The public service in Botswana requires transformation in order to attract the best and brightest.
In recent years, much has been made of the work ethic and productivity of our civil servants. The discourse typically centres on why our public service has earned notoriety for a poor work ethic and low productivity.
This has not done any good to concerted efforts to promote doing business in Botswana. Influential businesses, world institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and MODI have all rated Botswana poorly in the doing business indices in recent times.
A key electoral pledge of the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) is Skills and Technological Development as key catalysts for economic growth, job creation and prosperity in the digital economy.
It is therefore critical to reflect on the character of our Public Service being the largest sector of our economy. In this article we look at how and why it came to be in its current state of pervasive despair, and how we might redeem what is left of yesteryear’s Public Service.
The BPF regards the public service as the glue that holds our economy together and therefore deserving the utmost attention and care from the political leadership of our country, in terms of conditions of service, salary structures and general welfare.
Regrettably this does not seem to matter to the present leadership under President Masisi, his fellow gatekeepers and his inner circle of advisors who for reasons best known to them seem to derive joy in creating despair within the Public Service particularly at the senior level.
Over a significant period of time the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM), steered by Eric Molale and the recently suspended Carter Morupisi as PSPs, with Masisi as Minister for Presidential Affairs and subsequently government leader as VP, paid millions of pula to advanced economies such as Singapore, India and the United Kingdom hiring expensive public service consultants who supposedly came over to teach our public servants one or two things about work ethics and productivity.
Public officers who have participated in these highly expensive exploits during the era of Molale and Morupisi, as PSPs do not hide that it has been a total waste of time and good money as nothing tangible can be shown from these unending PSP-driven workshops.
One of the problematic outcomes of these programmes is the current conduct of so-called public service performance rewards. On this one, public officers watch in bewilderment on many occasions when friends and favourites of the powers that be walk away with cash for ‘outstanding’, ‘meritorious’, and ‘long service’ awards whose credibility many question.
It is alleged that those who raise their voice against such wastage and other mismanagement practices in the public service have been labelled opposition activists or insiders and systematically subjected to endless abuse and persecution, denied progression and promotion if not demoted or dismissed, at the hands of these tormentors.
This is part of the context in which things came to a head in 2011 when for the first time in the history of this country we witnessed an unforgettable era of national embarrassment - a Public Service Strike of the nature and magnitude we could never have contemplated.
Public officers and labour unions are united in the knowledge that at the centre of the strike were characteristic stubbornness, insensitivity and rigidity of the Masisi, Molale and Morupisi triangle, which has now strategically decided to heap all blame on one man: Ian Khama.
These were the trio who labour unions wishing to access the ultimate authority of the land, the head of state, president Khama at the time, had to go through.
Alas, the trio were adamant and united that the demands and requests of public sector unions could not be entertained and therefore not worthy of a presidential audience.
It is this trio who shaped president Khama’s attitude towards the public service. Masisi was then the minister responsible, Molale head of the Public Service as PSP, and Morupisi director of the DPSM. These are the gentlemen who mishandled and complicated the bargaining process between government and public sector unions regarding salaries and related public service conditions of service.
The result was a stalemate that caused the Public Service mother-of—all-strikes of 2011. And to date, Masisi will not take responsibility for the mess he created.
The view of the BPF is that it is time that President Masisi is reminded of this painful period in our public service history and held accountable. It must not end there.
He and the likes of Molale must receive their just reward for taking this country backwards by inflicting on us a legacy of adversarial relations between government and the public service.
This continues today to impact negatively on productivity in the public service where fear, intimidation and political witch-hunting rule the day. The BPF condemns this in the strongest possible terms and vows to address this situation. It is an open secret that government wasted millions of pula in litigation costs as a result of politically motivated dismissals and un-procedural termination of contracts.
Regrettably we are not able to obtain the relevant statistics here. Understandably those in possession of these figures will not release them, as they are afraid of losing jobs and careers.
It should nonetheless be sufficiently clear therefore that we have a Presidential contender in Masisi who presided over and led a systematic destruction of our public service.
He cannot and should not be returned to office if we wish to restore the pride and joy of Botswana’s public service.
As part of the incoming government the BPF has prioritised the overhauling and reforming of the public service through policy changes for example with regard to public service rewards and incentives.
Former president Khama fully supports this and other key pillars in our manifesto of reviewing the nation’s Constitution and freeing all oversight institutions from presidential control.
In our new government, rewards, progression and retirement or lack thereof will be based purely on merit, empathy and a supportive attitude from the leadership, not vendettas, pettiness and political considerations.
The BPF shall work with the Private Sector and institutions of learning to cultivate a work culture that stands the test of time and fits in the modern day era of the fourth industrial revolution, demographic dividend, global competitiveness, skills and capability reward, as well as continuous improvement and fair pay for a hard-day’s work.
*Justice Motlhabani is the Botswana Patriotic Front’s information and publicity secretary.