weeks last year, a calculation of the days in which bargaining actually took place amounts to less than two weeks. On the very first day on Friday experienced substantive councillors were evidently absent, and had sent alternates in their place. Government lead negotiator Kebonye Moepeng (vice chairperson), together with most other substantive councillors including De Kop (ministry of Finance), and Dr Theophilus Mooko (ministry of education) were absent. All trade union substantive councillors were in attendance. This technically compromised negotiations. The meeting was reduced to a discussion of rules of negotiation, and no bargaining took place.

Her appointment

The appointment of Fantan as PSBC chairperson has divided public opinion about her impartiality with some saying she is pro-government, while others believe she is best suited for the job. Fantan – the owner of HR firm Headway Consulting – is a Director at Botswana Building Society (BBS), as an independent human resource consultant. She is the chairperson of Demutualisation Committee and Member of Human Resources & Remuneration Committee. A former Executive Director of the African Comprehensive HIV/Aids Partnership (ACHAP), Fantan was head-hunted from Debswana Diamond Company where she worked as Director of HIV/Aids Management and as Human Resource manager at Debswana’s Jwaneng mine. Debswana and BBS are part-owned by the Botswana government while ACHAP was a public private partnership between Botswana government, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Merck and Company. Fantan is the daughter of Petlo Sekgoma, the cousin of Sekgoma II, Seretse Khama’s father, and thus a distant cousin to President Ian Khama. Fantan's relationship with Bangwato royals has in the past put her in the middle of a controversy after Khama personally appointed her a member of the Tribunal on the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DIS). The Tribunal is an appeals body with which all complaints against the directorate must be lodged. Its work remains shrouded in secrecy. Khama has been accused of appointing his lackeys, friends and family members to strategic positions in government. At the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), Fantan was once deployed to join a team appointed by Khama to investigate internal disputes between some democrats.

Grounds for opposing
Those against Fantan's leadership of PSBC point to her close family ties with President Ian Khama in Bangwato royal house, and strategic appointment and responsibilities he has given her in the past. Fantan has in the past dismissed suggestions that she was favoured, arguing that she earned high-level jobs because she is a competent leader. She said suggestions that she landed positions because of family ties with Khama were designed to discredit the president.
Fantan has found support from unusual quarters, the trade unions. Some employee councillors told The Patriot on Sunday that having worked with her since she was engaged as an independent facilitator she has conducted herself professionally and fairly. "She comes out better than her predecessor. She has a good appreciation of labour and industrial relations. She is independent, fair and is very good at facilitating negotiations. She is also grounded and good at mediation," said one councillor.

Independent minded
In defence of Fantan against insinuations that she owes her elevation to patronage and family connections, Tom Tweedy - Johannesburg based Be Beers spokesperson - said such is not justified even by the accident of birth that makes her a relative of the Khama. Tweedy met Fantan in 1987 when she was pioneering HIV treatment in the workplace at Debswana. Tweedy describes Fantan as an independent-minded, egalitarian and competent professional in her field of human resource management; the "bolshie" individual such tribunals (DIS) require. "Her reputation for good governance as a director of companies and organisations is, to my knowledge, uncontested," wrote Tweedy in response to a Mail & Guardian article, which included her in a list of Khama's close-knit circle. Personally, Fantan is reluctant to take the credit or react to her detractors. "I am just doing my job. I really can't comment on what somebody is saying about me," she said, calmly.

Fantan delivered 6%
Last year, at the start of the 2015/16 salary negotiations BOFEPUSU demand was at 15%, while government proposed only 4%. The parties – led by Fantan – agreed on a 6% salary increase (grade D1 and below), full pay on study leave for the duration of study (grade D1 and below), new Housing and Upkeep Allowance (grades A3-D1). Other negotiable items were deferred among them paternity leave, payment of membership fees of professional bodies by the employer, and payment of a 13th cheque in the years without public service salary increase.