Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Cross-rank romance not compromising good order in Police Service

The Botswana Defence Force’s explanation for why a Lieutenant couldn’t be involved with a Private was that such the relationship would compromise good order in the army. Counterarguing that point, Othusitse Mbeha, the lawyer representing Lt. Thabang Tlhapisang and Pvt. Kozondu Uariua said that cross-rank romance was par for the course in other disciplined forces like the Botswana Police Service.

The judgement that Justice Dr. Zein Kebonang handed down doesn’t address this point but on own initiative, Sunday Standard has gathered information that confirms Mbeha’s point. At least until Kebonang counter-interpreted BDF’s Policy on Fraternisation and Sexual Harassment, the High Command deemed Tlhapisang and Uariua’s romance to be in breach of this policy. It was on the basis of the latter that both were kicked out of the army.

However, it turns out that a disciplined force that is decades older than BDF has never had a fraternisation policy, allows officers to date across ranks and has never ever experienced discipline problems as a result. This bundle of circumstances means that a Superintendent in the Police Service will never be hauled over the coals for openly loving a Constable.

“If a discipline issue comes up, it is dealt with according to the Police Act and our policies that include standing orders. Nothing forbids officers from engaging in romantic relationships across ranks. However, there is expectation that the code of discipline will be observed by the parties involved: the subordinate is supposed to respect the senior officer and in turn, the senior officer is expected to behave appropriately towards the subordinate. If either one steps out line, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken without fail,” says Witness Bosija, the spokesperson for the Botswana Police Service.

He adds that the relationship status is not even an issue in BPS because personal issues are confined to the home and not ever invited into the office.

“A female officer in such domestic situation is a wife or girlfriend at home ÔÇô not in the office. There has never been a discipline problem arising from seniors being romantically involved with juniors and I don’t expect any such problems in the future,” the BPS spokesperson says. 

To be clear, Bosija was not antagonistically reacting to BDF’s Fraternisation Policy or its Romeo-and-Juliet case but was merely responding to Sunday Standard’s query. The question put to him was whether the Police Service has ever experienced any discipline problems arising from officers dating across ranks. The Botswana Prisons Service, which is also much older than BDF, is another disciplined force where officers can freely date across ranks and we learn from sources that there has never been a discipline problem as a result. As in the police, the Prisons Service is sensitive to breakdown in discipline and provides appropriate sanctions when the situation calls for it.

BDF’s Policy on Fraternisation and Sexual Harassment was introduced following the integration of women into the army. In court papers, the army said that the prohibition of romantic fraternisation was standard practice in armies all over the world. Strictly on the basis of online research, no soldier seems to have ever challenged this policy. Tlhapisang and Uariua did, won their case and the court has ordered that they be reinstated in the army. 

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