Botswana Federation of Public Sector Union (BOFEPUSU) is drafting an urgent application to stop government from taking back the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Asset Scheme (GEMVAS) – a multi million Pula scheme that government handed to public sector unions to administer a few years back.
The scheme which offers vehicle and residential property loans to public servants was outsourced to trade unions in 2010. UNIGEM (PTY) Ltd, a company owned by BOFEPUSU affiliates, was appointed as administrator of the scheme. UNIGEM was contracted by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning after it was agreed that the scheme should be administered by an entity formulated by its beneficiaries.
However, government has since indicated that it will take back administration of GEMVAS to the Ministry of Finance. BOFEPUSU will this week launch an urgent application challenging the decision in court.
The trade union federation insists that in accordance with the privatisation policy, they agreed with government that the scheme will be outsourced to BOFEPUSU for administration through UNIGEM.
In an interview, BOFEPUSU Secretary General Tobokani Rari explained that the privatisation policy indicates that when services that were initially administered by government are outsourced, then those services that are being privatised should first be given to workers.
While they don’t usually agree to privatisation, public sector trade unions made an exception in the case of GEMVAS because they were part of the privatisation exercise, as they agreed with government that the scheme will be given to the workers.
“Because those workers are going to be left without any employment, they should be the primary beneficiaries and they should be assisted to form companies to administer those services themselves as a way of guarding against unemployment that could be created by privatisation,” Rari said.
The five year administration contract between UNIGEM and the Ministry of Finance, which has been running since 2010, is set to expire at the end of May. BOFEPUSU insists that when the contract expires there should be an open tender for all those who are eligible to apply to run the scheme. However, government has dug its boots in, saying the scheme should be restored to its control.
Rari said the change of stance took them by surprise as initially the state had written a letter to UNIGEM indicating that because the contract was due to expire, an open tender would be issued to allow all eligible companies to express their interest in running the scheme.
“Government later withdrew the letter and wrote another one saying the scheme was not going to be outsourced. Instead of outsourcing the government is now in-sourcing. They are taking back the scheme. We are saying this move is contrary to the privatisation policy,” said Rari.
He added that it was important for the matter to be heard as an urgent application.
“Our lawyers are busy drafting our heads of argument and by next week the case will be before the courts of law,” he said.
BOFEPUSU believes the latest action by government is part of deliberate efforts to cripple the labour movement.
“There are some within government who believe UNIGEM should be liquidated because it has been sponsoring BOFEPUSU’s lawsuits against government,” said Rari.
In another matter, BOFEPUSU Deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa is expected to appear before a disciplinary hearing at Francistown City Council (FCC) on May 13th to answer to charges of misconduct after he was accused of being absent from duty without leave or any reasonable excuse.