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P250m scandal pits BOFEPUSU against BOPEU

SHARE   |   Monday, 19 March 2018   |   By Phillimon Mmeso & Ditiro Motlhabane 
P250m scandal pits BOFEPUSU against BOPEU

The long standing rivalry between Botswana's main public sector trade unions Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and Botswana Federation of Public, Parastatal and Private Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) could be re-ignited after the latter declared on Wednesday that they have been vindicated by confirmation that the former have benefitted from the National Petroleum Fund (NPF).  Addressing the media on Wednesday, BOFEPUSU Acting Secretary General Mogomotsi Motshegwa said the revelation that BOPEU through their subsidiary Babereki Investments were given P100 million from the NPF confirms their fears that there was a third force behind their relentless fight against BOFEPUSU. The revelation was made by MP for Tati East Samson Guma in Parliament last week and confirmed by BOPEU Secretary General Topias Marenga in an interview with The Patriot on Sunday.  Marenga, however, distanced BOPEU from the Kgori Capital/ Bakang Seretse money laundering scandal saying since they are asset managers there was no need for Babereki to enquire about the source of the loan, whether the funds were from NPF or not. "That was none of our business," he said.  On Wednesday, Motshegwa was not taking any prisoners and went for the jugular.  “Little did we know that the money splashed for their countrywide recruitment drive to recruit BOFEPUSU members and splashing advertisements in the media was from the fuel levy,” he hit out, adding that the relentless fight by BOPEU to have BOFEPUSU kicked out of the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) was successful and led to death of the council. At the height of protracted battles between the two, BOFEPUSU repeatedly pounded the narrative that BOPEU had been infiltrated by state organs and was being used to destabilise the labour movement in the country. The accusations reached fever pitch after BOPEU terminated membership of the federation, disinvested from UNIGEM (the federation's investment vehicle) and distanced themselves from ever resolving to support a united opposition to cause regime change during the 2014 general elections. BOPEU has consistently denied the accusation, even during instances when they fought labour battles in the same corner with the employer (Government). Even when President Ian Khama, out of the norm having spurned efforts by BOFEPUSU leaders to meet him during the 2011 strike, surprisingly accepted an invitiation to address BOPEU congress in 2015, the union claimed it was a strategic engagement with the employer.  Motshegwa said they went through a painful period in the labour struggle trying to demonstrate to their members and the general public that there was an invisible hand greased with immense funding, which was used to finance the fight against BOFEPUSU. He said the most painful part came when the public service was divided into two, with those belonging to BOFEPUSU denied the 2015/16 three percent salary increment for eight months, forcing their members to question the integrity of the federation leadership while others resigned. Throwing a reconciliatory gesture at BOPEU, Johnson Motshwarakgole -BOFEPUSU Labour Secretary- said although the union has caused irreparable damage to the labour movement they still need each other to fight for the rights of the workers in the country.“We need BOPEU as much as they need us in the struggle. We will never abandon them because they are also public sector workers,” said the unusually reconciliatory Motshwarakgole.

Legal battles

In an unprecedented move last year, BOPEU filed applications before different courts questioning eligibility of BOFEPUSU's admission to the PSBC and seeking to have them kicked out. When that failed, after the Court of Appeal ruled that BOFEPUSU Acting Jointly Arrangement was admissible to the PSBC as long as one of the trade unions in the coalition meet the threshold, BOPEU applied to court to have the federation expelled from the council for failing to submit verified membership and paying annual subscription in excess of  P1 million. BOPEU also interdicted the chairman of PSBC from convening a meeting of the PSBC pending compliance by the federation.Even the small victory scored by the federation before the Francistown High Court when Justice Bengbame Sechele threw out BOPEU's case trying to block BOFEPUSU, dismissing them as rumour mongers and comparing them to a bitter scorned spouse, it was too little too late. It was the beginning of the end of PSBC. “This court is loathe to micro manage the PSBC in the manner advocated by the BOPEU whose interest on the affairs of the council is no better than that of a company shareholder who seeks to institute proceedings on behalf of the company when such company is better positioned to do so,” said Justice Sechele. Soon thereafter the PSBC Secretariat joined in the bandwagon and ordered BOFEPUSU to submit its audited membership figures and update subscription. Facing a multi pronged assault from BOPEU, which was clearly supported by Government officials who are the custodians of the information then used by the union, BOFEPUSU capitulated and withdrew from the PSBC leading to its total collapse. The employer party (Government) would follow shortly to deliver the final killer blow when they applied to the Commissioner of Labour to deregister the PSBC, a request she gladly acceded to promptly.  Fast forward to 2018. With the bargaining council dysfunctional, trade unions have been at the mercy of the employer in their attempt to launch a united front to negotiate salaries under a loose arrangement with Government. To date, some trade union leaders at BOPEU are still unhappy that invitations and proceedings at a recent joint press briefing of all public sector unions over the salary negotiations was dominated by BOFEPUSU.  Motshegwa said trade unions have already accepted the three percent salary increment declared by Government for 2018/19 financial year because they were never given an opportunity to bargain. He said it would be a futile exercise to contest the decision because Government has already made up her mind that the three percent is suitable for civil servants regardless of inflationary pressures, which have remained higher over time. "The morale of the civil servants is at its lowest as their relationship with the employer is not cordial," said Motshegwa.

On BPOPF 

At the end of his presentation when addressing the media last week, Chairman of the Communications Committee at Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF) Solomon Mantswe revealed that the fund is having some data challenges. Such challenges have led to delays in announcing the interest rate for active and deferrred members and an increase for pensioners. Mantswe and Boitumelo Molefe – Principal Officer at BPOPF also conceded that the fund has experienced failures with some local asset managers among them Flemming, Kgori Capital, and Capital Management Botswana (CMB). The failures have led to huge losses of pensioner funds, estimated to run into millions of pula. Now, BOFEPUSU is fuming over indications of embezzlement of funds belonging to their constituents - public officers who make up the membership of BPOPF. The anger among trade unions over the losses is exacerbated by revelations that Bakang Seretse, who until recently was Managing Director of Kgori Capital who managed BPOPF assets, may have fraudulently siphoned about P250 million from the National Petroleum Fund (NPF).  Motshegwa said civil servants, who have been crying for better salary increments for many years, are disgruntled over these developments. “They feel that they are being denied benefits accruing from resources of their own country, some which they have immensely contributed to,” he said.Consequently, Motshegwa said BOFEPUSU is planning massive nationwide protests against rampant corruption starting in the next two weeks. The countrywide demonstrations will start in Gaborone and spread to other major centres. BOFEPUSU President Johannes Tshukudu expressed concern on the icy silence from civic organisations on the looting of public funds and Government special levies.Traditional leaders and churches are some of the institutions that had Tshukudu worried due to their stone cold silence on the matter. “I wonder whether it is because most of them are funded by Government or they are still gathering information before they can comment,” he asked rhetorically.

A united opposition 

Although some BOFEPUSU leaders have once again reiterated the federation's support for a united opposition ahead of 2019 general elections, there are clear divisions. While the oncern over the state of opposition parties in Botswana is unanimous, there are differences on the way forward as 2019 fast approaches. President Tshukudu said: “We are going to meet all the political parties and try to reconcile them. If anyone of them decides to go it alone in 2019 we will punish that party,” warned Tshukudu.But for his part, the man credited for coining and popularising the "moono (unity)" slogan within opposition ranks, Jonhson Motshwarakgole holds a different view. He advises that it is high time that BOFEPUSU assess and evaluate all political party leaders instead of focusing emphasis on replacing the current Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) regime only. He warns that if they are not meticulous in their approach they run the risk of replacing the BDP with another corrupt government, or in the worst case scenario, handing power to characters worse than the current regime.“Maybe we should look outside these political parties because we don’t want to regret after the 2019 polls. Possibly, we are overlooking good leaders within the labour movement ranks,” quips Motshwarakgole, ever cunning in his use of language. Motshwarakgole's predicament is understandable. The UDC has accepted into their fold his sworn rival Sidney Pilane as the legitimate Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) President and vice president of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). When the BMD factional wars exploded at the ill-fated congress in Bobonong, Motshwarakgole openly took sides with the Ndaba Gaolathe camp that has since formed the Alliance for Progressives (AP). The AP has vowed never to return to the umbrella as long as Pilane is part of it. Now, the old man is caught at crossroads! He has to choose between AP and UDC, a painful decision.