Members of BDF, Police, Prisons ‘asked’ to contribute to COVID-19 Relief Fund
- Minister says nobody will be compelled
- Those aff ected say the request is as good as a command
- Officers face P550 deductions for six months
- Say the move is cruel
Tensions are mounting within the Botswana Defence Force, Botswana Police Service and the Prisons and Rehabilitation Service following a controversial decision by their overlords to urge them to contribute a percentage of their salaries to the COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Information reaching this publication is that leaders of the three forces believe they have a moral duty to contribute to the fund and are therefore urging members to do so. Accordingly, divisional heads have been asked to pass the message to their subordinates.
One source said: “Two options have been presented to us. Option one is to make monthly contributions for six months categorised by rank. Option two entails a one off deduction from our savings. One has to either contribute P200 per month for six months or the Commander or commissioner will dip his fingers into your savings and take P550 from it if you are a constable or a private or twice that amount if you are in the upper ranks.”
It is estimated that the total will run into millions for the fund to fight the Coronations pandemic and its effects. Speaking to this publication, the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Kagiso Mmusi, said he was aware that the three departments were in the process of contributing to the COVID-19 Relief Fund through membership contributions.
“I am aware that members have been asked to contribute,” Minister Mmusi noted. “No one is forced. As you may be aware, we recently did the same at Cabinet following a suggestion from the President.”
He acknowledged that the development could lead to differences of opinion. “Those who have reservations or tight budgets can inform their seniors of their situations,” he added.
But there are fears the unwilling or unable could become targets of various forms of victimisation, including stalled promotions. Because discipline is highly regarded in these services, their members are likely to regard the request as a command and yield to the request of the commands even if they find it disagreeable.
“It is not true that we can oppose it because that is not how these forces operate,” said a high ranking source. “We take orders.” Another officer said it was difficult to think that anyone, let alone the government, could underestimate their contribution to the welfare of Batswana as it is. “We therefore fail to understand the motive of this kind decision by our leaders because we are also affected by the pandemic,” he told this publication.
At the University of Botswana, policy analyst and social worker, Professor Keitseope Nthomang, expressed shock at the decision.
“It is so wrong and sad that this is happening,” the academic said. “These communities have budgets and COVID-19 is certainly not one of them. Like all of us, they have been affected by the effects of the pandemic. You may even find that some of them need government assistance.”
The government, Nthomang added, must assume full responsibility and find ways to finance the fight against the pandemic without abusing the vulnerabilities of some communities or individuals. “You don’t force patriotism,” he said. “And I cannot think of any other way for these communities to show their patriotism than what they are currently doing as front liners in the fight against this pandemic.”
The government recently approved salary re grading for members of these forces that put a smile on their faces.
Some officers who did not want to reveal their names for fear of victimization had this to say; “Some of our family members income streams have dried up as a result of this pandemic and we are forced to assist and take care of their children. Now the government is demanding money from us as well. They might as well just consider adding us into the list of Social workers care programme. Imagine how much is going to be deducted from me as a high ranking officer if P550 is deducted from the lowest rank.”
He also said that the situation was, “sad because our take home pay is generally very low for officers, now with the burden of COVID 19 these deductions are just plain cruelty on our part.”