We read with trepidation reports that a number of senior civil servants have once again been pushed out of office without any explanation.
Pearl Matome, the Director of the Directorate of Public Service Management, and Botswana Defense Force’s Ground Forces Commander, Major General Pius Mokgware, last week packed their bags and vacated office with immediate effect. This comes in the wake of the compulsory retirement of a number of senior civil servants, some of whom have taken government to court.
These dismissals are a cause of great concern to us, especially because they are unexplained and have all the hallmarks of a witch hunt. A majority of the senior civil servants who were pushed out of office were known high flyers who had a cordial working relationship with their juniors. They were reputedly outspoken and principled individuals, known not to pander to the whims of their superiors. We also remember former Permanent Secretary Samuel Rathedi, who was also mysteriously sacked. At that time, reports indicated that Rathedi had rubbed the leadership the wrong way because he had developed a cordial relationship with the public service unions. We know that during his tenure, he parried a number of cases that the unions had launched against government.
Presently, we are told that Matome had also become cozy with the public service unions, especially on the controversial new public service act.
The act has been a thorn on the side of government, and the root cause of the acrimonious relations between government and the public service unions. The act has long been passed, but government continues to dilly dally in implementing it, especially because it takes away the powers that had been vested on some individuals to fire public servants as they wish without any hearing or explanation. Government has been delaying to implement the act because there are some individuals who feel that it must be revisited, and the powers to fire as they wish returned to them.
Such developments are a cause of concern. We believe that they should also be a concern for the president and his permanent secretary. It is a fact that a majority of the unexplained sackings occurred after President Ian Khama assumed office. It is also a fact that the permanent secretary to the president Eric Molale appends his signature to these worrisome dismissals. Both men should be concerned about the perception that they are creating within the civil service and to members of the public.
They should be working to portray an image of a leadership that is grounded, stable and not susceptible to knee jerk decisions.
We applaud the duo’s call for productivity and efficiency within the public service. But they also should be careful not to create an impression that their cause is just a ruse through which they want to get rid of unwanted individuals. The leadership should be careful not to give us an impression that they abhor dissenting opinion.
They should know that they are the custodians of the lives of Batswana, and therefore should heed the comments and concerns raised by their colleagues, even if they differ with theirs. The public service should be run collectively, not by individuals who are increasingly looking like men who abhor dissent and rather opt to surround themselves with yes-men who willingly nod to every word that their bosses say. We call upon our leadership to exercise restraint.
The civil society and our political leadership should raise concerns about the recent sackings. They should call upon the PSP, the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, and even the President, to explain what is going on in the public service. They should demand answers.
The public service unions should also apply pressure. They should not be seen to be sleeping on the job and looking the other way while their membership is being fired helter-skelter.
They should use all their resources to challenge these dismissals in courts. We cannot have a situation where public servants, who are paid with our taxes, are fired without reason. Not in democratic Botswana.
In our country consultation is key. All individuals, regardless of their transgressions, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It is unfair to fire individuals who have dedicated their lives to serving this country, without giving them any explanation.
We also challenge those who have been dismissed to rally against such unfair practices and expose the rot in our public service. We understand that, as senior civil servants, they have a deep seated respect for confidentiality. But fairness, transparency and accountability should supersede confidentiality. Batswana deserve an explanation. If the explanation does not come from the public service leadership, then it should come from the victims. If they did any wrong, then we will understand.
But indications are that such is not the case. We are made to believe that those who were dismissed stood up to the establishment. They raised their voices in disagreement against the rot in the public service. They developed a cordial working relationship with those who are seen to be enemies of the establishment, all in the quest for progress. So they were dismissed. That is what we believe. Otherwise government would not be grappling with a plethora of suits in which they are being sued for unfair dismissals.
Otherwise public servants would not be dreading going to work, not sure if they will be among the unemployed ranks at the close of business.
We will always believe that, until our leaders tell us the truth.