Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Botswana Railways faces probe

Parliament willing, the Botswana Railways will be added to the list of state owned parastatal organisations that have been probed for administrative irregularities and possible corruption.

In the coming session of parliament, which has been pencilled in for November 13, Mahalapye East MP, Botlogile Tshireletso, will table a motion requesting that a commission of enquiry be appointed to probe allegations of corruption at BR.
The parastatal’s headquarters are in Mahalapye.

“The situation at Botswana Railways causes a lot of concern. There are a lot of improprieties and what has come to light could only be the tip of the iceberg,” Tshireletso says.

Through a series of parliamentary questions asked in the last session, Tshireletso has already cast a shadow of doubt on the operations of BR. In the last session, she brought to parliament’s attention the eyebrow-raising manner in which BR recruits its staff.

She wanted to know why three Batswana diesel electricians at headquarters were replaced with five Zimbabweans and why the personal assistant to the current Chief Executive Officer, was replaced under what she says remain mysterious circumstances.

If the questions were a strategy for her motion then it would have worked beautifully because the answers to the questions conveniently left out vital information. She could use this to her advantage by arguing that the organisation has something to hide and get support for her motion.

The Minister of Works and Transport, Lesego Motsumi, justified why it was in BR’s interest to let go of the three diesel electricians. However, the minister’s answer acknowledged the impropriety of BR management flouting established practice by filling the post without placing advertisements first.

“… my ministry concedes it is not proper to recruit personnel outside the organisation, more especially expatriates without advertising the posts. It has been impressed upon the management of Botswana Railways that policy and practice as well as transparency require that they advertise vacant posts when recruiting personnel outside the organisation,” Motsumi told parliament.

However, there was one vital piece of information that was not mentioned in the minister’s response because its inclusion would have provoked many more questions about how BR conducts its business.

The three electricians left under the voluntary retrenchment scheme in terms of which they are supposed to have been given first preference when the five positions opened up.

There is a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by BR’s trade union and management.
A section on “Filling of Vacancies: Post-retrenchment/Redundancy” reads: “When vacancies occur and such can’t be filled from within the organisation, priority shall be given to retrenchees to fill the vacancies.”

As it happened, priority was given to the five Zimbabweans.

Adam Phetlhe, the general secretary of the Botswana Railways Amalgamated Workers Union, says that the manner in which the Zimbabweans were hired was grossly improper.

“There are former BR employees working elsewhere now who may probably have wanted to come back but they were denied the opportunity to do so,” Phetlhe says.

The personal assistant story is also shrouded in mystery: the position was not advertised and the previous holder has the same qualifications as the person who replaced her. The minister’s answer left out those details.

What are the chances of the motions succeeding?
Support that matters the most is that from the backbench and, as the record shows, is always assured. When probe motions became en vogue some four years back, there was a backlash from the frontbench that soon died down as the misdeeds of targeted organisations were unveiled.

Generally, MPs prefer commissions of enquiry to committees of enquiry for the reason that the latter is appointed by the president and has subpoena powers. On the other hand, committees of enquiries are appointed by ministers and have no powers.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.