The standoff between public sector unions and government has found its way into the boardroom of the beleaguered Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF). The Fund was last week threatened with a contempt of court lawsuit after it signed contractual agreements with various asset managers, contrary to an October 2014 High Court order that barred it from engaging in any business transaction before all members of the board of trustees were dully appointed.
The Manual Workers Union had threatened to sue the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA) for contempt of court after it failed to respond to the union’s application for two of its members, Mmaophala Mokgosi and Betshobatsile Otsile to be confirmed as Trustees of BPOPF. NBFIRA complied on the deadline date and the issue was resolved. However, the union has now set its cross hairs on BPOPF Chairman Carter Morupisi and is contemplating slapping him with contempt of court charges.
“He is the one who convened the meeting. He was also quoted in the media saying we misunderstood the High Court order. He must come to court and explain what he meant,” said Manual Workers Union Organising Secretary, Johnson Motshwarakgole in an interview with Sunday Standard on Friday.
In the letter to NBFIRA, Tshiamo Rantao, attorney for Manual Workers Union said the Authority’s failure to vet the two nominated Trustees had resulted in overwhelming prejudice as they were excluded from the business of the Fund, which disenfranchised the interests of tens of thousands of union/Fund members.
“We understand that far reaching resolutions were made at a meeting that was convened on 19thFebruary in Maun, in the absence of our nominated trustees, including in respect of tenders/contracts with third parties valued at hundreds of millions of Pula,” said Rantao.
He added that the dilatory vetting process was not only prejudicial to the union, but also had the effect of frustrating the High Court order. He gave NBFIRA up to March 17th to have responded, failing which the Manual Workers Union would file an urgent application at the High Court. NBFIRA responded on deadline day indicating that it carried out due diligence in its assessment of the applicants’ request to be approved as Trustees and delivered the response to the BPOPF Secretariat on the same day. On Friday, Motshwarakgole confirmed that Mokgosi and Otsile had been approved as BPOPF Trustees and commended NBFIRA for its timeous response.
However, he said, the delay had disenfranchised the Manual Workers Union as the BPOPF had made major decisions without considering the interests of its members.
“We are aware that they made major decisions and signed deals amounting to billions of Pula. We are also told they made a decision as to who will be appointed BPOPF Chief Executive Officer. Clearly we should have been part of that decision making process,” said Motshwarakgole.
As a result, he said, the Manual Workers Union was considering dragging BPOPF Chairman Carter Morupisi to court to answer to contempt of court charges. The raging storm between Morupisi and Manual Workers Union is indicative of the soured relations between government and public sector unions. Morupisi is a former Director of Public Service Management (DPSM) and now Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP). Public sector unions have been fighting tooth and nail to fend off what they consider undesirable attempts by government to take over BPOPF. In the past, government and ruling party functionaries have been accused of meddling in the affairs of the Fund, much to the chagrin of public sector unions. BPOPF has been going through tough times as it was crippled by resignations of key managers, allegations of poor management decisions made by political appointees and appointment of defective asset managers. While the endorsement of Manual Workers Unions members as Trustees has somewhat calmed the storm, there is no doubt that the Fund is headed for stormy waters; as the rivalry between public sector unions and government will no doubt play itself out at the BPOPF board room.