Sunday, September 20, 2020

PS acted criminally – Boko

In prosecuting the claim of a client, lawyer Duma Boko has accused the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Skills Development, Grace Muzila, of having acted “criminally.”
Muzila is at the centre of a case in which Nomsa Zuze, the ministry’s former chief spokesperson, plans to sue the government for unfair treatment.

On December 1 last year, Zuze was transferred to the Department of Out-of-school Education and Training where she is Principal Adult Education Officer (Publicity and Skills Development). However, Boko says that such position is “non-existent” and that as a result, his client – who still draws a salary – “has had to sit idle as even her superiors do not know what job she is supposed to be doing.”

One aspect of the alleged unfair treatment is with regard to Zuze being apparently passed up for the position of Acting Private Secretary to Assistant Minister, Keletso Rakhudu, in favour of her junior, Godfrey Kalanke. At the time Kalanke was a Principal Education Officer (Public Relations) II while Zuze who, just a level above the latter, was Principal Education Officer (Public Relations) I.

“The Permanent Secretary knowing full well that her representations were incorrect and untrue, stated that Mr. Kalanke was the most senior officer in the public relations office when the most senior was, in fact, [Zuze]. In fact this amounts to a criminal offence. The Permanent Secretary gave false information to an authority in the public service responsible for appointment into the position of Private Secretary. It stands to reason that this was part of an orchestrated effort to frustrate the claimant and deny her benefits to which she was otherwise properly entitled,” reads the notice-of-intention-to-sue letter that Boko served on the Attorney General.

One other point that Boko advances in service of the “orchestrated-effort-to-frustrate-the-claimant” argument is the uprooting of Zuze, a public relations expert who has done “extensive consultancy work on public relations for various government departments and parastatal organisations” from “a job that utilised her public relations expertise and professional experience to one that is non-existent in the structure and establishment of the department where she has now been moved and more critically, a job in respect of which no job description exists.”

Prior to joining the ministry, Zuze worked at the Botswana Institute of Administration and Commerce as a lecturer and trainer in communication skills and public relations. It is at this time that Boko says she did consultancy work for the government departments and parastatal organisations.

He writes in the notice-to-sue letter: “The focus of [Zuze’s] career and educational development has, throughout most of her working life, been in the area of public relations. She has obtained post-graduate qualifications focussing on public relations and related skills. Her recruitment into government and the civil service was based on her qualifications and expertise as a public relations practitioner.”

In her old post, Zuze is said to have developed a communication strategy for the ministry.
Boko argues that all along his client was put through hell at the hands of the ministry’s management. Her post was upgraded to D2 “only after several inquiries” by her but even then the elevation was insufficient because same-rank officers in other ministries were remunerated at D1.
“No explanation was available as to why the same position was graded lowly in MoESD. Assurances were given that the matter was receiving attention. In June 2009, the minister [Jacob Nkate] pursued the matter and was assured, in the presence of [Zuze], that the post had, in fact been upgraded and [Zuze’s] name forwarded to the board and feedback was awaited,” says Boko letter.

Apparently that feedback never came and as the matter dragged on, down below, Kalanke could also not progress – “this officer had been stuck at the D3 level since 2005.” What this means is that when he took up the acting private secretary position in Rakhudu’s office, Kalanke was still paid at D3 while Zuze was at D2. In his letter Boko describes this as “punitive lack of progression” and the actions of ministry’s management as manifesting “a clear intention to frustrate her out of the public service and amounts to constructive dismissal.”

With specific regard to this, Boko argues that Zuze was “unlawfully deprived” of extra income she would have earned had she been given the Acting Private Secretary post and that failure to recommend and appoint her to that post “has had a continual prejudicial effect on [Zuze] as said appointment would have constituted a serious credit to her curriculum vitae and stood her in best stead for consideration for elevation to higher positions in the civil service.”

The Attorney General – who shoulders all the legal burden of all lawsuits against the government – was served last Monday. Should the matter proceed to the next level, Boko would want the High Court to rule that Muzila’s treatment of Zuze as the latter’s transfer “to hold a non-existent post” were wrongful, unlawful, improper and amount to constructive dismissal. He would also seek an order that Zuze’s transfer to her new duty station “amounts to removing her from the arena of public relations where her professional strengths and competencies lie and occasion prejudice to her as she now has to learn a new field altogether”; that failure to appoint her Acting Private Secretary was prejudicial to her and that she be paid money she would otherwise have earned; and, that her old post be upgraded to put in on par with similar posts in government and, that she be compensated for the “unlawful grading” of the post.

Not too long ago, two civil servants at the Mass Media Complex, Sakaeyo Jane and Vusa Ziga, found themselves in a boat the same make (but different manufacturer) as Zuze’s. Jane, a professionally qualified journalist, was to be transferred to the Department of Women Affairs where he was to work as a gender officer while Ziga, an engineer, was to join the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport. Aggrieved, the pair went to the Industrial Court but the matter was never heard because the Directorate of Public Service Management made a last-minute intervention by reversing the decision to transfer the officers.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.