Nineteen (19) Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) employees are said to have lost their jobs due non renewal of their contracts even though their services are still critically needed by the authority. About 35 have allegedly been given two year contracts instead of 5 years prescribed in the Conditions of Service and their salaries reduced under mysterious circumstances. Sources at BQA, say the board which is supposed to uphold basic governance standards has failed to explain all the anomalies since it has reportedly given the current Chief Executive Officer Botsalano Mosimakoko more powers.
Mosimakoko was employed as a substantive CEO in September last year. "While the CEO's contract is for 5 years she has given junior staff 2 year contracts. Employees have been subjected to annual appraisals and have been performing well and now they smell a rat that their contracts will not be renewed”. At the end of their contracts, the employees who are under 50 years were to be employed on a permanent and pensionable basis while those over 50 years were to be employed on a 5 year contract. The CEO is said to have since varied this and negotiated for a 5 year contract for herself and those below her for only 2 years.
Section 2.4.1(i) of the BQA General Staff Conditions of Service, which came into effect on 1st October 2014, states that 'citizen employees in Bands 4-7 who are below 50 years of age shall generally be employed on permanent and pensionable terms to “established positions", while Section 2.4.2(ii) further clarifies that, "all citizen employees in Bands 1-3 shall be eligible for employment on a fixed term contract not exceeding 5 years.
BQA is said to be having around 3000 cases of backlog on Education and Training Providers (ETPs) learning programmes and qualifications assessment and accreditation which are long overdue. Some employees have questioned the rationale behind the cutting of staff when the authority, which for some years now has been failing to complete its transition, has been hit by a huge backlog. Another source revealed that the ETP are currently incurring expenses on rentals and employees salaries while they await accreditation and assessment which may now “take even longer." Efforts by Manual Workers Union to intervene on behalf of the employees is said to have hit a snag as management has allegedly been engaging in bad faith.
According to minutes of meetings between the union and management dating as far as January 8th last year, nothing concrete was resolved as parties failed to reach a common ground. The employees are said to have argued that the board has neglected its duties while the CEO violates BQA conditions of service. The CEO's credentials to head the authority have also come under heavy criticism with claims that she was head-hunted by President Mokgweetsi Masisi in Canada during one of his official visits. Mosimakoko was a Research Officer in the Research, Evaluation and Analytics Division of the Ottawa-Carleton District Board from where she was recruited. Her current pay is said to have also been negotiated on an Expatriate Scale/rate.
BQA Communications and Public Relations Manager Selwana Pilatwe-Koppenhaver said the authority did not terminate any employment but rather that the fixed contracts of some employees had ended. She said the authority did not flout any law as due recruitment process was followed in line with applicable laws and policies. Pilatwe-Koppenhaver refuted claims of a high number of backlog. She said of the about 350 ETPs in the country 300 have been registered and accredited.
"Proper governance procedure was followed when employing the CEO. The post was advertised on the 23rd June 2017 and re-advertised on the 13th September 2018. Note that the CEO is appointed by the Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology in consultation with the board," she said adding that the corporate policy is that the authority does not respond to "actual or perceived personal issues of any of its employees.”
Acting High Court Judge Abdool Khan has come under heavy criticism by Court of Appeal regarding his conduct as a judicial officer in dealing with matters before him. In the matter between government and China Jiangsu International Botswana (PTY) LTD for a P1.2 billion Water Tender in Maun heard on 31 March 2020, a panel of three Court of Appeal Justices, Monametsi Steven Gaongwalelwe, Singh Walia and Zibani Makhwade noted that:
“During submissions it was remarked that the learned judge might have got frustrated by what he found to be conduct evincing deliberate delay. I must say while it might well be so, a judicial officer’s judgement should never reflect anger at any of the parties.” The tender was initially awarded to China Jiangsu but was later awarded to the second highest bidder, Zhengtai Group Botswana (Pty) Ltd, after Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) said China Jiangsu was a threat to national security.
The High Court had thrown out DIS Director General Peter Magosi’s evidence and said he was intermeddling but the Court of Appeal overruled the decision of the lower court. China Jiansung had dragged Ministry of Land Management Water and Sanitation Services and Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board to court over the tender. The Court of Appeal judges indicated that Justice Khan laid emphasis on the point that the entire litigation from the part of the Appellant (Ministry and PPADB) was engaging on delaying tactics.
"That finding may or may not be correct but in laying emphasis on the point the court a quo went overboard to the extent of committing material misdirection," said Justice Gaongalelwe. In dismissing PPADB and the ministry's application Justice Khan had noted that the Appellants have not complied with statutory requirements and their conduct merely delays progress in the matter.
The appeals court however indicated that the remarks are surprising "indeed because in the original application the court had upheld Appellant’s points of opposition as meritorious and dismissed the application. On such basis one cannot fathom the reasons for classifying it as a delay strategy”. Justice Gaongalelwe said on the point of delaying progress, the Appellants had attributed it to the High Court as it delivered its ruling in respect of the first application after five months despite the matter having been brought on urgency basis.
Justice Khan's decision to dismiss the Ministry and PPADB application on condonation was condemned by the judges of the Appeals Court arguing that condonation is a matter of seeking the court’s indulgence and one of its paramount factors is to impart justice to the warring litigants and to the community. "In that regard the important factors to be considered include importance of the case, magnitude of the project and welfare of the community at large. In this matter the project involves provision of water, an essential commodity in a wide area which has suffered inconveniences for some time. Second Respondent (Zhengtai) commenced the works in October 2019 though it was later interrupted by court orders. As a direct result of such interruptions, operations have stalled resulting in immense prejudice to the community," argued the justices.
They added that in such circumstances the court should strike a balance between interests of the parties and those of the community.
The Coordinator for Thapong Visual Arts Centre, Reginald Bakwena has challenged local visual artists to creatively reflect on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. According to Bakwena, artists are in a position to come up with solutions that might go a long way in helping the society fight the virus. He revealed that once everything settles down, an exhibition focusing on the virus will be held.
The idea behind this exhibition is to showcase what happened during the Coronavirus pandemic. He says that mediums such as paintings can be used to depict emotions. "Artists can tell stories through their artworks. And everyone can relate to them and understand them whether educated or not," he explains in an interview with this publication, adding that the local visual arts landscape is also in a bad space as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Thapong has had to postpone the annual Members Exhibition that usually takes place in March due to COVID-19. Bakwena says that the ongoing lockdown also means that their members are losing out on making money and will not be able to support their families. He notes that some of their members are already working from home developing some concepts and urged the rest to turn to technology - websites and social media to reach out to new and existing customers.