In one of the many legal battles between the University of Botswana (UB) and its employees, Economics academic, Professor Happy Siphambe has approached the High Court to set aside his demotion by the university. The legal wrangle between Siphambe and UB follows the university’s decision late last year to terminate his appointment as Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. In the Court papers filed through Siphambe’s legal representatives, Rantao Kewagamang Attorneys, the decorated Professor wants the court to, among others, set aside his demotion, review and set aside disciplinary proceedings against him and reinstate him with full benefits from the date of termination. The university slapped Professor Siphambe with charges of serious misconduct and found him guilty of “willful dishonesty against the employer and another employee in terms of Paragraph 3.5.4 of the Staff Disciplinary Regulations and Procedures”
According to the charge sheet, in or about January 2014 when the University conducted annual Staff Performance Appraisals, Professor Siphambe made an unauthorised and unprocedural change of the 2013 performance score awarded by Head of Department of Psychology Professor Kennedy Amone P’Olak to Dr Pheko, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology, from 66 percent to 74 percent, without consulting the Head of Department. Professor Siphambe was also charged for sharing university news with his colleague Dr Thapelo Otlogetswe. The charge, which the university eventually failed to find him guilty of, reads “willful disclosure of confidential information to an unauthorised person, which is detrimental to the interests of the University in terms of Paragraph 3.5.7 of the Staff Disciplinary Regulations and Procedures.
It was alleged that sometime in March 2014, Professor Siphambe had discussed with Professor Otlogetswe how the Appointments, Promotions and Reviews Committee made decisions regarding Dr Pheko and Dr Monteiro’s applications for promotions. The University was of the view such discussions were most likely to cause tension between the applicants the members of the Promotions Committee. The third charge, which the University relied on in their decision to demote Professor Siphambe, is that of “willful neglect of duties in terms of Paragraph 3.5.3 of Staff Disciplinary Regulations and Procedures”.
Siphambe, who has been working at UB since 1987, is accused of failing to take disciplinary action against Dr Pheko and Dr Monteiro after establishing that their published work was plagiarised: and after he became aware that “Dr Pheko disregarded lawful instructions given by the Head of Department”. Professor Siphambe maintained during his Disciplinary Hearing that he did not need authority from the Head of Department of Psychology to ‘temper’ with performance score award of Dr Pheko. He also denied ever having any discussion with Professor Otlogetswe regarding the matter on Promotions and Review Committee. On why he never took action against Drs Pheko and Monteiro after they were accused of plagiarism, Professor Siphambe says he didn’t know if it was established as a matter of fact that they had plagiarised.
“in any case if disciplinary action was to be taken against them, same should have been initiated by the department thought the HoD of Psychology as the two members mentioned reported directly to him and not to the Dean’s office”, Siphambe opines in his defense. In the Court papers, Siphambe has cited some procedural irregularities that he feels took place during his trial by the Disciplinary Committee. Siphambe argues that it was irregular to have the Acting Director of Human Resource be the one to impose sanctions on him yet during the Disciplinary Hearing he was cited as the Complainant, led evidence and brought witnesses on the charges.
He feels there is a lot of conflict of interest around the Acting Director of Human Resources as he is now being the prosecutor and judge in his own case. Siphambe has asked the court to view the punishment against him as invalid in that it is in breach of natural justice. He queries the right to prompt hearing and argues that it took long to conclude his case at the University. He is also protesting the University’s decision to deny him the right to attend with a colleague of his choice. Siphambe had wanted to rope in a colleague from the Law Department within the University but was denied such indulgence.
More importantly, Siphambe feels the written warning letter and the termination of his Deanship is illegal in that the letters were written by the Acting Director of Human Resources “who has no authority to impose such penalty, he not being my supervisor as required by Regulation 4 of the UB Regulations”.