Statement on the appointment of Parks Tafa as chairperson of the UB Council
The Executive of the Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) wishes to communicate its stand on the appointment of a new Chairperson of Council of the University of Botswana (UB).We are informed that the incoming Chairperson of Council is Parks Tafa, who is a prominent attorney and senior partner at Collins and Newman and who joined the Council some two years ago. Our statement is provoked by the controversy surrounding the appointment of Tafa as Chairperson of council. Because of the national significance of UB as a national public institution, we wish to comment on the subject and to share our perspective.
Although we take note of the associations of Tafa to the establishment and the ruling BDP, our comments exclude those associations. According to the University of Botswana Act (Cap 57:01) of July 1982 the Chairperson of the Council is appointed by the Chancellor alone. The Chancellor alone appoints four members to the Council (the highest number of special appointees), which is probably how Tafa was originally appointed. No criterion is stipulated for persons appointed to the Council who are not from academia. Anthony Khama, John Maynardt and others were also appointed through the same window. The Act makes it mandatory that the Chancellor, be the President of Botswana, who may direct the Minister of Education to exercise any powers of the Council or the Vice Chancellor subject to such directions. Where the Minister appoints members of Council, it is an exercise of the delegated authority of the Chancellor. It is also worth noting that the Act also empowers the Chairperson of Council to act as the Chancellor in the absence of the latter.
It is common cause that the current Chancellor is HE the President, Lt Gen Seretse Khama Ian Khama and the current Minister is Hon Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, while the current Vice Chancellor is Prof Thabo Fako, whose appointment was also questioned in the media at the time of his appointment on allegation that he was handpicked at the lowest rung of candidates.The outgoing Chairperson of Council is Elijah Legwaila, who is a Court of Appeal judge and former President of the Industrial Court and a former Permanent Secretary to the President. To avoid targeting an individual, the debate should start on the criteria of appointing persons suitable for the position of Chairperson of Council. This would address possibilities of abuse of powers by the appointing authority. We also wish to bring attention to Section 6 which gives exclusive authority to the Chancellor to appoint the Chairperson of Council of a national university without the need for a consultative or public process.
This is a fl aw that permeates our public appointing processes from the Judiciary to Parastatal Boards. Another fl aw that has been criticized since the 1980s is the trend of circulating the same faces in many Parastatal Boards. Tafa was previously at PEEPA Board. Such duplicitous appointments are part of our public processes and governance culture. As stated above, the previous Chairperson of Council was an experienced lawyer with a public service background, but with no prior association with matters of academia, save for the Council itself. Before him, the Chairperson was another former Permanent Secretary, Lebang Mpotokwane. The incoming Chairperson has the same occupational background as the previous one, albeit from the corporate world. We therefore see Tafa’s appointment as a continuation of this trend, though his case has helped to sharply raise awareness on the issue. However, we find fault mainly in the Act itself and the Governance culture of our public institutions. Regarding the appointment of Tafa himself, we find it wrong that the appointing authority has preferred a member of the Council with limited experience in the processes of both the Council and the University.
There is also a disturbing trend which may develop from Tafa’s appointment, which is part of a global trend of corporatization of universities. This is a trend that changes the university from its traditional purpose of knowledge generation to that of running a business. The high number of corporate persons with no prior association with educational development shows a growing trend towards corporatization. If the UB Foundation, chaired by Satar Dada, happens to wield influence in University processes, then a corporate takeover is imminent. Given our developmental needs, a person appointed as Chairperson of Council ought to exhibit a proven vision towards the transformative growth of UB as a contemporary university in a globalised setting; the development of Tertiary Education in the new policy emphasis of Human ResourceDevelopment and Human Capital development and of the role of the university in society and national development agenda. We see the position as a strategic leadership role in the development of the university.
From where we stand, we do not see those qualities in Tafa, just like Legwaila before him. The implications of the current set up are that, growth and development of the university would be stifled by lack of strategic leadership. Hence UB’s success is rarely expressed in qualitative terms (impact and returns) but more in terms of high expenditure and growing student enrolment. Therefore in conclusion, we advise that the processes of appointing Chairperson of Council be seriously scrutinized in the coming Universities and Non Universities Tertiary Institutions Bill, which is expected to be tabled in the July session of parliament.