Andrew Motsamai has shaped BOPEU from a zero balance operation into a massive establishment that turns profits in millions. He is not the rugged revolutionary that endlessly talks leftist politics, but carries an aura of a dealmaker and has a walking stick to go with it. MPHO DIBEELA reports
The first floor of Babereki House at African Mall in Gaborone exudes class. The chairs are made of leather and the tables in the foyer are of glass top held together by silver metallic steel. The atmosphere carries a sense of affluence. The reception lady is prompt and keen on assisting. There is a sense of service focus. The ground floor is a fully-fledged micro-lending business, servicing an exclusive clientele.
This is one of the many properties owned by Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and it is here where Andrew Motsamai oversees the affairs of the union; a body he prides himself with having transformed from an association into highly lucrative union it has now become. From turning a few millions in 2006, last year it had assets valued at a mouthwatering P118 m, cementing its place among the most powerful unions in the country. A look at the union’s audited financial report for the year ended 31 October 2014 shows that profit for the year stood at P12.3 million from total revenue of P58.5 million.
With these sweet numbers ringing out, the poise of BOPEU leader is well understandable. He talks with calmness and a measured tone of a person with a perfect hold on his emotions - seemingly not the excitable kind. Having made it very early into boards, he qualifies well to be dubbed a veteran of boardroom politics. He has therefore perfected his negotiation skills and the art of being a ‘deal cutter’.
It all started when he was elected into the Student Representative Council (SRC) at the Gaborone Institute of Health Sciences (HIS) in 1989/90; they became the first SRC to lead a student strike at the institution. From then, he was posted to his first job as a laboratory scientist at Lobatse in 1992. Within a few months he was a member of Botswana Civil Service Association (BCSA) and the following year held his first office at branch level of the association. By 1996 he had made it to the Central Committee of BCSA and became its president in 2003. Soon though, he was forced to resign to pursue his studies.
He returned to work at a time when BCSA was bracing itself to turn into a union. After persuasion from some peers to join BCSA leadership again, he agreed under one condition - that he couldn’t be anything less than what he was when he left. He contested elections in 2006 and was elected president. “I became the last President of BCSA and the first President of BOPEU,” he confirms.
Now the Cytology lecturer at Gaborone’s IHS is considering stepping down. He feels he has run his race well and BOPEU is a big player among its peers. Having started with very few assets in 2006 and only two cars, one donated by Debswana and another they bought, they now have a fleet in excess of 10 and all of them less than four years old. “Fortunately we are one of the few unions that are audited,” he says perusing through the latest financial report.
He leads over 28 000 members who have a monthly contribution of P39.50 and additional P17.50 for the funeral scheme that gives members P25 000 upon death. The union pays additional P2.50 per member for the funeral scheme.
The union operates in two wings – their CBD office complex is where members' issues are addressed and the business side, which is called Babereki Investments is housed at Babereki House in African mall. Each wing has almost equal permanent staff complement of about 20. The members' issues side is led by the Secretary General, who is a permanent union employee and not seconded from Government as it used to be the case. Here the primary job is industrial relations – they deal with complaints from members about promotions, schooling and others. Here the Secretary General also works closely with regions and their representatives, sitting under the National Executive Council (NEC) to direct union business.
It is the business wing that tells how grown BOPEU has become. Since the micro lending business could only give members loans of up to P10 000, BOPEU took it upon itself to negotiate better rates with one financial institution. That lucky institution happened to be BancABC; securing an immediate 28 000 potential clients upon deal conclusion. This attracted an annual commission in millions of Pula for Babereki Investments, Motsamai said. A new deal is currently being renegotiated with the same financial institution and an agreement could be signed anytime.
Massive investment has also been made in the acquisition of property across Botswana. For example they have land in Kang, Francistown, Palapye, Morwa and are about to finalise another major land deal in Maun. “We are scaling up our land bank so that we could have facilities close to our members as possible and not be accused of having focused only in Gaborone,” he says.
Another forthcoming major strategic move is that of setting up a labour school; everything is almost ready for that. They are only waiting for government licensing.
In the midst of this glut of brilliant investment decisions, one wonders how much business courses he has attended. Strangely for him it has been learning from the boardroom level. At a tender age of his involvement in union work, he was elevated to the board of Botswana Public Officers Medical Aid (BPOMAS) and then BCSA and BOPEU, BOFEPUSU, BPOPF individually and collectively helped shape his business outlook that has turned in massive wealth for the Union.
Of course, another big step that he has taken was assembling a team of top professionals that helped guide each of the decisions he and his executive have taken. He talks of recruiting from top agencies like banks, and high level government parastatals. That means just as he has the ultimate word, he equally listens to his team.
The suits he puts on and seriousness he ascribes to his work and the office feel, he says, sends a clear message that they are serious business and must be taken as such by locals and international guests that come by. He talks about American officials that are expected to visit his union for a deal on Maun project, a future hotel development.
BOPEU vs BOFEPUSU
While newspapers reports have indicated that they have lost positions in the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) executive, Motsamai seems unperturbed by this. They saw it coming and as such are not about to walk out of BOFEPUSU. The problem that has set them off against other unions in the federation is political – whether to publicly endorse political parties or not. Other unions publicly endorsed the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in the run-up to last year’s General Elections. BOPEU said a flat no to that. “We have always been a non-partisan formation, even from our days as BCSA. We see this as a good stand for us. Alignment of workers with a particular party against others cannot be easy. People come from different backgrounds and their voting will always be determined their own circumstances. It is their constitutional right to vote as they wish,” he argues.
As leaders, he says, there are roads that we will have to travel alone because we believe in them. “This we must do.” He says they remain members of BOFEPUSU and shall work on ensuring that it improves in its governance challenges.
BOPEU in cohorts with BDP/Khama?
He denies that there is a deliberate political inclination of his union to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) or its leader President Ian Khama who recently ended his boycott of unions activities by attending BOPEU conference. “We have for years been requesting that the President attend our conference and that he agreed this time should not be seen as having any other meaning. For us it was just a meeting with our employer,” Motsamai says. People should simply ask us how we managed to have him attend at last, he says.
I’m not rich – Motsamai
He sits in BOPEU and BPOPF boards and no other. He as such denies that his position is highly lucrative, with a Pound power to die for. As far as he is concerned his assets are limited to properties in Mochudi (inheritance), and Lobatse. He draws a D-scale salary, which is made higher by the fact that he is a scarce skill employee and as such draws an allowance for that.
He says that he is not about to dillydally about retiring from BOPEU on the basis of the basis it affords him. “I am about to complete the second phase of developing and leading BOPEU. First it was to launch it and now we have to consolidate its structure and content.” Then hence he is ready to go.