Government has pulled the plug on trade unions withdrawing a multimillion pula tender for the administration of the Government Employees Motor vehicle and residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS).
The Patriot on Sunday is reliably informed that government has already written the unions a letter indicating that it will be withdrawing the GEMVAS contract when it expires next month (May 2015). The tender, with an estimated book value of over P500 million, was outsourced by ministry of finance and development planning to UNIGEM - a joint venture investment arm of public sector trade unions under the BOFEPUSU conglomerate in May 2010. The tender was extended for six months up to May 2015 after it expired late last year. At the time (November 2014) Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Finance Solomon Sekwakwa-under whose portfolio GEMVAS falls – said they will use the extension to evaluate the tender before a decision to outsource or take it back in house is taken. On Wednesday he referred inquiries on the latest development to Dr. Taufila Nyamadzabo, secretary of economic and financial policy in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.
UNIGEM board chairman Samuel Molaodi confirmed on Wednesday that they met with ministry of finance management over the Gemvas issue on Tuesday but declined to reveal what was discussed. "It is an internal matter between the parties at the moment," he said, before referring enquiries to UNIGEM Chief executive officer Julian Willie who has not been answering his cellphone for three weeks.
Some observers opine that the cancellation of the tender is part of a bigger plan by government to cripple public sector trade unions whose leaders do not see eye to eye with president Ian Khama and have openly criticised his government, and taking sides with the opposition at the 2014 general elections.
It is alleged that trade unions have been running cap-in-hand to ministry of finance begging government to give them a further extension. But some still allege that the trade unions may have an ace up their sleeve as government may not be ready to administer the scheme in house as the ministry has not acquired the sophisticated software UNIGEM invested in when they took over.
Details of the Tuesday meeting remain a closely guarded secret. Dr Nyamadzabo confirmed that they have met UNIGEM board chairman and made their position clear, but declined to elaborate further. He said negotiations are still ongoing and would not want to jeopardise them as they are awaiting a response from UNIGEM board chairman who is still consulting with his compatriots. "Once we have reached a conclusion we will inform you on the decision taken," he said, without putting a time frame on when they expect to have concluded the negotiations.
For a long time there has been speculation that government is unhappy with the new found arrogance by trade unions and has been planning to termination the administration contract for UNIGEM due to a prolonged fight with BOFEPUSU, which intensified publicly ahead of the October 2014 general elections.
The termination of the GEMVAS contract could spell doom for UNIGEM as the scheme is currently their biggest source of income. Almost all employees in the company who were hired for the administration of the scheme, with some inherited from the ministry of finance stand to lose their jobs when the scheme is withdrawn.
Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) made an official exit from the shareholding of UNIGEM (Pty) Ltd in November 2014 bringing to an end a tumultuous four year relationship with the other trade unions. The disinvestment of BOPEU is mentioned in the same breath with the GEMVAS contract by some sections of the trade unions. BOPEU had invested P1.2 million for the 20 per cent issued share capital at inception of UNIGEM in May 2010, but pulled out in November 2014 saying it is not a good investment and financial projections of the company going forward sent warning signals of losses. But BOPEU president Andrew Motsamai denied any connection between the termination of the GEMVAS contract and his trade union. He said they were leaving UNIGEM because in the four years of existence the balance sheet has not grown much because management has been investing a large share of their profits in acquisition of commercial property and other assets.