The government of Botswana is struggling to deactivate a diplomatic time bomb with the United Nations Development Program, because the latter is refusing to obey an Industrial Court judgment in a case that it lost to its former employees.
The employees dragged UNDP to court demanding severance benefits that were due to them after their contracts expired.
In November 2010, Industrial Court Judge Justice Legwaila ruled that the UNDP should pay Puso Kethuse, Geoffrey Masilo and Olivia Adams over P160, 000 as severance benefits for the period 31 July 2009 to 10 June 2002, during which they were under the employment of UNDP.?“The respective amounts shall be paid by UNDP to the applicants through the Office of the Registrar of the Industrial Court on or before 31 December 2010,” said Legwaila.
The UNDP never bothered to defend the application. They also disregarded Legwaila’s ruling and failed to inform the government of Botswana about the case. The employees then obtained a writ of execution from the Industrial Court authorizing them to “attach and take into execution UNDP property and cause to be realized by public auction the sum of P160 200.70, which the applicants recovered through the November 2010 ruling”.?Deputy Sherriff Anelle Van Heerden later attached three UNDP vehicles, a Toyota Land Cruiser (registration 06 CD 005), a Nissan Patrol (registration 06 CD 026) and another Land Cruiser (registration 06 CD 007) for auction at Broadhurst Police Station.
But she was never able to remove the vehicles from UNDP premises, as she was threatened with arrest every time she tried to do so. She later obtained a court order from the Registrar of the High Court Godfrey Nthomiwa, instructing the police to assist her to remove the vehicles from UNDP premises. But the police refused to accede, saying they were still in consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General’s chambers. In the end, the AG informed Van Heerden that they intend to make an application to the Industrial Court for Justice Legwaila’s judgment to be rescinded.
News of the pending application caused an uproar, and questions emerged as to whose corner the government of Botswana was fighting in. Complaints were also raised as to why the UNDP would disrespect Botswana’s courts of law.
“It seems government is fighting for UNDP against its citizens. Why should UNDP refuse to obey a court order? Why don’t they just pay the people what is due to them?” opined an opposition politician.
Wary of the backlash that the rescission application would have received from the public and the opposition, government backed down and opted for over the counter negotiations with UNDP.
AG insiders also revealed that the court would not take kindly to an application for Justice Legwaila’s ruling to be revoked. Sunday Standard is informed that government was caught on the back foot, as the UNDP only informed them of the judgment when Van Heerden attached their property. Foreign Affairs Minister Phandu Skelemani confirmed that UNDP enjoys diplomatic immunity. He, however, said they do not necessarily have to disregard the court order.
“At the moment we are still negotiating with UNDP to try and find an amicable solution to this problem. The bottom line is that the people have to be paid,” he said.
Asked if government will in the end shoulder the P160, 000 bill, Skelemani said that will depend on the outcome of negotiations.
However, UNDP is refusing to negotiate with government unless Justice Legwaila’s judgment is rescinded, a route that government is loath to take.
Skelemani, who is also a former Attorney General, added that they cannot fault the Industrial Court because it only deals with facts.
It also seems like government suspects that its rescission application might not succeed, primarily because UNDP took a long time to update them.
“The fact is that one cannot sit on their rights. If you want to apply for rescission you do that as soon as you are aware of the judgment. Otherwise the application might not succeed,” said Skelemani.
With the rescission application now abandoned, government is said to be in intense negotiations with UNDP to urge them to pay the employees. Meanwhile, the owed employees have been left in limbo. To date, government has never bothered to contact the trio. Skelemani said they will contact the owed employees to update them.