Trepidation grips civil servants in the wake of Masisi purges

With what looks like a capricious exercise, civil servants live in fear after a series of transfers and dismissals that President Mokgweetsi Masisi has effected without warning since he assumed office in 2018. Staff Writer LETLHOGILE MPUANG reports

President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s purging spree has resulted in a rising level of anxiety among senior civil servants and a decline in focus and productivity for some, The Botswana Gazette has established.

Confiding in this publication, some career civil servants who have worked for decades on Government Enclave have painted a gloomy picture of a demoralized cadre that lives in fear. Since assuming the presidency in April 2018, Masisi has made numerous changes, especially at permanent secretary and director levels across government departments.

In the course of this, the President has not hesitated to fire top civil servants. Fired in May last year, Solomon Sekwakwa and Dr Morrison Sinvula, PS and Deputy PS at the health ministry respectively, are among top civil servants shown the door by the President. Before then, Deputy PS at Defence, Justice and Security, Nchunga Nchunga, was fired mysteriously in the same year.

“We work for the sake of working,” said one visibly dispirited PS. “It is now close to impossible to think on one’s feet or take a decision independently.”

Another senior civil servant said much the same. “We are not allowed to work independently,” the official said. “It is not that we don’t want to take instructions, but the uncertainty is too much and affects our focus. You cannot bring new ideas to your job because the leadership may not like them.”

The unions are aware of the mood of trepidation across the public service. The Deputy Secretary General of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, says there is concern that creativity and innovation may have been replaced by fear and self-censorship as people are wary of getting on the wrong side of leadership.

“In yesteryears, top civil servants had the power of decision-making,” Motshegwa said. “This facilitated policymaking and project implementation. This was when these top civil servants were on permanent and pensionable terms of employment. A lot changed when permanent secretaries, their deputies, directors, council secretaries and district commissioners were hired on contracts of three years, placing their job security under threat and making them anxious about renewal of their contracts. This undermined professionalism in the public service.”

In an interview with The Botswana Gazette this week, the unionist slammed the capricious transfers and dismissals under President Masisi that he called “a malicious and ferocious attack on servants” for alleged poor delivery.

Attempts to reach the Acting Permanent Secretary to the President, Emmah Peloetletse, proved futile when her phone rang but was not answered at the time of going to press.