Botswana Police Service will be called in to impound United Nations Development Program (UNDP) property in Gaborone in what threatens to be a major diplomatic spat between the Botswana government and the United Nations organ.
The looming diplomatic row comes after UNDP disobeyed an Industrial Court order that it should pay severance benefits to citizen workers retrenched last year, citing diplomatic immunity.
In November 2010, Industrial Court Judge Justice Legwaila ruled that the UNDP should pay Puso Kethuse, Geoffrey Masilo and Olivia Adams over P160 000 as severance benefits for the period 10 June 2002 to 31 July 2009, during which they were under the employment of UNDP.
“The respective amounts shall be paid by UNDP to the applicants through the Office of the Registrar of the Industrial Court on or before 31 December 2010,” said Legwaila.
The UNDP has since disregarded Legwaila’s ruling. Information reaching Sunday Standard indicates that UNDP neither defended the application nor bothered to respond to Justice Legwaila’s ruling. The trio would later engage three separate Deputy Sheriffs to attach UNDP property so that it could be auctioned to salvage their benefits. Two of the Deputy Sheriffs have since given up, while the third one, Anelle Van Heerden is being sent from pillar to post by the UNDP, the AG’s and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In January, the applicants managed to obtain a writ of execution from the Industrial Court authorising them to “attach and take into execution UNDP property and cause to be realised by public auction the sum of P160 200.70, which the applicants recovered through the November 2010 ruling”.
The writ also authorised Van Heerden to recover the costs incurred during her application. By June 2011 she published a notice of sale of execution, in which she attached a Toyota Land Cruiser (registration 06 CD 005), a Nissan Patrol (registration 06 CD 026) and another Land Cruiser (registration 06 CD 007) for auction at Broadhurst Police Station.
To date, she has dismally failed to remove the attached vehicles from UNDP premises. During a visit to the UNDP last week Van Heerden was, together with this reporter, barred from leaving the premises and told bluntly that the vehicles will never leave the UNDP premises. Two of the vehicles were hidden behind the UNDP premises while the older Land Cruiser was parked in the parking lot.
Van Heerden then sought the intervention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the AG’s Chambers.
On Thursday, she was advised to seek another court order instructing the police to assist her to recover the said vehicles from UNDP premises. But the Industrial Court later told her that the writ of execution on its own empowers her to seek assistance from the police if she deems it necessary.
After shuttling between the AG’s Chambers and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Van Heerden was later advised to apply for yet another court order, this time from the Registrar of the High Court, Godfrey Nthomiwa.
By Friday she had still not been able to reach Nthomiwa, and indications are that she will only be able to contact him on Wednesday. If successful, Van Heerden will proceed with the auction on July 29th.
Meanwhile, more than six months have passed since the Industrial Court ruling, and the UNDP continues to flagrantly disobey the court order in the name of diplomatic immunity. The three employees have been left in limbo and are still waiting to be paid their severance benefits.
Stephen Tiroyakgosi of the AG’s Chambers said they are still working out suitable legal avenues through which they can assist Van Heerden and her clients.