Thousands of Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) members may find themselves stranded, without financial backup in the event of an industrial action. BOPEU auditors have raised alarm about the missing P4 million which has disappeared from the union’s strike fund. Information reaching this publication indicates how the union leadership has been at pains to explain the missing millions since the discovery. The fund was set up by the union as insurance for the membership during labour disputes when the government may decide to cut salaries for those involved in the strike.
When public service employees decide to go on strike, they may not receive a regular salary from their employer as it occurred in the 2011 industrial strike. Nonetheless, some unions provide a strike fund to assist striking employees in fulfilling their essential financial requirements during that time. BOPEU may be found wanting should that need arise. As per section 42 of the constitution of BOPEU, the union may allocate a certain percentage of its savings to an emergency fund as determined by the National Executive Committee (NEC) and the fund must be able to cover a number of days as determined by NEC from time to time. The funds shall be used in cases of emergency which include but are not limited to disasters, strikes and other circumstances.
“The union had a strike fund balance of P 4,853,225 million as of June 30, 2021. During the current year we noted that subscriptions were erroneously deposited into the strike fund account and strike fund account was utilized for operational purposes leaving a balance of P 171,968 as at 30 June 2022. This results in unauthorized utilization of strike fund towards unintended purpose. We were unable to obtain sufficient and appropriate audit evidence whether such utilization of fund for unintended purpose was authorized,” reads the report, the year ended 30 June 2022.
“The National Executive Committee Members are responsible for the preparation and fair presentation of the consolidated and separate financial statements in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards and for such internal control as the National Executive Committee Members determine is necessary to enable the preparation of consolidated and separate financial statements that are free from material misstatement, whether due to fraud or error,” the auditors say. BOPEU President Masego Mogwera confirmed to Sunday Standard that funds have indeed been diverted but denied there was any misappropriation. She however would not disclose what the funds were used for suffice to say there was no mismanagement.
“I cannot answer your questions because I will be in breach of our Constitution,” Mogwera said in the interview. “Audited Financials are presented to the national executive committee before they can be shared with anyone else. It will be wrong for me to share the information before meeting the executive committee just because somebody has decided to leak information to the media about our internal operations.”
The missing funds have raised several critical questions regarding the union’s leadership and its financial management. Concerned union members are eager to ascertain whether the leadership has provided satisfactory explanations for the disappearance of the funds. Questions have been raised about transparency and accountability by the leadership. The union’s response will determine the level of trust and confidence its members place in its leadership. The fate of the ‘diverted’ funds remains uncertain. With limited information available, it is unclear where the funds have been directed and who may be responsible for their diversion. The implications of the missing funds extend beyond the immediate financial loss.
The union membership, for whom the strike fund was designed, now face potential hardships during labor disputes. Without sufficient financial support from the union, employees engaging in strikes may find it challenging to meet their basic needs and sustain themselves and their families during demanding times.