President Ian Khama is believed to have bought the silence of Botswana’s militant trade union for P3 million.
The trade union movement, which was hitherto the most militant civic movement in Botswana, was collapsing under the weight of its debts and the mother body, the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions BFTU, faced being sold under the hammer by the National Development Bank (NDB) and the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA).
President Ian Khama, however, ordered a P 3 million bail out for the BFTU, which went towards clearing a substantial part of the federation’s more than 11million pula worth of debts that resulted from financing the construction of Babereki House in the African Mall. The project was financed by both the National Development Bank (NDB) and the Citizen Entrepreneurship Development Agency (CEDA).
Sunday Standard can reveal that the bail out is in violation of International Labour Standards.
In the past, some of BFTU’s affiliates such as the Botswana Mine Workers Union, SACOS and BOSETU’s Funeral scheme tried to rescue the BFTU by each loaning the federation about P1million and P 2 million, respectively, at different times.
Even though the contributions were made with a view to offset the arrears, they kept swelling because of the monthly rental until the figure shot up to more than P11million in interests and arrears.
Serwalo Tumelo, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, confirmed to the Sunday Standard that government is in the process of bailing out the BFTU to save their three floored building from being auctioned off.
“Indeed the BFTU spoke to His Excellency the President concerning their predicament, and it is against this background that my Ministry, on behalf of Government, and officials of the federation on the other hand, are about to append signatures to the agreement on the funding to give it life.”
Tumelo further pointed out that, after consultations with the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, which annually provides limited funds to the BFTU, it was found insufficient to have effect on their outstanding debts; thus it was resolved to salvage the labour organization’s central office to the tune of 2.96 million Pula.
Part of the money would be directed towards clearing the balance of the CEDA loan, whilst the remainder is intended to pay off the arrears for the NDB loan. Furthermore, Government will ensure that NDB reschedules the loan in such a way that the BFTU will be able to have breathing space for the next five years, so that Government can only start demanding any payment after five years to be completed before the lapse of a 10-year period.
The BFTU Secretary General, Gadzani Mhosha, sought to play down the issue, saying that as far as he was concerned the matter was still a subject of discussion. As such he would not want to speculate on the content of the said agreement. However, the BFTU Executive Officer finally acknowledged that his organization “approached Government not to give up our bargaining power.”
According to Mhosha, as part of their national responsibility as the Executive, they paid a courtesy call on President Khama in the early days of his ascension to the highest office, “And the issue of our indebtedness naturally came up, whereupon he showed understanding and promised to do something about it,” thus this arrangement.
Whilst Mhosha chose to be cagey about the details, presumably to respect the fact that they still have to append signatures, “lest we unnecessarily jeopardize the existing understanding,” he discounted any hidden transactions, adding that “we would still accept help elsewhere without compromising our cause of existence, as a matter of principle”.
Mhosha’s denials notwithstanding, Tumelo stated categorically, “It is a concluded matter.” All that remains is to append signatures. According to the Government Finance spokesman, the signing was supposed to have happened by the end of the week.
One Trade Union official, who declined to be mentioned by name, questioned the sincerity of Government in funding trade unions saying that the move has the potential to tame labour. “This is especially true regarding the leadership who may be induced in all manner of ways to influence the movement in the pattern of the powers that be.”
“How else does one explain the Governments interference in the running of the business affairs of the Financial Institutions, in favour of the BFTU,” she wondered.
One case example that comes to mind is the issue of Government providing transport to the two major public service unions, the BPEU and the Manual workers when they went to their congresses in Maun in December last year, and the subsequent outsourcing of GEMVAS to the same unions without subjecting them to normal stringent tendering procedures.
Article 5 of the Labour Relations (Public Service) Convention No. C151, 1978 of the International Labour Organization, reads in part, “Public employees shall enjoy complete independence from public authorities” It goes on to deride any acts, in particular those that are designed to promote the establishment of public employees’ organizations under the domination of a public authority, or “to support public employees’ organizations by financial or other means, with the object of placing such organizations under the control of a public authority.”
In line with the ILO statutes, anything in this direction shall be deemed to constitute acts of interference within the meaning of this Article.
Johnson Motshwarakgole, National Organizing Secretary of the Manual Workers’ Union, commended Government’s gesture as a sign of social partnership. He also indicated that it would have been a “catastrophe for the whole working class movement to let Babereki House slip out of our hands.”