The Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) has reportedly intensified security at bordergates around the country as the effects of a strike at Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) start to bite and haulage trucks enter the country without customs clearance.
In accordance with rules agreed with the employer, employees of BURS are on a two-day per week strike that is followed by a go-slow for the rest of the working week. The current state of affairs came after the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and BURS declared a deadlock in their negotiations for a salary increment. BOPEU had proposed an 11 percent increment while BURS put forward 6 percent and stayed firm, citing alignment with the rest of the public service. Employees of the parastatal include customs officers at the borderposts where the strike is most felt.
BURS has a staff compliment of 1 500, seven hundred (700) of whom are members of BOPEU that was given the mandate to negotiate for a salary increment a few months ago. However, BURS last Thursday approached the Industrial Court in Gaborone on a matter of urgency to interdict its employees from engaging in industrial action that had been scheduled to begin on that day. The court dismissed the application and the strike ensued the following day.In the aftermath, DISS has reportedly increased its presence at borderposts to prevent higher contraband, especially illicit drugs, entering the country. Ramokgwebana, which is on the border with Zimbabwe, and Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSKA) were reportedly left unattended on Monday this week. In addition, targeted points are Tlokweng, Ramotswa, Ramatlabama and Martins Drift, all of which have high numbers of travellers and volumes of trade. The situation can only get worse because BOPEU has reportedly decided to up the ante by going on a full swing strike for 14 days beginning Friday last week.
The head of DISS, Isaac Kgosi, could not be reached as his mobile phone was off. On Wednesday this week, the General Secretary of BOPEU, Topias Marenga, was unwavering about the strike. “The strike is now in full swing because we have discovered that the employer is applying underhand tactics,” Marenga said. “They are intimidating our members and threatening them with job losses. Nevertheless, the workers are determined to ensure to get what they want.”
Regarding DISS intensifying its presence at borderposts, the unionist said it was not for security reasons only. “They (DISS agents) are also sourcing information from our members and intimidating them,” he said. “They even pretend to be journalists and conduct interviews, but they won’t succeed because we will not be intimidated.”
BURS Communications Manager, Refilwe Moonwa, has told the Botswana Guardian that they are on high alert in accordance with their risk management drill. “Risk management has been put in place so as to avert contraband,” she said. “We are also working closely with the police and other security agencies to ensure that it is business as usual. Service is slow but trucks are coming in and out with minimum hitches because most of these people are our usual customers. At the same time, we are currently before the mediator to help us and the union resolve the impasse and then put things back to normal. We are not refusing the increment. We are saying a restructuring exercise is going on and it includes salary structures. So let us allow the process to be concluded while our employees are at 6 percent.”
Moonwa said it was “normal procedure” for haulage trucks to enter Botswana without customs clearance. “We use customs clearing agents and most of the clients are our trusted customers,” she insisted. “If it is found that some of the documentation is incomplete but the truck is carrying perishables, we allow it to pass and clear it within 14 days. You should also remember that only BOPEU members are on strike. We fight the smuggling of drugs together with security and through our assessment we know which areas to put more focus on. But all trucks are searched.”
Be that as it may, other sources within BURS have dismissed this claim, saying trucks are allowed entry only if the computer system is down, in which event information is captured manually. Moonwa dismissed claims of intimidation as baseless. Regarding DISS beefing up security, Moonwa said the secret service was a part of operations at borderposts. “They are our stakeholders in the same way that we have Immigration, the police and or agric officers at our borderposts,” she said. “On any normal day, we have various stakeholders at borderposts but I cannot ascertain that security in the form of DISS presence has been intensified.”