Selibe-Phikwe West Member of Parliament Dithapelo Keorapetse has accused the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Eric Molale of being sentimental when addressing issues affecting the public service.
Keorapetse made the statement on Friday in an interview after his motion which called on government to delink health workers from the public service was thrown out of parliament. “It is interesting to note that this is (Molale) the same man who was the Permanent Secretary to the President before he was appointed minister and was in control of the public service for quite sometime. His working relationship with trade unions has not been the best,” said Keorapetse.
Keorapetse however said he was not surprised when his motion was eventually defeated after Molale responded on the negative and set tone for other BDP members especially the front benchers whom he accused of collaborating passively whenever the concerned minister moves to the contrary of an issue at hand. “Not a single back bencher responded. That is true to BDP tradition, what happens is that whenever a good motion is tabled which the party feels they should not support only ministers and assistant ministers respond. The back benchers usually abstain,” he said.
Keorapetse had on presenting his motion said though Botswana had comparatively made remarkable achievements in the provision of health infrastructure and recording a range of positive health indicators, she cannot continue to live in the shadows of past glory and should relook at her health care reform. He argued that dissatisfaction with Botswana health care system is prevalent in so far as resource quality and provision is concerned and employee welfare. Keorapetse argued that there is need to support health workers as key players for success in the health system. "Currently there is low morale among health workers because of poor working conditions and low wages," he said.
Keorapetse further contended that to a large extent, it could be argued that by being part of the civil service , the specific needs of health workers and the efficient delivery of health service functions in Botswana have been lost in the general public service machinery. This, he says, calls for consideration of delinking health workers from civil service and setting up an independent health commission to run it. “The establishment of a health commission has great potential to improve the management of country’s health sector, including the current working conditions of health workers,” he said, adding that the commission will enhance the efficient utilisation of human resources which usually comes with the constraints of a heavily centralized service.
Molale in response asked the house to reject Keorapetse’s motion as it was what he termed a ‘bargainable issue’. According to Molale such issues are better suited to be dealt with at the bargaining council level. “The Bargaining Council should be given an opportunity to deal with this matter and give recommendations accordingly,” he said.
He said though he agreed with Keorapetse on the importance of autonomy in management he was of the view that the health service was a fragile and sensitive sector that could not be left to be run by an independent body that the public cannot hold accountable. He also said such undertaking will contribute to the fragmentation of the public service, which itself was identified by trade unions and other stakeholders as contributory to inconsistencies in the public service.
With about five years into the current public service act, Molale said it could only be fair that efforts to augment it be made rather than to counter it. “A few things have already been identified and we will submit to amend the act in the coming winter session of parliament,” he said.
However Keorapetse said it is disheartening that Molale could even suggest that the matter be referred to the bargaining council especially that “government has no respect for the bargaining council'’. He said the presence of the council does not preclude parliament from making proposals and providing guidance to the public service. According to Keorapetse collective bargaining mechanisms have yielded few dividends for health workers and it is difficult for them to withdraw their labour as they are essential service cadre. He stated that he had before tabling the motion extensively consulted with health service workers, Botswana Nurses Union, and both the Minister of Health and his assistant who he claimed shared his sentiments.