Members of parliament from across the political divide slugged it out Friday over the motion raised by Gaborone Central MP, Dumelang Saleshando, which insisted on the unionization of the security services.
The Botswana Police Service, the Botswana Prisons Service and the Botswana Local Service have hitherto been denied unionization, with the government insisting such a development would disturb the current status quo and breed mutiny and chaos, which are a threat to national security.
But the opposition forces expressed that unionization would bring about confidence and morale amongst the officers who are currently without legitimate mechanisms through which to channel their grievances.
Moving the motion, Saleshando asserted that like other government employees, the security services should be accorded the essential right to form a recognized and legitimate association within their boundaries so that they can collectively bargain with the employer on matters surrounding their working conditions.
Currently, there are no legal mechanisms in place for the security services to air their grievances.
“Allowancing the security services to unionize would be a proper development. They would have proper channels through which to channel their problems pertaining to their working conditions. We should modernize the laws and see ourselves practicing democratic principles, which are in line with the modern world,” Salesahando said.
He said many developed countries, including the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries, whose democratic ideals we envy and emulate, have unionized these institutions, and wondered why the government is dragging its feet.
The maverick legislator marveled at why the government permits ‘the armed and dangerous Directorate of Intelligence Service’ to unionise while the harmless Botswana police, Botswana Prisons and the Botswana Local Services are denied such unionization.
“This does not strike logic. What threat would the police and prisons services pose to the national security when the same government has permitted the most deadly and dangerous security DIS to unionize,” Saleshando queried.
Determined to shoot down the motion, Tonota South MP, Pono Moatlhodi, maintained the motion was designed to trigger chaos and lawlessness amongst “our disciplined institutions”.
He said such motions come from
“irresponsible politicians bent on introducing illicit ideas”.
“It is common knowledge local politicians negatively politicize these unions. We cannot allow our security services to be politicized,” Moatlhodi said.
Although acknowledging the important signal the motion tends to unravel in this dynamic world, Selebi-Phikwe West MP, Kavis Kario, sees a futile point in promoting unions which would not bite.
“In today’s world, unions tend to favour strikes in their quest to achieve their goals. They tend to withhold labour as a means to cause the employer to succumb and to me a toothless union as suggested by Saleshando would not materialize and it is useless,” argued Kario, responding to the earlier argument raised by Saleshando pertaining to the non-violence route the security services would be required to follow.
In support of the motion, Kanye North MP, Calvin Batsile, observed that the BDP government was playing double standards, preaching reforms while simultaneously retarding noble initiatives, such as the unionization of the security services.
“Even though these security services could have some platforms to raise their concerns, there are certain hiccups that hamper them from airing their concerns freely,” he said, adding that often the security services are demoted and sacked on grounds that they are not comfortable with some conditions.
Batsile said the security services are inwardly angry -a situation which is inconvenient. He pleaded with the MPs to bury their hatchets, irrespective of party affiliations, and support Saleshando.
For his part the vice president, Mompati Merafhe, vehemently opposed the motion.
“When some individuals choose certain professions, they should know there are certain basic rights to be compromised and surrendered and this is unavoidable. They are not conscripted and should be prepared to restrict themselves.”
Gaborone South MP, Akanyang Magama, negated the assumption the formulation of the trade unions in the security services would introduce politics within the institutions, arguing that past experiences have proved these services, especially those at top, are the BDP followers.
Debate resumes Friday.