The ongoing merger between the Botswana Technology Centre (BOTEC) and the Rural Industries Promotions Company (Botswana) RIPCO-B stands to suffer some delays due to the ongoing tussle between the latter’s Board of Directors and management. Seven RIPCO-B managers on suspension since July heaved a sigh of relief on Friday when the Industrial court interdicted the company from holding disciplinary hearings against them.
In the judgment delivered on Friday Justice Vigil Vergeer interdicted RIPCO from recharging the suspended management and further interdicted the company from proceeding with a second hearing with respect to the charges faced by the managers in August. Further RIPCO has been interdicted from proceeding with the charges against the managers contained in a letter dated 29 October 2012.Taking into consideration that the RIPCO Board of Directors had earlier written to suspended managers setting aside findings of the first disciplinary hearings of August 2012, the effect of the judgment is that the suspended managers are free to return to work.
The court found that it would be unfair to the suspended managers to be subjected to a second hearing in circumstances where findings as to their guilt or innocence have already been made and RIPCO has failed to satisfactorily explain the need for a second hearing.
“RIPCO’s proposed holding of a disciplinary hearing in respect of charges faced by the managers in August 2012 offends against the double jeopardy rule and infringes their right to a fair hearing,” the judge said.
In his ruling Judge Vergeer quashed the reasons advanced by RIPCO care taker Managing Director Dr Matz Mosienyane for holding the second hearing after nullifying the first hearings. The judge noted that allegations contained in Mosienyane’s affidavit in relation to the first hearing were hearsay as he was not present at the meetings, and there was no supporting affidavit to confirm his allegations. He said RIPCO did not advance enough reasons for them to justify the second hearing in that in their letter written to the suspended managers RIPCO had stated that “findings of the disciplinary hearings were found to be contradictory and are therefore not considered as a basis that can be relied on to reach a fair conclusion”.
The court observed that the contradictions referred to by Mosienyane in his affidavit were not substantiated and were not shown to even the employees themselves. It was therefore difficult for the court to accept that indeed there were some contradictions worth setting aside the findings of the first hearing. To add insult to injury RIPCO failed to provide a copy of the said report of the first hearings. “The respondent has not taken this court into its confidence by providing a copy of the findings of the first hearing or by setting out in full detail the alleged contradictions which it was dissatisfied with. By merely making cursory allegations as to the contradictions, the court is not able to consider whether such contradictions do indeed exist or whether there are contradictions at all. It was, in court’s view incumbent on the respondent to provide disclosure so as to enable the court to properly the fairness of the respondent’s action in seeking to have a second hearing,” said Vergeer.
RIPCO board had wanted to take disciplinary action against the managers over allegations of serious conflict of interest and failure to declare interest and violation of the Trade Union and Employers Organisations Act (TUEOA).
The managers filed an urgent application on 05 November 2012 to declare the disciplinary hearings commenced by charges contained in letters dated 29 October 2012 unfair and unlawful. They also want their suspension lifted because the hearings will violate their right to be fairly treated as they will be subjected to double jeopardy. They said their first disciplinary proceedings having been quashed by RIPCO, their continued suspension is unlawful and violates their contractual rights not to be suspended for a period exceeding one month.
The managers, suspended on 25 July 2012 were charged with being in breach of the recognition agreement between RIPCO and the union in that they were excluded from membership of the union but they nonetheless joined.
The Directors are Pule Molete-Financial Controller, Lorato Modise-Director of Internal audit, Mothusi Odireng-Acting General Manager, Connie Mbi Phiri -Acting Human Resource Director, Nancy Neo Chengeta-Business Support Director , Daniel Shimane Gareebine-Director of Extension Services , Mogakolodi Sekwata-Chief Engineer, Civil. While still pondering the success by management Mosienyane still has to deal with the pending outcome of a lawsuit between RIPCO and its Managing Director, Truman Phuthego who is also on suspension on similar charges to his subordinates. Judgment in the matter is pending before the Industrial court.
On another matter, Manual Workers Union who earlier won a high court decision to uphold the exit packages recently filed an urgent application to force caretaker MD to implement the exit packages agreed to between the parties.
RIPCO management entered into an Exit Package Agreement with manual workers union on 2 April 2012. Judgment is also pending. The union had also won a similar case over exit packages against BOTEC, which is being merged with RIPCO.
The new company to be known as Botswana Institute of Technology, Research and Innovation (BITRI)is said to have already recruited about 80 employees from BOTEC and 11 from RIPCO. RIPCO is a public company formed to promote industrial development through research.
RIPCO and BOTEC have 290 staff members between them. Tshiamo Rantao represented the managers.