The President of the Botswana Public Employees Union, Andrew Motsamai, has expressed worry at government’s apparent intention to trim down the public service and reduce it to size despite what he called “the impeccable performance of the public service.”
While Botswana has been inundated with incessant grumbles from the public, the private sector and indeed government officials over the poor work ethic and service delivery in the public service, the union leader went against the tide and presented a moving eulogy of what he said were the accomplishments of the public service over the years.
Speaking at the first BOPEU annual convention recently, the Motsamai diverted from public opinion and announced that the public service, as the central union that drives the national economy and the majority of government policies, has in the past yielded significant results worth noting.
“Key to our successes as a country has been the remarkable ability of the public service to support all the processes geared towards the maintenance of political consensus, which is based on a broader sense of national unity,” he said, adding that in neighboring countries unions have been seen to actively take part in influencing the political agenda of their countries and, to some extent, dictating what policies should be implemented or otherwise.
Motsamai paid tribute to the men and women of the public service who he said continue to dedicate their efforts to contributing significantly to a stable democracy and economic progress in Botswana saying that their efforts are driven by a politically neutral public service.
He said that unlike in other counties where the private sector has been the driving force behind the economy, Botswana’s public service has been instrumental in steering Botswana’s economy to success as stated by the President in his state of the nation address when he said that Botswana has been ranked first by the World Bank Institute’s report on governance indicators which measures broad areas like accountability, political stability, public service delivery, the rule of law and control of corruption.
He lamented the fact that the majority of the public service employees in Botswana are not aware that there is a direct link between their inputs as workers and economic performance.
Motsamai said that Botswana’s economy is the envy of the world today because of the concerted efforts of the public sector and that BOPEU members from the health sector especially deserve a commendation for their success in managing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
He also said that the public service retains a lot of hope in the public service reforms and service delivery improvement initiatives as they believe that they will, in the long run, impart the desired culture compatible with the workers principle of providing quality public service, pouring water on the need to curtail the public service.
Many commentators have in the past indicated that as a major player in Botswana’s economy by virtue of being the largest employer, consumer and service provider , government has the power to influence economic performance and should, therefore, be seen as leading the pack in agitating for better service delivery and more liberal legislation.
However, contrary to Motsamai’s statements, commentators have on more than one occasion decried the laxity and inertia inherent in the public service and many have called for the trimming and overhauling of the public service to improve service delivery
A 2005 public service survey carried out by DCDM Consultants rated Botswana at a dismal 25 percent citing issues like poor attitude towards work, poor remuneration and poor leadership style as impediments to good customer service in the public sector.
In his speech, Motsamai said that NDP 9 and the mid term review reports clearly indicate government’s draconian commitment to retrenching workers from the public service. He acknowledged government’s numerous reforms which are supposedly geared at enhancing the efficiency and productivity of the public service citing President Mogae’s recent utterances to the effect that government remains committed to privatization in line with the privatization policy master plan as an example. The BOPEU president cautioned that while they appreciate government initiatives, the success of reforms like privatization is largely dependent on the consultation and buying-in of workers saying that they are ready to engage constructively on the matter.
Motsamai, however, said that Botswana is faced with a lot of challenges among them the fact that the domestic market is too small making it difficult for the country to attract direct foreign investment as records have repeatedly indicated.
“Poverty and income disparities continue to remain serious problems, unemployment is too high at 17 percent and the slow rate of job creation is insufficient to absorb new entrants,” he said.
Government has in the past raised concerns regarding the low work ethic of the public service, and consequently pumped millions into interventions like PMS, PBRS and WITS which were supposedly aimed at facilitating a culture of performance excellence in the public service. The Permanent Secretary to the President, Eric Molale, has especially been leading the pack in calling for improved productivity in the public service. Motsamai said that though they welcome this form of appraisal they, remain concerned that government continues to lend weight to reforms that are made to improve the quality of the public service.
He cited reforms like the performance management system and the performance based reward system which he intimated might have not attained the desired success rate because the union leadership was not imparted with the possible tools to enable them to sing the same song with the employer at the earliest possible time.
He added that government should, as a matter of urgency, choose a remuneration strategy that aims to link performance with rewards.
”We are equally concerned that even though PMS was introduced over ten years ago workers have yet to see such a link. We are even more concerned that we supported PMS and PBRS initiatives on the understanding that a holistic approach to performance management would be implemented but sadly this is not happening and there is a danger that the whole PMS process will fall into disrepute, especially if workers do not see any financial reward for enhanced performance,” he cautioned.
Motsamai went on to say that BOPEU supported the 2007 salaries review commission on public officers salaries with the hope that government would take advantage of the exercise to address pertinent issues like salary disparities, working hours, housing allowance and many others. He warned that government would minimize prospects of future legal and industrial challenges if it accedes to their advice on these issues.