Attorney Parks Tafa has once again nudged off Attorney General Athaliah Molokomme as the official legal representative of government in a case that will see public sector trade unions challenge the dismissal of essential service employees who took part in the public sector strike.
The marathon trial is due to start in May next year, and as fate would have it, Tafa, a private attorney will be marshalling government’s defence.
Through a letter dated October 13th and addressed to the trade unions, Collins Newman & Co informed the unions that they have been appointed as government attorneys in the place of the Attorney General.
The letter contradicts an earlier statement by Attorney Molokomme, who wrote a letter to the trade unions on September 22nd, indicating her readiness to defend government in opposing the application.
But that was not to be, as government once again sidelined Molokomme in favour of Tafa.
“Further take notice that government elects the address of its new attorneys of record, Collins Newman & Co, as the address at which it shall accept service and all further process and notice in these proceedings,” reads the letter.
“The AG hereby gives notice of her intention to oppose the application, and gives the AG’s chambers as the address at which she will accept service of all notices and processes in this matter,” reads the letter.
Tafa, who is a Senior Partner at Collins Newman & Co represented Government during the strike.
Controversy erupted when questions were asked about his bill to Government and why he was chosen when Government has a bigger pool of lawyers.
Tafa is a close associate of President Ian Khama. He is also the lawyer of record for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.
In papers filed before the court, the Director of Public Service Management, Festinah Bakwena, said she issued a number of ultimatums warning all essential service employees that they risked being terminated if they fail to return to work. The press releases were broadcast through the state media.
“Despite all these notices and ultimatums, a significant number of essential services employees disregarded the interdict,” said Bakwena.
She further accused trade union leaders of misleading their members when they informed them that they had filed an appeal against the Industrial Court ruling and therefore stayed the order for employees to return to work.
On 16th May, government resolved that all those who failed to return to work will be dismissed. A subsequent decision was made to re-employ some of the dismissed public servants.
“The re-employment was subject to a number of limitations, among them availability of positions.
Not all public servants were re-employed because a number of critical positions were filled as a matter of urgency. The unions are wrong to allege that the dismissals were in breach of the General Orders and regulations of the public service,” said Bakwena.
She added that the impact of the strike on health services was devastating. She said government could not have held individual disciplinary hearings because the striking employees made that difficult by refusing to return to work.
“The behaviour of the employees showed systematic and comprehensive disobedience of government’s ultimatums. Dismissal was the appropriate and suitable way to end the impasse, and there is no legal requirement to give the dismissed employees a written warning before dismissal,” said Bakwena.
The unions have since hit back at Bakwena, saying she initially agreed to allow 70 percent of the essential services employees to go on strike. They argued that the employees had a right to be heard prior to dismissal.
“No such opportunity was given to the dismissed employees because DPSM wrongly believed that a fair and reasonable ultimatum, once issued, dispenses with the need to give employees a fair hearing,” said Andrew Motsamai.
He dismissed Bakwena’s repeated ultimatums on state media as a complete waste of public resources.
“If dismissed employees were the intended recipients, government only had to write a letter to their union representatives at no cost to the public,” said Motsamai.
He added that the state media announcements were useless because union representatives were urged to boycott the state media due to its biased coverage of the public sector strike.