Unions in Botswana have challenged government to list companies earmarked for privatization with the Botswana Stock Exchange so that employees who have been disadvantaged by the privatization exercise can buy into such companies, either individually or collectively through their unions.
Speaking at a recent Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) congress in Maun, Andrew Motsamai, the organization’s president, said that the government has on more than one occasion indicated that it would like to see the private sector taking a more central role in driving the economy, hence the privatization initiative. In his recent state of the nation address President Festus Mogae reiterated government’s commitment to the privatization process.
BOPEU revealed that they were invited to the initial conceptualization of the privatization policy where they expressed that they would only support the initiative when it provided due consideration to ensuring that workers would also benefit in the exercise.
Government then released a quadrant of privatization candidates among them, Air Botswana, Botswana Vaccine Institute, Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board and the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation.
Motsamai said that, if implemented accordingly, privatization has the potential to be a major contributor to economic diversification and economic growth.
He, however, called on government to make a deliberate decision to list companies earmarked for privatization on the stock exchange so that members can individually, or collectively through their unions, get the opportunity to buy into such stocks.
“The listing on the BSE if encouraged would not only raise the much needed free float, but will also mean expanded investment opportunities for workers, either by directly purchasing these stocks through the Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund,” said the BOPEU president.
Meanwhile, the Botswana Teachers Union President Japhta Radibe said that they are not aware of any government initiatives to list organizations earmarked for privatization. He revealed that they are particularly aware of the BTC privatization in which employees are said to have been encouraged to buy shares in the organization during its privatization process.
“While we welcome such a development, we are very concerned about the lack of knowledge on the issue of buying shares by employees and their capacity to buy shares that would give them a controlling or meaningful stake in such organizations,” Radibe said.
He added that while the idea remains noble and well-meant it is also glaringly flawed in that there was not enough public education to inform employees on the relatively new issue of buying shares. On top of that, he said, local employees, with their limited remunerations, would not have enough capital to purchase substantial shares in corporations as big as BTC such that even if they do have shares they would not be at liberty to make decisions that would protect their interests.
An official at one of Botswana’s stock broking firms, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that though it would be a welcome development the initiative would demand a lot of analysis. He said that the privatization exercise itself is a catalyst to listing with the stock exchange as companies who buy into government institutions are usually encouraged to list with the BSE to avail opportunities for locals to buy shares or even to raise capital. He said that issues like the nature of the institutions that is being privatized would also come into play as some institutions offer services that are not necessarily enjoyed by the large majority.