SHARE   |   Monday, 21 September 2020   |   By Emmanuel Kalize

Following  a thoughtful and objective deliberation on  the need, significance and  implications of  extending  the  'ongoing   six   months  State  of   Public Emergency (SOPE)  due to  lapse in   a few  weeks, Botswana Federation  of Trade Unions (BFTU)  and the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) hereby jointly submit their position and proposals on  the way forward  as follows;

        We note the Government's prompt response to the threat posed by the covid-19 pandemic through instituting a range of measures including among others, the imposition of lockdowns, and border closures, and the shutdown of social and economic activities.

        We  further note that  this intervention is  worth acknowledging and commendable, both for  its swiftness and thorough-going effect   as it sent out a clear and loud message to  the public, authorities and the world  about   the    seriousness   with  which  we   regard  the    danger presented  by  the   disease.   It is   worth stating  that  a  great deal of awareness was  achieved in  this one fell swoop albeit the harder way.

        As the  two federations, we acknowledge the COVIOD  - 19  preventative measures that were  instituted by  government and probably by  equal measure much was learnt by the public about the importance of social distancing  and  the  significance of   hygiene as  part  of   preventive regimen.

        We   observe  however  that   owmg  to   the  State  of   Emergency and accompanying social and economic restrictions, the economy became subdued and  has  been, much  to   the   acknowledgement of  experts, badly hit   during  the  SOPE. It is common knowledge that there was complete shutdown  of  industries  including, but  not   limited  to   the alcohol industry,  sports,  entertainment,  hotel &  hospitality  and  on occasiOns, the  all-important transport industry as well  as centres of learning.

        We note  further that the  livelihoods of ordinary citizens were  relegated to second place  in  consideration of the  broader scheme of things. The obvious consequence to this has been  the  low turnout on  income tax as well as the  exacerbation of poverty levels  among the  ordinary Batswana.  Government's income tax  will  as a matter of fact   take   a knock for the  next  fiscal year.

        We  note   with   regret as  the   two  labour centres that . whilst  it  was categorically pronounced and  further stipulated by the  regulations governing the  SOPE,  that no  retrenchments or  termination of employment shall ensue as a  result of  the   SOPE,   in  reality many workers were  left in  the  lurch without much recourse for  any  form  of assistance.

        We  also   note,   with   deep  regret, that  the   working class  and  the informal economy have  drastically lost  their sources of livelihoods due to reduced or no earnings at all.

        We further note  that during the  SOPE,  the  working class suffered in an unprecedented manner as a result of their earnings being  cut  down by chunks, in  some  instances as huge as 60%  of their salaries, being forced  to take unpaid and forced  paid  leaves.

        The  above, no  doubt has resulted in  a lot  of the  working class facing challenges in  repaying loans they  secured during their working times, paying rents, school fees and  even  struggling to afford  to buy  the  basic necessities to meet their daily  needs.

        As  if  that was   not   enough,  flagrant  escalation  of  prices  of commodities such as basic food  items, transport, electricity and fuel only compounded the worker's dilemma.

        One  of the  clear-cut provisions of the  SOPE  regulations was  to ban  any   strikes  by  workers.  The   import  of  this was   to  strip  the workers and  their    representative  organizations  of  any   bargaining power  during these hard times and  as a consequence, employers took advantage and blatantly scaled down  working conditions, and in many instances,  out  rightly flouting laws governing industrial  relations. Bluntly  stated   and   simply  put,   the   SOPE  helped  perpetuate lawlessness in the world of work.

        In    summing  up   all    issues   and   factoring  each   m    our consideration  of  the  benefits and  the   downside  of  the  SOPE, we strongly hold that  little was achieved in   terms of  the key   reasons presented before the national assembly as the basis for  proposing the enactment of the  SOPE.


        For  example, in  motivating the  motion for the SOPE government cited the   need to  mobilize resources  to  purchase medical requisites and equipment. Ironically though, vast numbers of frontline workers remain exposed and vulnerable to infection because none such special powers as provided by SOPE regulations were  ever  evoked.

        BFTU    and   BOFEPUSU believe  that    as   representatives   and spokespersons  of   a  wide    and  large  spectrum  of   the    working-class movement and as a critical component of  the civil  society movement in Botswana, we  have a shared responsibility to  safeguard the democratic space of this country. Failure to provide this ingredient creates a risk of feeding into the   narrative that the SOPE is  calculated to  cover ulterior political agendas.


        We must hasten to  acknowledge our realization that there is a notable spike in  the number or  statistics of  infections. We  however submit that  the  existing  Public Health Act   provisions,  especially  Part  III, Section 18  enables the Director of Public Health to  appropriately and timeously invoke relevant provisions to  respond proportionately to  the dictates of  the   situation rather than by  way  of  unnecessary blanket disruption to social, political and many other spheres of public life.

        Any  other approach carries potential to  ferment otherwise avoidable dissent.


        We  contend that  in   the  absence  of   a  genume, transparent  and thorough evaluative report showing the  effectiveness or otherwise of the past months of SOPE to  this point, we cannot find  any justifiable basis for supporting a further extension of the  State of Public Emergency.

        It is in  this same context that we hold that whilst it may not  be easy to         substantiate   allegations  of   corrupt  practices  by   government officials and members of the  executive it appears there is reasonable cause to  suspect  that  officials have used  loopholes in   the   system during  the   SOPE  to  appropriate  to   themselves, friends and  their relatives  resources   belonging  to   the    public  by   way    of   "special procurement processes". It  would therefore be  in  the   public interest and transparency to  dispel any further  misperceptions around this type of procurement processes.


         Finally, extending the  SOPE may lead to a total collapse of what remains of  our industry and a further massive loss of  employment with disastrous social and political outcomes for the  country.

         Our position is therefore a clear--No to the extension of SOPE.