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A controversial (and costly) acquisition by the Kweneng District Council is acquiring another layer of controversy.
Last year, the Council bought quad bikes and motorcycles for use by social welfare officers, community development officers and byelaw enforcement officers to carry out daily duties for which they have always relied on vehicular transportation. Some of those officers are said to have already taken body measurements for the riding gear. When Sunday Standard broke this story last year, only quad bikes had been purchased but a storm was already brewing. The Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLHAWU) formally expressed its opposition to its members using this mode of transport. The union accused Council management of disregarding the labour laws as well as an Occupational Health and Safety Policy that had been adopted by the Council to reduce workplace accidents and risks as well as create a safe working environment. It further contended that the motorcycles will pose a serious risk which could lead to its members being exposed to fatal accidents and severe weather conditions.
“You will recall that the use of bikes was previously stopped across the public sector especially in the Ministry of Agriculture after they were found to be causing fatal accidents at an alarming rate. A typical example is a former and late employee of Kweneng District Council who was involved in a quad bike accident while on duty which nearly claimed her life,” read a letter from Kudzani David, the union’s Molepolole Branch Chairperson, to the Council.
Under the current arrangement and as with all civil servants, the affected class of employees is driven around in government vehicles. The introduction of motorcycles means that they will drive themselves, something that BLLHAWU said is “tantamount to forced labour” as these employees are being “overburdened with more responsibilities of driving without being compensated.” However, there is a little problem here because some of the employees in question don’t know how to drive motorcycles. Sunday Standard learns that the relevant officers were to be enrolled at the Botswana Police College in Otse for the requisite training.
Either the union’s words fell on deaf ears or more bikes had already been ordered and the order couldn’t be cancelled. The bikes, whose total number is estimated at “more than 20 but less than 25” with quad bikes numbering five, have arrived but are now lying idle. In a past that has ridden off into the sunset, the concerned officers would just grin and ride the bikes but nowadays, public sector unions are awash with cash, evidently litigious and can afford high-priced lawyers. If the Council wants to compel officers to use the bikes, there will definitely be a court case. This purchase happens as Botswana government preaches belt-tightening on a daily basis.
In compliance with government policy and practice, Sunday Standard sent a set of written questions to the KDC’s public relations department. A week later, the department had neither acknowledged receipt of the questions nor responded to them.