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BDP MPs reject Khama package

Publishing Date : 19 January, 2017

Author : AUBREY LUTE

President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) caucus for Members of Parliament held on Tuesday this week discussed the proposed the Presidents (Gratuity, Pensions and Retirement Benefits) Bill, 2016 and President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama’s proposal did not get much love from mostly the party’s backbenchers.

On 24th March 2016, government published the Presidents (Gratuity, Pensions and Retirement Benefits) Bill, 2016. Through this Bill, government intends to amend the Presidents (Pensions and Retirement Benefits) Act, 1998 (hereinafter referred to as the Act).

Information reaching this publication suggests that the BDP MPs did not even want to deal with the contents or the merits of the proposed Bill. Instead they made it clear to President Khama that if he wants them to deliberate on his request, he should first address the plight of civil servants, Dikgosi, Members of Parliament, Councillors and Dikgosi. A handful of those who voiced out indicated that these four groups have been asking Government to review their conditions of service but with no success.

Members of Parliament including Polson Majaga of Nata-Gweta and Kosta Markus of Maun East made it clear that they will not support the Bill if it does not address the other four groups. The Maun West MP made it known that the President is in office by virtue of MPs being elected from their respective constituencies. He is reported to have stated that if he had failed to win the Maun West constituency this could have hampered Khama’s chances of being President therefore MPs and Councillors as well as the ordinary voters who are also civil servants should also be considered for improved packages.

Majaga pointed out that Khama will not be president in 2019 when they go for the polls against the opposition. He said it is important that they support a Bill that they will be in a position to explain to the voters during campaigns. He is also reported to have stated that there is nothing in place for the retiring Vice President, Ministers and Members of Parliament. Weekend Post learns that Majaga called for a holistic approach to the correction of benefits for the civil service, ministers, MPs, Councillors and then the retirement package of the president.

Tati East Member of Parliament Samson Guma Moyo also objected to the proposed law. He was concerned that there are groups that have been urging government to refine their conditions of service but nothing has been done to date.

It has emerged that although cabinet had approved the proposed Bill, only one minister spoke in defense of the proposed law. One insider indicated to this publication that ministers could have chickened out of speaking for the proposal because of the “riotous” manner of the debates.

However it is expected that President Khama will bring the proposed law back to the BDP caucus for approval before it goes to Parliament for debate. The opposition has already made it clear that it will not support the proposed law hence the need for Khama to get the support of his own party Members of Parliament. The opposition and some of the BDP backbenchers are of the view that the Bill is self-serving and tends to breach some of the country’s practices where a person will be entitled to both pension and gratuity, they argue that a person should only claim one of the two.  

Why BDP MPs shun the proposed Bill  

Government recently announced a 3 percent salary hike for Civil Servants which was shunned by public service trade unions. Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) even challenged it in court because it argued that it was not agreed at a legally recognized bargaining structure. On the other hand Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) relegated it to a bonus award.

Dikgosi during their July sitting have made it abundantly clear that they want government to review their conditions of service. Chairman of Ntlo Ya Dikgosi, Kgosi Puso Gaborone is expected to have handed a proposal to the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development as per the request of members of Ntlo Ya Dikgosi.

Members of Parliament are also up in arms demanding that their conditions of service be reviewed and be aligned to those of the SADC region. Over a period of time a number of assessments in relation to Members of Parliament’s packages have been carried out but nothing has come out of such initiatives. At some point President Khama had accused some MPs who were pushing for salary increase for behaving like vultures. MPs last year had their salaries increased by about 35 percent, which to some was still small adjustment in comparative terms.  

Councillors are concerned that there appears to be no one speaking for them when it comes to conditions of service. They point out that they do the most work at ward level and during the campaigns but when it comes to being paid they are the least rewarded. Through their Association, the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) they have tried to lobby for improved conditions of service, but at the time when Members of Parliament got a 35 percent salary increase, councilors got roughly 18 percent salary increase. Councillors still earn less than P10 000 a month.  

The proposed law in brief  

The Bill seeks to amend section 3 of the Act by introducing the payment of gratuity. It provides that “the President shall upon dissolution of Parliament, or immediately upon ceasing to hold office as such, be entitled to receive a gratuity equal to 30 percent of his or her current monthly basic salary multiplied by the number of months completed by him or her as President.”

Under the Act, “a tax free monthly pension equivalent to the monthly basic salary attached to the office at the time that that person ceased to hold office, or 80% of the incumbent President’s salary, whichever is greater, is payable. This pension benefit will also be retained under the amended Act.

Further, a surviving spouse of a person, who has held the Office of President- “(b) who dies after ceasing to hold office shall be paid a tax free monthly pension at the rate of 50 percent of the pension that that person would have received but for the occurrence of such death”

Section 4(2) of the Act provides that “without prejudice to the provisions of subsection (1), any surviving spouse shall be paid a tax free annual pension of P 98, 268.00 provided that the President may, by order, amend this subsection by increasing the amount of pension payable thereunder.”    

The Bill also seeks to repeal section 6(2) of the Act which provides that “if a person who ceases to be President directly or indirectly holds any paid office, in the service of the State, or in the employment of any person, any pension or benefits to which such person is entitled under this Act shall be suspended for the period that that person holds such office.”

Repealing section 6(2) of the Act will in effect allow a retired President to be paid monthly pension, for example, even if he or she is employed by government, the private sector or international organizations. Clearly, this is unjust because by its very nature pension is only payable to one who is no longer in employment.

The Bill also seeks to amend the schedule of benefits provided for in terms of section 3(b) of the Act. Paragraph 2(a) of the schedule is amended by giving the retired president the option to choose between having an office, where he or she prefers, of the standard and size specified by the President or receiving office accommodation allowance using the prevailing Gaborone market rental rates.

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