The raging war between University of Botswana (UB) academics on one hand and top management on the other hand reached a crescendo early this year when Professor Happy Siphambe dragged the UB top brass to court challenging his termination of employment as Dean of Social Sciences.
The stage was set for a bruising legal brawl between the two parties on Thursday when UB attorneys Collins Newman and Co filed a notice to oppose Siphambe’s lawsuit and deposed affidavits signed by Mpho Mothibatsela- Chair of UB Staff Disciplinary Committee (DC), Thabo Fako-UB Vice Chancellor and Peter Morapedi-Director of Human Resources.
In January this year, Siphambe filed a lawsuit at the High Court challenging Morapedi’s decision to terminate his appointment as Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences on 4 December 2014. Siphambe also wanted the disciplinary proceedings against him reviewed and set aside and for the court to issue an order reinstating him with full benefits.
In his founding affidavit, Siphambe said he was slapped with disciplinary charges by then Acting HR-Director, Mr Mauco on 9th June 2014. UB management ignored his request for the charges to be clarified as they were “vague and embarrassing” and instead summoned him to a disciplinary hearing on 14th July, where he once again reiterated his objection to the charges for lack of clarity. A promise was then made that the new charges will be handed to him within three days. However, said Siphambe, the charges never came until 29 August when Mauco gave him a letter purportedly responding to his initial request for clarity. He was later suspended until conclusion of the disciplinary hearing.
He noted that he was slapped with a suspension letter despite the fact that the DC had not convened any hearing ever since the first one was adjourned on 14 July. On 27 October, the new acting HR-Director, Peter Morapedi informed Siphambe that the old charges had been withdrawn and new charges preferred against him, in order to adequately address his request for clarity. He responded by denying the charges in a letter dated 31 October and was later invited to a hearing on 13 November.
“To my surprise, the DC was constituted by new faces. No explanation was given to me for this surprising change, given that this hearing was in essence a continuation of the one of 14 July, albeit with clarified charges,” he said. After the hearing, Siphambe was notified on 4 December that he had been found guilty and his employment as Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences terminated. He was acquitted on one charge and given a warning on the other.
When challenging his termination, Siphambe argued that it was procedurally wrong for the HR-Director to prefer charges against him, sit in the disciplinary hearing as the complainant, lead evidence and bear witness to the charges. The same HR-Director then imposed sanctions on Siphambe and terminated his employment. “The punishments against me are invalid in that they are in breach of natural justice which is not only my right in common law but also provided for in the UB Staff Disciplinary Regulations and Procedures,” he charged. He also faulted the UB top brass for denying him his right to a prompt hearing, saying the charge sheet dated 27 October 2014 related to what purportedly happened between January and February of the same year.
“There was no explanation why the charges relating to incidents that happened in January and February were levelled against me in October. Further, the DC adjourned on 14 July and only served me with new charges three months later on 27 October. A verdict was delivered against me five months down the line. The delays in instituting and finalising charges against me fly in the face of Regulation 2.3 which gives me a right to a prompt hearing,” he said.
Siphambe also accused the DC of flouting Regulation 6.2.3 by denying his request to attend the hearing with a colleague from the Law Department. He shot salvos at the Deputy-VC-Academic Affairs for usurping the duties and responsibilities of the HR-Director and drafting the charges himself. “When asked to clarify the charges, the HR-Director referred the question to the Deputy-VC. This was an unlawful pandering to the whims of the Deputy-VC who is not entrusted with the responsibility of charging me. Also, the Deputy-VC unlawfully usurped the powers of the HR Director,” said Siphambe.
The economics professor also scoffed at the written warning that was served on him, saying the HR-Director has no authority to impose such penalty on him as he is not his supervisor. He further argued that the unilateral dissolution of the DC without notification was unlawful as the Industrial Court had set a precedent in a different matter when it found that: “The unilateral dissolution of the DC, non-disclosure of the reasons therefore, and appointment without applicant’s knowledge of a new DC, collectively gives rise to a reasonable fear that there will be bias in the manner in which the disciplinary proceedings are conducted”.
He also argued that the new DC was not properly constituted because one of the members of the old DC had not even served for a year as required by Regulation 6.1. He further raised suspicions that the same regulation was flouted with regards to other members of the DC, and challenged UB to prove him wrong. Siphambe also argued that the Director-HR had no powers to terminate his employment as Dean because such powers lie with the Staff Appointments and Promotions Committee which appointed him.