A decision by government to stop overtime payment for government journalists working outside the seven-thirty to four-thirty official working hours has touched a raw nerve among opposition politicians who see it as a slight of hand to impose a news blackout on their political campaigns ahead of next year’s general elections. Journalists covering political rallies which are usually held on weekends were in the past paid overtime allowances.
Government journalists were shocked this week when they were informed that the overtime vote has been depleted and government would not be able to pay them for working overtime. Opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) this week condemned the decision saying it was all part of the government’s dirty tricks to impose a news blackout on opposition campaigns. BCP, Publicity Secretary, Taolo Lucas says this may be a calculated move by the ruling BDP to ensure limited news coverage of the opposition ahead of next year’s elections.
He argues that as it is, opposition parties do not have enough coverage in the public media and the decision will only make things worse. He said the decision will affect opposition parties more since ruling party members have forums such as the kgotla where they will be able to campaign ahead of the elections. “If the current government was serious about the free flow of information for the benefit of Batswana they will see it fit to provide necessary resources to journalists.
This ruling government is sick, they have done worse things in the past and it might be their grand plan to disadvantage opposition. We cannot rule out such possibilities,” said Lucas. Sunday Standard is in possession of a letter written by the Director of Broadcasting Services, Lesole Obonye advising journalists that the Overtime Vote is depleted. Obonye states in the letter that those who have already worked overtime will have to keep their overtime sheets safely and further advises that they should not submit them for processing until further notice.
Attempt to contact Obonye was futile this week because he was not in the office and could not be reached because he was recently robbed of his cellular phone. Government spokesperson, Jeff Ramsey would not comment on the issue saying, “you are in possession of a document that you were not supposed to have.”