- Court declares dismissal of BIUST dean wrong and unfair
- Court orders BIUST to pay dismissed dean
- BIUST says failure to hold graduation ceremony embarrassed it
The Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) has become the biggest loser in a case in which its former Dean of Students, Dr Kitso Sedisa, took the institution to the Industrial Court to challenge his dismissal.
Justice Galesite Baruti of the Francistown Industrial Court declared that the decision of BIUST management to terminate Sedisa’s employment contract was substantially wrongful or unfair.
“The termination of applicant’s employment contract (dismissal) was procedurally wrongful or unfair with respect to one aspect of procedural fairness,” said Justice Baruti.
Consequently, the court ordered that BIUST to pay Sedisa P156,929.14, being two times his monthly salary as compensation for his unfair dismissal within 30 days.
According to papers before court, the background to the matter is that during the tenure of his employment, Sedisa was appointed to and served on a committee that was specifically set up to prepare for and organise the graduation ceremony for each year.
Sedisa chaired the committee at times, and in doing so assumed overall responsibility for ensuring the graduation ceremony for that particular year was properly organised and ran smoothly on the appointed date.
For the year 2020, there was general consensus that the committee that organised the 2019 graduation ceremony, of which Sedisa was a part, should organise and prepare for the 2020 graduation ceremony.
There was no opposition to this proposal by members of the previous committee, thus the 2020 graduation committee was constituted. Furthermore, Sedisa volunteered to chair the committee, which proposition was also welcomed.
It was then resolved, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges it presented, that the 2020 graduation ceremony would be held and conducted virtually on 20 November 2020 commencing at 0900hrs.
However, on 20 November 2020, at the appointed hour with the respective graduates, their families and friends, sponsors and various stakeholders tuning in to participate and/or to spectate, the video which was to air virtually was not ready and failed to play.
Court papers say this is notwithstanding the fact that the applicant had given several verbal assurances to the Deputy Vice Chancellor – Academic Affairs (DVC AA) who was Sedisa’s direct report in respect of the graduation and to the Vice Chancellor that the graduation virtual ceremony would take place as planned and that all the necessary arrangements had been made.
However, to make matters worse, Sedisa was not present as events unfolded on the designated day and had not appointed anyone to take his stead.
He simply sent a text communicating that he was unwell and only later informed his supervisor that he was given sick leave. To-date, the purported sick note has not been located in his file or system.
“Following the failed graduation ceremony, which not only was an embarrassment to the university and discredited the university’s reputation, but which also deprived the 2020 graduates an opportunity to celebrate their achievement, BIUST commissioned an independent investigation to establish, using objective criteria, what caused non-delivery of the graduation ceremony and to produce a report with recommendations,” court documents say.
The final report was delivered on 14 December 2020, and in terms thereof it was established that Sedisa had failed to discharge his leadership role as the Chairperson of the graduation committee from the onset, which is what culminated in an unsuccessful graduation ceremony.
According to court papers, the graduation did not take place on the date and time it was scheduled for and it was on that basis that the investigation report recommended that Sedisa be subjected to a disciplinary process.
The disciplinary enquiry took place on the specified date before an independent panel where the applicant was afforded the right to plead, to cross examine the complainant and his witness and to present his own case and have witnesses adduce evidence on his behalf following which the enquiry was adjourned to allow the panel to make the necessary deliberations.
The disciplinary panel was appointed by the Chairperson of the Human Resources Committee of Council and recommendations from the panel were submitted to the Chairperson for ratification or otherwise.
Dr Sedisa was found to be guilty; unsatisfactory work performance (negligence of duty) and giving false evidence, which led to him being fired from work.
Following the findings of guilt, the applicant was afforded an opportunity to present factors in mitigation and the complainant an opportunity to present aggravating factors.
These were duly considered by the panel, which recommended dismissal with notice in respect of the first charge and summary. The recommendations of the panel were upheld, and the applicant accordingly dismissed on 6 February 2022.
In his affidavit, Dr Sedisa said the first count did not make sense to him because: “My understanding of unsatisfactory work performance is that there were set standards for performance which the employees are required to meet or perform.”
Sedisa argued that his employment contract is silent regarding his participation in the graduation ceremonies of BIUST. He said there is a proper procedure that could have been followed for someone whose work performance was unsatisfactory.
Regarding the second count of giving false evidence, Sedisa said the update he gave about the graduation ceremony was the truth until the last disappointing result time of the system.
According to Dr Sedisa, at the time he gave the update, he did not know that the system would not function on the date of the event.
“How then does that amount to dishonesty? In any case, I was not charged with dishonesty. These offences were just created to get rid of me from the university,” he said.
For its part, BIUST argued that since Sedisa chaired the committee, he therefore assumed the overall responsibility for ensuring the graduation ceremony for that particular year was properly organised and ran smoothly on the appointed date.
BIUST argued that on the 20 November 2020 at the agreed hour during the day of graduation, the video which was to air virtually was not ready and it failed to play despite that the applicant having given several verbal assurances to the then Deputy Vice Chancellor – Academic Affairs Dr Siginer whom he reported to regarding the graduation.
BIUST said after the graduation failed, it commissioned an independent investigation to establish what caused the non-delivery of the graduation ceremony and to produce a report with recommendation. BIUST said the investigation established that Dr Sedisa failed to discharge his leadership role as the Chairperson of the graduation Ccmmittee from the onset, which led to the failure of the whole graduation ceremony.