Monday, June 5, 2023

Botswana civil service suffers growing pains

Former Deputy Director of Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM), Taboka Nkhwa, who was tasked with coordinating the transformation of the Botswana Institute of Administration and Commerce (BIAC) into a Civil Service College, is a woman with very conservative views on administrative processes.

Her absolute conviction that those in leadership have the absolute authority to move their charges around to suit their plans makes her a willing pawn in the power games that have poisoned the BIAC transformation.

In a brief interview with Sunday Standard, Nkhwa, who was recently transferred from DPSM to the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, says she does not read anything sinister onto the sudden transfer.
“It should be noted that those in position of leadership have authority to delegate and when they decide to realign their order of management, they cannot be seen to be usurping anything outside their usual scope of operation,” she said.
Insiders, however, believe that her recent transfer was just another move on a much bigger chess board.
Following her transfer, the process of transforming BIAC into a Civil Service College has been suspended. In another curious development, the school Principal, Peter Choto, has been removed. This comes hardly two weeks after the dismissal of two DPSM assistant Directors and the deputy head of BIAC who were also involved in the transformation process.

Conspiracy theorists are busy joining the dots, and a sinister outline is emerging: That the new Director of DPSM, Pearl Matome, is unhappy with the transformation process and is purging all who have been pushing it.
This perception is not helped by Matome’s strong views against the transformation process as it has so far been unfolding. Differences over the extent and outlook of the autonomy of the envisaged new Botswana Civil Service College have led to a fall out between the now two months old Director of DPSM, Pearl Matome and her Assistant Nkhwa, also Deputy Director of DPSM.

It is understood that on assumption of her new office, the new Director expressed her displeasure with some of the policy directions as reflected in the financial draft civil services college Act and regulations proposed for the running of the institution.
As a result, Matome withheld the draft bill which was due for discussion by the past session of Parliament, calling for the extraction of certain clauses, disclosed one of the committee members.

Matome is reported to have told Nkhwa’s committee that she will not allow the envisaged college to be turned into a Parastatal body in the pattern of the Botswana National Productivity Centre (BNPC).

Othusitse Tsalaile, chairperson of the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPWU) otherwise known as Manual Workers Union (MWU) who sits in the committee confirmed the allegations.

He said, “It would appear that the new Director felt that the proposed Act and regulations which the committee had almost finalized gave the proposed institution too much independence from Government.”
This emanated partly from the fact that, the committee held the view that the Head of the College must be a person of Permanent Secretary’s position. This explains the decision to usurp Nkhwa’s authority over the process to transform BIAC into a Civil Service College.

Tsalaile said it would be unfortunate if it is true that the Principal and the Transformation Coordinator have been removed or redeployed without the courtesy to inform unions.

Moreover, it had been agreed that there will not be any staff movement without due consultation with the Unions, as representative of different categories of employees of the college.

Representative of the Tertiary Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TTAWU) in the Technical Committee responsible for the BIAC transformation, Edward Tswaipe, concurred with Tsalaile.

He said the recent removal and redeployment of staff at BIAC has become a source of anxiety for all employees of the institution because of the uncertainty arising from the high management turnover.
“This is the third time there is change of direction and five (5) years since the transformation process started,” said Tswaipe.
Adding that, the fact that every time a new Director comes in they always found the incumbent progression chain wanting, tends to prolong the transformation process.
This has led to doubts as to whether the transformation will ever take root.
“To make matters worse, whenever all these serious changes are effected we are left out, and only learn through the media about things that have a bearing on our lives,” concluded the Union official

Principal Public Relations Officer at the Directorate of Public Service Management Kgotlele Kgotlele, like Nkhwa hold very conservative view on administrative processes, and this makes him an awkward interlocutor on discussions about staff movements and how they are affecting the BIAC transformation.
“As far as I am aware, the transfer of Mme Mma Nkhwa, is the prerogative of the Permanent Secretary to the President, so he would therefore be better positioned to spell out the basis of his decision.” explained Kgotlele.

Regarding Choto, Kgotlele pointed out that “again it’s a matter for the Director who as per the powers vested upon her by the Public Services general orders, as the employing authority may decide, subject to the best considerations for the public service, to deploy or re-deploy officers where it seems expedient.”

According to the affected officers, none of them were consulted or given an explanation by the Director. Their dismissal came like a bolt from the blues.

Developments at BIAC and DPSM have led to questions on the legality of the Public Service General Order provisions that grant the Director of DPSM, who is equivalent in rank to Permanent Secretaries in other Ministries, the power to unilaterally determine the future of other government employees under her supervision.

This situation is compounded by the absence of an independent dispute resolution mechanism where employees can challenge such decisions if they feel aggrieved, without the risk of jeopardizing their prospects for promotions or future consideration for re-employment or contract.

In this vein, the newly released report of the Ombudsman decries the said state of affairs.

‘Every Public Sector Organization needs to have in-built grievances handling mechanism for quick resolution of internal disputes,’ stated the report, adding that such systems need to be created outside the usual organizational structures which exist within any organization.

The reason for creating this system is to infuse more objectivity in complaint handling which might ultimately result in employee confidence about the quality of the decision making process.

In the case of the Public Service, besides the impending finalization of the unionization process, there exists what is known as Public Service Commission established under section 109 (1) of the constitution which is appointed by the president.

However, the Ombudsman maintains that it remains dysfunctional, as the constitution does not make provision nor does it make clarifying the functions of the commission.

Although, in practice the commission has since its inception, heard and determined appeals against dismissals, surcharges and other closely related matters raised by public officers.

The Ombudsman said, “Public Servants usually have a host of grievances pertaining to their conditions of service such as appointments, promotions, upgrading, transfers etc, which they want to be resolved promptly by an independent entity.’

It is never sufficiently clear whether these grievances may be subject of adjudication by the PSC, or whether the commission is sufficiently resourced to handle them.

As a result, Public Servants are thrown into darkness as to how to move state machinery to deal with grievances arising in the course and scope of duty as such.

It was further stated that these workers had hopes that coming into existence of the Ombudsman in the country would make a difference to their misery.

But lo! And behold, ‘there was wholesale disappointment when it turned out that the Ombudsman Act section 4 (d) itself precludes investigation of any action taken in respect of appointments to offices or other employment in the service of government of Botswana,’ read the report.

Yet striking the Ombudsman contends that a lot of cases reported to his office reveal that some managers in the public sector often make decision but fail to disclose the reasons which inform their decision.

He pointed out that this happens mostly when adverse decisions would have been taken against affected persons.

“Even where reasons are given there is either little justification for reaching the conclusion, or worse still, the rationale for the decision is obscure,’ posited the Ombudsman.

In conclusion he lamented decisions taken without involvement of concerned individuals, adding, “The implication is that such an individual does not have any rights in the process, and this matter is of great concern.”


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