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  • Court rejects state’s bid to throw out case of over 500 retired solders
  • Declares the soldiers cannot be treated with levity because they had stood sentry over sovereignty of the country
  • Says matter is of great national importance that hits at the doorstep and livelihood of retired and current soldiers

TEFO PHEAGE

The High Court has rejected a bid by the state to throw out a case in which soldiers are challenging the state’s “unlawful” migration of the their pension benefits and pension scheme to the Botswana Public Officers Pensions Fund (BPOPF) which they say has resulted in diminution of their pension benefits. The state had wanted the matter to be dismissed on a technicality, arguing that the over 500 retired soldiers did not deliver their declaration within the prescribed 14-day period. The declaration is the plaintiff’s statement of a claim against the defendant, formally and specifically setting out the facts and circumstances that make up the case.

The 1st Plaintiff is former Commander of Botswana Defence Force, Lieutenant General Gaolathe Galebotswe. He had told the court that the delay in the delivery of their declaration was caused by logistical problems of going around the country to find other plaintiffs who were interested in joining this action.

Galebotswe averred that following the issuance of the writ of summons, many members of the Retired Members of the BDF who are spread across the country had expressed a wish to be included in the matter, and thus delayed the process.

Delivering his ruling last week, Justice Michael Leburu attacked the state, saying it only fell short of taking the soldiers for granted. “This matter is of great national importance in that it directly hits at the doorstep and livelihood of retired members of the BDF and some of the current members,” he said.

“At the epicentre of the dispute is alleged unlawful migration of their pension scheme and benefits from the BDF to BPOPF, which has resulted in diminution of their pension benefits. The quantum of pension payable to a pensioner is a matter of livelihood and dignity.

“Pensioners should not retire into poverty. The plaintiffs are former members and some current members of the BDF who stood sentinel over the sovereignty of Botswana for many years. Not only that, even in the arena of international diplomacy and peacekeeping, the BDF has been assembled, paraded and deployed with aplomb. This court takes judicial notice of one such deployment in Somalia in 1992/3 under the aegis of the United Nations on a mission aptly styled ‘Operation Restore Hope.’ The case is thus of national importance.”

Justice Leburu went on to state that it is all these factors that elevate this matter onto a higher pedestal, hence the case should be properly articulated and ventilated at trial rather than dismissing the action on a mere technicality as desired by the state. According to the court, no demonstrable prejudice has been suffered by the state arising from the delay in the delivery of the declaration.

Judge Leburu said the over 500 soldiers are too significant a number to be ignored. He agreed with the soldiers’ views that a declaration can always be submitted and should not stop the case from proceeding. The soldiers have thus been ordered to deliver the declaration on or before 11 September 2020.

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