Prisons officers last week erupted in cheers of jubilation as the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, Segakweng Tsiane, announced that the Botswana Prisons Services has been transferred from her ministry to the Office of the President.
The permanent secretary made the announcement on Thursday while addressing Labour and Home Affairs employees at the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants in Francistown.
Speaking to The Sunday Standard after the announcement, prisons officers expressed optimism that their conditions of service will greatly improve and come to par with those of other officers in the disciplined forces, as in the police and the army officers.
Prisons warders have for a long time been complaining about deplorable working conditions with many of them decrying the glaring remuneration disparities in comparison with those of their counterparts in the army and the police services.
During his recent visit to the Francistown prisons, Minister Peter Siele was inundated with incessant complaints about a number of irregularities in the prisons department, among them the trauma that prisons officers have to live with from rehabilitating prisoners and then killing them.
They have also complained of lack of adequate uniforms, poor working conditions, lack of transport and lack of up to date technology.
A senior officer at the prisons headquarters who preferred not to be named also welcomed the move saying it would go a long way in addressing the long standing dispute between government and prisons officers.
“As you are aware, we are an integral part of the criminal justice system. It has always been surprising that while other components of the criminal justice system fell under the office of the president, especially the Ministry of Justice, Defense and Security, the prisons department had been left under the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs. This made our interactions with other justice and security departments cumbersome,” he said.
He also explained that they hoped that their transfer to the Office of the President would also address the huge salary disparities between the prisons department and other security forces.
Meanwhile, there is a school of thought that the move to transfer the prisons department to the OP is also geared at consolidating the armed forced under one roof under the command of the president.
Commentators have said that the move is a continuation of the recent sacking of then prisons commissioner, Herman Kau, and his replacement with retired army officer, Colonel Silas Motlalekgosi.
The appointment caused uproar in the country with many decrying the militarization of the public service, amid thick speculation that Herman Kau was being pushed out to pave way for a loyal soldier who would follow instructions from the OP without question.