Ousted union boss fights to get job back

22 Jul 2018

A week after her dramatic ousting, the former Secretary General of the Botswana Nurses Union, Keoopetse Paphane, is fighting tooth and nail to get her old job back.

A fortnight ago and only two days apart, the same fate befell both Paphane and President Mokgweetsi Masisi. However, unlike Masisi, Paphane didn’t survive a vote of no-confidence motion brought against her by disgruntled members of the 7000-member union at an extraordinary general conference that was held at Paddock Conference Centre in Gaborone. As Secretary General, she was BONU’s CEO and her ouster was most unusual for people holding that position. Minutes after losing the vote, she had automatically lost her lucrative job and gone back to being an ordinary member.

Paphane is now protesting her ouster and has written a letter to BONU’s Independent Electoral Commission (BIEC), raising technical legal points about the conduct of the election. She is demanding that she be reinstated within seven days. The deadline tied to the demand strongly suggests that a bitter court battle could ensue pretty soon. The BIEC falls under the Central Executive Committee.

Paphane lost her job on the back of documentary evidence that her stewardship of the union’s finances was deeply problematic. One expenditure item related to this year’s edition of the popular Hamptons Jazz Concert which was held in Gaborone North in April. Ahead of this concert – which was headlined by 1990s superstar, Billy Ocean - BONU bought tickets worth P100 000 with the intention of reselling them to members. However, the union was able to resell only a few tickets, reportedly managing to recoup only P17 000. Most astounding of all though is that this partnership had no written contract - as ordinarily happens when institutions that don’t operate by word of mouth get into a formal partnership. It has emerged that financial regulations were not followed when this deal was sealed.

After ousting Paphane, disgruntled BONU members are back in the trenches, ramping up another campaign against the union’s president, Obonolo Rahube, who survived his own no-confidence vote at the Paddock conference. The campaign against Rahube is based on the simple reason that he not only failed to supervise Paphane but is himself culpable in the financial mismanagement because he signed the cheques. While he survived a constitutional vote, successful invocation of a provision in the Trade Unions and Employers' Organizations Act could reduce him to a mere figurehead. Section 44 of that Act states: “A member of a registered trade union or employers' organization or of a trade union belonging to a registered federation of trade unions or the Registrar may apply to the High Court for an interdict prohibiting an officer of the trade union, federation of trade unions or employers' organization from holding office in or controlling the funds of the trade union, federation of trade unions or employers' organization.” The very next sub-section requires the building of “a prima facie case against the officer in question for fraudulent misuse of the funds.” At this point, Sunday Standard is unaware of any evidence of fraudulent misuse of funds. A militant BONU branch in the north is expected to apply for the interdict that will take away Rahube’s powers to sign cheques.

Previously called the Nurses Association of Botswana, BONU represents nurses in both the public and private sector. Collectively, the 7000 members contribute a total of P350 000 a month in subscriptions alone.