Following a Bill by Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration minister to banish floor-crossing in Parliament, public servants will take another shot at participating in democracy at the lowest level.
Secretary general of Botswana Federation of Public, Parastatal and Private Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), Tobokani Rari said they would lobby Members of Parliament (MPs) to push for public servants to be allowed to vote in political party primary elections.
“We have always said that voting does not start at national level, it starts with voting individuals at party level and we should allow civil servants to choose their preferred candidates. As it is right now, they vote people who were chosen for them by political parties who might be incapable,” he said. Rari added that despite it now being a case law that civil servants are not to vote in primary elections, it was now important to have legislators call for pieces of the law to address the issue.
“With this floor- crossing motion, it is now even more important to ensure that civil servants like other Batswana be allowed to fully participate in the democratic process of electing MPs. We know trade unions lost the case in 2017 and the only way to turn that around would be to lobby our legislators to come up with a piece of legislation to allow civil servants to vote,” he said. In 2017, the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government, Parastatal Workers Union and the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) won a case reversing a directive by then Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP), Eric Molale.
However, their triumph was short-lived as the Court of Appeal (CoA) reversed the verdict. The unions had taken the PSP to
They also wanted the section to be declared illegal if the court found that it prohibited civil servants from voting in political party primaries as it infringed on constitutional rights of freedom of expression and freedom of association of public officers as provided for in sections 12 and 13 of the Constitution.
The lawsuit followed a November 2013 directive from then PSP Molale prohibiting all public officers from participating or voting in political party primary elections. Molale quoted Section 5 of the PSA, which prohibits civil servants from being active members of political parties, or holding office in them. At the time, it was found that many public officers had registered to vote in the Botswana Democratic Party primary elections. The court ruled in favour of the trade unions in July 2017, prompting an appeal by the PSP.
Justice Isaac Lesetedi of the CoA said Section 5 (5) (b) of the PSA prohibits public officers from voting in political party elections as it fell within the threshold of what is termed active membership. The CoA bench of Justices, Lesetedi, Ian Kirby, Monametsi Gaongalelwe, Singh Walia and Zibani Makhwade, was in agreement that the prohibition to vote in party primaries was to restore public confidence and trust in the public service, as public officers are required to conduct themselves in a fair and impartial manner devoid of political influence.