Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) and the Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM), which recently changed its name to Business Botswana, are worried that a recent decision by government to allow civil servants to engage in businesses outside their everyday work will open the backdoor to corruption.
Government has since issued a directive that public servants were allowed to own businesses.
BOFEPUSU Deputy Secretary General, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa told the Sunday Standard that this may be a strategy by some senior government officials to benefit from government tenders using inside information.
“Corruption is likely to be rife within the public service. We believe this is a strategy by those who are influential to find ways of benefitting from government tenders since they have inside information,” he said
He further stated that, “from a labour perspective, we are against government insisting that civil servants should engage in business. It is the government’s responsibility to create jobs. By allowing civil servants to engage in businesses, the government is abdicating its responsibility,” said Motshegwa.
He added that government should be worried about reviewing salary structures and improving conditions of service.
“That way productivity and stability in the public service will improve. Businesses should be left to the private sector and Business Botswana,” said Motshegwa.
Business Botswana President, Leta Mosienyane said they are against the move on the basis that it would among other issues lead to conflict of interest and perceptions of impropriety.
“The officers may find themselves acting against their principal which in this case is the government. The issue also raises the question of whose interest the civil servants will be championing,” wondered Mosienyane.
He said should civil servants be allowed to own businesses, “in this situation there is no way to manage conflict of interest and who is going to intervene should conflict of interest arise.” He added that the business community depends on information and civil servants would be better informed than the private sector.
Mosienyane said Botswana has built an enviable reputation when it comes to fairness in business. The risks and potential consequences may be too heavy for the country to go down this route.
“The real question is whether it is worth destroying this reputation by making civil servants business people ÔÇô what impact will it have? There is real risk that the country could find itself with the outside perception that to do business with government any businessman has to be in partnership with the government employees,” he said.
Mosienyane said perception affects most facts saying that the problem is that if it goes horribly wrong and degenerates, it will be almost impossible to reverse the situation and the country will be damaged for generations.
He said the issue could also affect mega projects which have significant national impact. “If they are wrong because of inappropriate decisions, the consequences are often heavy,” said Mosienyane.
He further said there is no need to change the status quo noting that civil servants have all along been involved in small scale projects (gardens, cattle, goats, bakeries) which are outside their working hours.
“It may be unfair to legislate that civil servants cannot sell produce to the state. The question is how far should these transactions go and to what extent will they affect the above,” he said.