Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Botswana criticised for excluding civil society on EPAs negotiations

Botswana was this week singled out and rapped on the knuckles for excluding civil society organisations (CSO) and other none state actors, particularly the social partners, from processes leading to the signing of the interim Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union.

Delegates at the 10th Regional Seminar of the African Caribbean and Pacific Countries and European Union Economic and Social Interest Groups, held at the Gaborone International Convention Centre, argued that the country’s recent signing, along with Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland, of the agreement, breached both EU conditions and International Labour Organization (ILO) Global Jobs Pact, respectively.

Samela Manene, delegate of South Africa’s National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU), said that, in the same manner that Botswana managed to influence Zimbabwe’s political developments by adopting a lone, but ultimately workable stand, she can lead by example by being inclusive enough.
Against this background, Botswana’s Assistant Minister of Trade and Industry, Duke Lefhoko, who presented a paper on behalf of Minister Neo Moroka, was cornered to explain why.
“As far as we are concerned, Botswana has the most inclusive consultative structures than most countries,” said Lefhoko.

He named some of the structures that supposedly provided platform for exchange on pertinent issues.
One such structure, he said, is the High Level Sectoral Consultative Committee, which trickles down to ministerial committees and the High Level Joint Consultation Council (HLJCC), which is chaired by the president.

┬áLefhoko argued, “Once the concerned organizations, including Trade unions, are given an opportunity to participate, and they fail to make the most of it to influence decisions then it is no longer upon Government to blame.”

However, both BOCCIM and BFTU officials held views divergent to the Minister’s.
 Maria Machailo-Ellis, Executive Director of BOCCIM, expressed the view that, although platforms exist, there is a concern that civil society organizations generally lack the necessary capacity to meaningfully partake in the process. 

For instance, whilst BOCCIM has learnt in the course of their relationship with government, not to just be critics but to also co-own initiatives and share responsibilities, it is a different matter having business people partake in discussions taking place in a language, and about concepts and processes alien to their culture and environment.

┬á“Thus, in our opinion, it would enhance the effectiveness of EU funding and support to none-state actors, if we were to be enabled to engage, qualified local economists and finance or other experts, subject to the respective non-state organizations’ specializations,” said Machailo-Ellis.

 It would help ensure that those participating are better placed to comprehend the relevant terminology, whilst at the same time communicating easily with the affected, especially local populations.

On the contrary, however, along with EU financial support, foreign experts are enjoined to projects, and or only short term workshops are carried out, leaving locals largely dependent on external support, which makes local initiative hardily sustainable.

“By the same token, even when representatives of none state actors are afforded a seat in the decision making forums, including the National Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations, the primary concern should be whether their presence makes a difference,” maintained Machailo-Ellis.
 
Gadzani Mhosha, Secretary General of BFTU posited that, for all the forums that the Minister is referring to, none has tripartism as its legislated outlook.

“Moreover, regarding the HLJCC, although the BFTU representative sits there, it is by and large a bilateral arrangement for Government and BOCCIM, and consequently our influence is very limited,” said Mhosha.

Furthermore, it should be noted that even in relation to the specific question of the recently signed interim agreement, with the EU, neither the BFTU nor other local none-state actors has clamed to have been adequately consulted with a view to interrogating the attendant issues.

At the conclusion of the Seminar, an exclusive summary outlining the positions adopted by the delegates stated that, as part of limiting the impact of the world financial and economic crisis, countries be urged to implement the ILO global jobs pact and, in particular, the promotion of job creation. 

It was also agreed that all the social partners be regularly informed and fully involved in consultations about EPAs as well as ensure that ILO’s decent work agenda and social protection schemes are streamlined into the EPA’s.

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