Saturday, December 4, 2021

Cronyism, favouritism rock BGI

When Botswana Geoscience Institute (BGI) founding employees moved from the Department of Geological Survey to the parastatal, it seemed like a smart career move. Most rubbed their collective hands gleefully in anticipation of the generous pay and benefits they were promised.

Five years later, the BGI board is snowed under staff complaints over the false promises. It remains curious why the parastatal went back on its promise to workers, but that sent a message: The BGI word is worthless.

While the parastatal’s management is waving a phony flag of good corporate governance, it has gotten away with bending, if not breaking its own rules governing staff recruitment and worse.

A female geologist hired on temporary basis, with a salary of P23 765.34 per month, without any experience was helped to step ahead of qualified BGI serving interns.

The parastatal’s own Human Resources Manual sets the standards: BGI commitsto fill vacancies by promoting employees holding junior positions and only to head hunt under exceptional cases. The parastatal vouches to fill temporary vacancies with serving interns.

In this instance a number of serving interns were released upon completing their internship to create a vacancy for the captains pick.

Similar complaints are being raised on the recruitment of the Chief Executive Officer’s Personal Assistant.

These are not isolated incidents, but part of a pattern where BGI management’s decisions fail to meet the recruitment smell test. For more than two months, the BGI management and board has sat on a Sunday Standard questionnaire raising the issues.

It is almost an article of faith that locking down a job with generous pay and benefits in Botswana takes one through a commando training style obstacle course of proving your educational record, showing work skills and surviving a barrage of interviews. But when an insider — a friend or another connection — shows you a shortcut, why bother with the usual apply-and-hope route? Indications are that this inside track is well-worn at BGI. Taxpayer-funded jobs often go to people as much for their personal linkages as their work credentials — if not more so.

The Institute is accused of employing a retired Civil Servant, alleged to be of the same kinfolk with the CEO. Sunday Standard investigations revealed that the officer is not a geologist and does not bring any exceptional skills to the organisation. He was offered a generous salary supplemented by a retention allowance. A number of BGI insiders are querying why a retired non-science person in a geology organisation deserves a retention allowance.

Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that this culture of cronyism and favouritism has spawned questionable backroom deals between managers and their hand-picked cronies. Sources close to the recruitment process have shared with this newspaper, a list of suspicious employees some accused of conniving with an insurance broker (name withheld) to register staff members with an annuity fund instead of a pension in what threatens to be Botswana’s biggest pension mis-selling scandal.

Botswana Geoscience Institute (BGI), is accused of conniving with a Botswana Life Insurance Limited broker to mislead Lobatse based parastatal’s Permanent and Pensionable staff into investing in an ill-suited retirement plan.

Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) three months ago petitioned the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRAto investigate the standard of advice given by Botswana life Insurance Limited (BLIL) to BGI’s Permanent and Pensionable staff.

The BGI – BOPEU Interim Committee’s letter to NBIFIRA dated 12th April, 2021 however uses stronger language, “we are requesting your office as per the retirement Fund Act to commission an enquiry and an investigation into the unlawful establishment of a retirement fund by BGI management and BLIL management.”

While their advice slips have for years been reflecting deductions towards pension contributions, BGI workers had the shock of their lives recently when they discovered that the state-owned institution does not have a pension scheme, but a retirement annuity.

In a happy work environment where staff has no qualms with being lifers, spending their careers with the same employer, this pension mis sell would not be much of an issue. But BGI is anything but a happy work environment. Sunday Standard investigations have turned up a long history of documented staff grievances which go as far back as former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi to as recent as the area Member of Parliament Thapelo Matsheka.

Aggrieved staff members who started their careers with Botswana Geological Surveys before it was turned into a parastatal as BGI are however stuck in their unhappy work stations because they cannot retire early and cash in 25% of their pensions to start their own businesses.

While a pension scheme allows workers to cash in 25% from their pot when they change jobs or retire early, a retirement annuity binds them to waiting until they reach retirement age before they can access their retirement money.

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