Thursday, June 30, 2022

Things fall apart at BLLAHWU

An attempt by the president of Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU), Goretetse Kekgonegile, to take over the chairmanship of the union’s burial society by Monday has deteriorated into an ugly spat between the parties.

By Monday afternoon, the matter had reached the High Court by way of an urgent application through which the burial society’s management committee interdicted Kekgonegile from taking over the chairmanship of the society as resolved by the union’s Governing Council.

According to a resolution of the Governing Council of the union sitting on 7-8 September 2012 in Mahalapye, the president of the union should take over the chairmanship of the burial society in line with Article 9.2 of the Burial Society constitution.  

Kekgonegile wrote to the chairman of the union’s burial society, Tebogo Moalosi, on Thursday 11 October 2012 demanding that the position be handed over to him.

“You are, therefore, directed to handover all documents, properties and or facilities of the society that are in your possession…on or before Friday 19th October 2012,” read Kekgonegile’s letter, indicating that he will assume the position starting Monday.

Now the Burial Society Management Committee is contesting the Governing Council resolution arguing that such structure does not have the powers to make the decision.  The society argues that it is an entity separate and distinct from the union and that its constitution does not recognize the existence of a structure called Governing Council, which has authority to appoint people to take over its leadership. The supreme authority of the society is vested in a general meeting of its members in line with its constitution, the society maintains.

Other resolutions made at the Mahalapye meeting, which The Telegraph is in possession of, include the trimming of the current Central Executive Committee and the creation of new administrative posts. The meeting also resolved that the president of the union be elected Chairman of BLLAHWU Group of Companies, a position currently held by former union president, Pelotshweu Baeng as Executive Chairman.

Disregarding the established process where correspondence with union organs is done through the office of Secretary General, last Tuesday Kekgonegile is alleged to have stormed the offices of Gaborone City Council to deliver to Moalosi the letter informing him of the Governing Council decision. In a surprise twist, the union Secretary General, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, distanced himself from the contents of the letter written by the president on Thursday last week following an enquiry from the burial society. 

The enquiry was part of resolutions of a hastily convened special meeting of BLLAHWU Burial Society management committee last Wednesday who also decided to refer the matter to the society’s lawyers, Toteng and Company.
Consequently, in a strongly worded response, the chairperson accuses Kekgonegile of lack of respect. Unlike in previous correspondences where the unionists referred to each other as comrades, lately they refer to each other as strangers like “one Goretetse Kekgonegile”.┬á

He said the conduct of both the President and Deputy Secretary General is egregious interference by them on the affairs of BLLAHWU Burial Society.

“We are very dismayed by this scandalous and iniquitous conduct of the President. Should this matter ripen to litigation we shall expose without mercy his ulterior motives of purporting to be a chairperson (of the burial society),” said Moalosi.┬á┬á

Moalosi further argues that the only union structure with powers to make such decision is the Annual General Conference in accordance with Society’s Act CAP 18.01 and not the governing council as Kekgonegile alleges. “The resolution to separate union business (BLLAHWU burial society included) from the union administration was adopted by the 2nd Annual General Conference held in Goodhope in 2008,” he said.

The fallout between Kekgonegile and the leadership of the burial society threatens to rekindle factional wars within the trade union ahead of the union’s Elective Congress next year. Already indications are that there are clear divisions along factional lines within the union. Insiders allege that taking over the chairmanship of the burial society would consolidate power in the presidency thus giving him the authority to write off outstanding debts between the union and the burial society. ┬á

Perhaps the exposure threat refers to the huge debt of close to P1 million the union owes the burial society. The union started accumulating the debt by obtaining loans from the burial society in different denominations around 2010. At some point the president is alleged to have made a commitment that the union will liquidate the debt by repaying P50 000 a month.  That never happened.  

In a case registered before the High Court last month the burial society is suing the union for the debt of P620 153.35 in respect of a loan advanced by the society in July 2011, which was payable within 30 days. The union has been given 14 days to enter into defense of the matter failing which the burial society will obtain a default judgment against BLLAHWU to attach the property or monthly subscriptions of members. BLLAHWU also owes the burial society P31 349.92, a debt created by costs incurred in a matter instituted by the burial society against the union in March 2012. The matter is also before the High court. The burial society is also owed P106 515.00 by BLLAHWU Foundation. On Tuesday the burial society wrote to Kekgonegile in his capacity as the chairman of the Foundation indicating that they are contemplating legal action to recover the money.  

Earlier this year The Telegraph reported on the fallout between the president of BLLAHWU and the leadership of the Burial Society over the recruitment of one Tshepo Kgwadi as a Fund Administrator of BLLAHWU Burial Society.┬á The matter also reached the High court via an urgent application. The Chairman of BLLAHWU Burial Society, Tebogo Moalosi, sought an order to restrain BLLAWU, Kekgonegile and Kaisara from interfering in all forms of internal operations or affairs of the Burial society, and more especially the renewal of Kgwadi’s contract of employment with the society.┬á It was only withdrawn after the majority of an already divided Central Executive Committee (CEC) voted against Kekgonegile. At the same time Kekgonegile threatened to reshuffle the CEC due to inefficiency and non-commitment by some portfolio holders. In letters written to the union’s Secretary General Motshegwa and the Secretary for International Affairs Keaoleboga Dipogiso dated 14 March 2012 Kekgonegile warned the duo that their positions may be affected by the looming reshuffle of the central executive committee (CEC) members.┬á While Kekgonegile said he considered ┬áthe reshuffle of the CEC members by powers vested in him by BLLAHWU Constitution Article 13.2.6 his detractors argue that he was relying on an obsolete instrument in the old constitution which was repealed during the amendment of the constitution at the March 2010 Extra ordinary conference in Ramotswa. The threat was never carried out.

On another point, in June 2012 Jullian Willie of UNIGEM was forced to withdraw from a panel of interviewers for the post of Finance and Administration and Data clerks at the burial society after being cautioned by BLLAHWU president that his participation would constitute involvement in union factional wars. Later in the same month Kekgonegile’s ally Augustine Kaisara- the deputy secretary general wrote to the chairman of the burial society advising him that the power to hire/ recruit lies with Central Executive Committee of BLLAHWU. Therefore he demanded that all documents related to hiring process be forwarded to CEC. Seven days later lawyers engaged by the burial society dismissed Kaisara arguing that the society’s constitution entrusts the management committee with administration, organization of and supervision of the daily activities of the society which include hiring and recruiting its employees. ┬á

BLLAHWU Burial Society has approximately 3 500 members. Established under societies act, the burial society does not fall under BLLAHWU Group of Companies currently led.  It was formed to promote a platform for a collectively and affordable funeral scheme for the union members, amongst other objectives.

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