Fireworks are expected at an impromptu meeting between the ministry of basic education and teacher representatives tomorrow (Monday) after the latter got a rude awakening on Wednesday upon discovering that outstanding tax and pension arrears for recent back pays have been deducted from their October salaries. In a move interpreted as mischievous and calculated to punish civil servants who belong to BOFEPUSU trade unions, government quietly deducted from their October salaries, tax and pension arrears for 3% and 4% back pays dating back to April 2016 credited into their accounts two weeks ago. Caught unaware and still blinded by the excitement of a midmonth windfall of back pays, some of the affected civil servants found themselves with blank payslips while others are left with a measly P300 and P500 as take home for the month of October. A huge outcry has erupted among affected civil servants complaining that they face financial ruin as they were never pre-warned about the deduction and asking why such deduction was not made on the back pays before they were credited to their accounts. Others have threatened to either take to the streets or engage in a tools-down to protest the conduct of the employer, which has caused them financial ruin. In an attempt to cool tempers, which left teachers asking more questions and blaming their trade union leadership, BOSETU Publicity Secretary Edwin Maitshoko said they have proposed a meeting with Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Basic Education on Monday "to further look into the effects of these deductions and map a way forward". This enraged teachers more, with some putting the blame squarely on the leadership for failing to pre-warn them while others accuse Government of underhand tactics and failure to communicate the decision in advance. Yet others have resigned themselves to fate and accepted that they should have seen it coming, as the deductions are a simple application of tax and pension laws known to the general public, particularly workers.
BOFEPUSU Labour Secretary Johnson Motshwarakgole was at a loss over the current development, but said he is not surprised as Government has been spoiling for a fight with public servants on many issues regarding their conditions of service. He said they too as the federation leadership have never been engaged by the employer on plans to deduct tax arrears or how such deductions on accumulated arrears, if any are justified, will be effected. Motshwarakgole said what government has done is not only wrong but also unlawful. "We have had a similar case of accumulated back pays at Manual Workers union (NALCGPWU). The then Attorney General, Ian Kirby, issued a statement explaining that increment arrears should not be taxed," he said. True to the word a savingram from the then Director of Public Service Management (DPSM) dated 14 January 1997 enquires on process the Commissioner of taxes had put in place to reimburse employees affected by taxation of their back pays. Some public servants who were members of manual workers union were suspended without pay, and later unfairly dismissed. The dismissals were later reversed and reinstatement ordered by the National Joint Industrial Co-ordinating Committee after seeking legal advice from the Attorney General in November 1994, which the union insisted on. On the basis of having stayed for a period ranging from one to two years, the back pays fell within the taxable bracket and BURS had deducted the taxes from the lump sum. Kirby's legal advice to DPSM, contained in a savingram dated 24 November 1994, said where an employee who was unfairly dismissed is reinstated it follows that wages withheld were unlawfully withheld even though they were due and payable at the end of each month. Section 10(1)(a)(ii) of the Income Tax Act reads: "any amount which accrues to a person shall be deemed to have accrued in the case of employment at the time it is due and payable to him, even though not actually paid to him."
Kirby advised that where an employee is not normally taxable on his annual salary, and he receives a lump sum back pay after being re-instated after two years suspension, the lump sum will not become taxable merely because it is received all at once and would have been taxable if earned in a single year. "In short PAYE should not be deducted from the lump sum if it would not have been deducted from each monthly entitlement that makes up the total. We agree with the union view and disagree with the explanation given by taxes," wrote Kirby. In a celebratory note to members early October BOFEPUSU Secretary General Tobokani Rari thanked fellow comrades for the magnanimity of their support during difficult times when they were fighting to secure the 3% and 4% increment, which forced the federation to even withdraw from the public service bargaining council. The decision was taken upon the realisation that some of their members were resigning from BOFEPUSU trade unions so that they could enjoy the salary increments awarded in April 2016 and 2017, while the federation continued negotiations at the bargaining council. Rari said other trade unions were taking advantage of the standoff and recruiting their members promising them to gain the 3% and 4%. "Although some fell into that trap, we are happy that 95% of our members remained loyal to their unions and did not move. The truth like pregnancy will always come out, no matter how delayed, frustrating or painful it may be prior to its realisation. We went through a lot, fighting to protect and preserve the bargaining council and principle of honest and meaningful bargaining in this country," he said.
From hundreds of posts and comments on the BOFEPUSU social media pages some public servants expressed shock to see their salaries being truncated. They called on BOFEPUSU to urgently rise to the occasion and show the world the brutality of Government of Botswana. "Deductions must be done by the book. We are of the belief that our salaries, our right, are protected to the core. It is therefore perplexing to find at the end of the month that our salaries have been truncated without any communication from the employer. As some people assume, this is due to non-deduction of tax from the 3 and 4 per cent increment. We need full explanation of what happened to our salaries and why are we punished for the wrongs we have never committed. All affected workers should take to the streets to convey the message and get answers. How are we to live with our families and our employees when we have each less than P500.00 in our bank accounts? How productive are we expected to be when our noble employer is robbing us daylight?" one of them posted.