The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture Lewis Malikongwa’s decision to instruct the Botswana National Youth Council (BNYC)’s Executive Director Benjamin Raletsatsi to terminate contracts of employees has escalated the Council’s troubles.
According to the minutes of a meeting held late last year, Malikongwa instructed Raletsatsi to provide staff establishment register for all employees with contract information; extend contracts ending before February to end of February 2015. As a result of Malikongwa’s decision Raletsatsi recently issued letters of termination of contracts to at least 35 employees of BNYC. The affected employees are now threatening to take legal action against the embattled youth organisation.
In a petition dated 4th February and addressed to the BNYC Chairperson Louis Sibanda, the staff members state that “The Executive Director’s or executive committee’s decision is tainted with illegality to the extent it is in pursuance of an instruction from the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture which instruction violates the Council’s independence…”
They state in their grounds of appeal that considering the Council’s engagement as recently as December 2014 with employees on Council’s ongoing restructuring exercise, the employees reasonably expected or had a legitimate expectation that their contracts of employment would be renewed. They also stated that considering that a material term of contract in their contacts of employment was that their contracts may be renewed upon satisfactory performance of their duties, they had a legitimate expectation that their performance has been satisfactory (and the employer has not said otherwise) their contracts of employment would be renewed.
Considering the large numbers of staff members whose contracts of employment were terminated at the same time, the employees said, the terminations were in fact a retrenchment and due process had to be followed in terms of section 25 of the employment Act. Unless the contrary is proven, the employees state, Raletsatsi’s decision should be set aside as null and void to the extent that he acted without a resolution of the Executive Committee considering the large numbers of staff members whose contracts of employment were terminated.
The employees said Raletsatsi’s decision should be set aside because the executive acted without a resolution of the General Assembly. “In view of the aforegoing we request you to, within four says of the receipt of or sight of this letter, accord us as hearing so that we motivate our appeal further and adduce evidence as the case may be,” said the staff members.
The petition further states that “kindly be advised that the expeditious adjudication of our appeal is vital since, in case you do not accede to our request, we have to , within the prescribed limits, refer our dispute for mediation, arbitration or litigations as the case may be.” Malikongwa’s mobile phone rang unanswered.
For his part, Sibanda confirmed receipt of the petition adding that it is an administrative matter. “I have to familiarise myself with the appeal and communicate with employees. The matter needs to be addressed urgently because it involves the welfare of the employees,” he said. BNYC is currently facing an uncertain future as the Government has threatened to stop the full operation of the Council following an audit that allegedly unearthed issues of poor corporate governance.
In an internal memo addressed to staff in December last year, Raletsatsi informed staff members that the Council was undergoing a restructuring process to streamline and better provide youth services in line with the newly structured Ministry of Youth Sport and Culture. He stated that the Ministry of seeking to rationalise its programming work amongst its Department and agencies. “The restructuring will amongst other things look into the BNYC’s relevance, mandate, operational functions and ultimately the organisational structure to maximise its efficiency and effectiveness,” stated Raletsatsi.
He added that “it is important to point out that the present stage the outcome of this restructuring is unknown. As a result of this uncertainty, Council is not in a position to engage in talks of contract of employment. .As you are aware or ought to be aware, majority of staff contracts lapse at the end of February 2015.”
Some observers are questioning the wisdom of terminating contracts of youthful employees at BNYC as the Ministry is claiming to be concerned by the growing numbers of unemployed youth. Malikongwa’s Ministry recently invited all unemployed youth aged 16-35 to register for Youth Unemployment Registration until 30th January 2015.