BCL Liquidator Nigel Dixon-Warren has absolved government of any wrong doing, saying the company should rather take him on. This is after last month mining giant Norilsk Nickel released a statement attacking the Botswana Government for what it concluded as a mischievous attempt by Botswana of failing to pay for a mine it contractually purchased before subsequently putting it under liquidation with chicanery.
Norilsk painted Botswana with a dark brush of “disdain for investors’ rights.” Botswana is yet to respond to the statement as even media requests regarding Norilsk’s words remains pending. Dixon-Warren told Business Post this week that it is not fair to blame Botswana Government for bad investor relations because in the first place the BCL-Norilsk contract for purchase of the Nkomati and Tati mines were never put in force or effected but was just hanging on the air.
The statements by Norilsk against Botswana could harm Botswana’s reputation as an investment hub and mar President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s efforts to enhance Foreign Direct Investment according to many observers. The gripe of Norilsk against Botswana or BCL is a matter of a legal matter betters the courts in different jurisdictions, London, South Africa and Botswana. Norilsk is suing government of Botswana for breach of purchase contract, alleging that Botswana Government failed to pay about P2.8 billion for purchase of Nkomati and Tati mines.
Norilsk said it sought to apply to Botswana courts to have its case heard by impartial and international arbitration in 2016 and the Botswana courts took 16 months to deny them the application. Norilsk is currently attempting to appeal the Botswana court decision. The Botswana High Court however ruled that Norilsk had not complied with the legal requirements of applying for leave to pursue the case abroad, therefore dismissed the Russian company’s case.
Meanwhile Dixon-Warren has also launched a concurrent case against Norilsk at the Gauteng High Court challenging the legality of purported transfer of shares from Norilsk to BCL. As it has also been alleged that the transfer was approved by then mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane, Dixon-Warren is challenging those allegation too.
While Norilsk also blames the Botswana courts of also refusing to have the company take its case to London Court of International Arbitration, Dixon-Warren argued that Norilsk wanted to omit Botswana courts legal proceedings and drag Government to the London Court of International Arbitration. He said any legal action against an insolvent company can only be pursued after obtaining leave of the High Court of Botswana to do so and such legal provisions are common around the world.
The BCL liquidator also believes Botswana courts were being robust and firm not to be taken from pillar to post by the Russian company. “Norilsk is free to withdraw its action at the LCIA, and approach the High Court to obtain the necessary leave prior to re-commencing action at the LCIA. There has been no attempt by the Botswana Government to preclude Norilsk from taking any legal actions it deems fit. The matters mentioned above are between Norilsk and the Liquidator of BCL,” said Dixon-Warren.
Dixon-Warren told this publication that when going back to this deal, it is clear that BCL was not in a position to conclude the acquisition of Nkomati. He said Norilsk is entitled to pursue a sale of its interests to a third party, and in the event it has suffered damages as a result of BCL not performing under the agreement, would be entitled to make a claim against BCL under the insolvency laws.
“BCL was placed into liquidation as it was fatally insolvent, and without further significant injections of funding, was unable to continue operating. I understand that Government considered requests by Management for additional funding immediately prior to liquidation, and concluded that it could no longer provide financial support to the detriment of other pressing budgetary requirements.
The date of liquidation (October 2016), the agreement (Norilsk-BCL) was not in force and had not been concluded. No guarantees were issued by Government of Botswana in respect of these transactions, and both BCL and Norilsk were fully aware at the time of signing the agreement that BCL was to raise its own funding for the acquisitions. Government has no legal obligation to settle the debts of any party in relation to the BCL liquidation," said the BCL liquidator.
Meanwhile, Dixon-Warren has revealed in an interview that at least two experienced and big companies are talking to him with keen interest on BCL. He said in there were about 140 companies and individuals who came with interest but never came back when he asked them on their capacity to buy or experience on mining projects. Dixon-Warren said some come to him interested in the mine’s waste dump to process it and some are interested in mining machinery.
He said most are skeptical of the value of BCL as a big old mine which might be difficult to run and close if there is a need. Dixon-Warren said currently he is working on cleaning up and pumping water from the mine. He said they are working on a hydro-geological process of taking out 6 litres of contaminated water from the mine. About 180 people have been employed to drain the water and work on maintaining the waste dump. He said BCL is a big old mine and people should know it is going to take a long time to be sold or closed.
Following a devastating first half of the year 2020 due to COVID-19, the global diamond industry started gaining positive momentum towards the end of the year as key markets entered into thanks giving and holiday season.
However Bruce Cleaver, Chief Executive Officer of De Beers Group cautioned that the industry is not out of the woods yet, citing prevailing challenges ahead into 2021.
The first half of 2020 was characterized by some of the worst challenges in history of global diamond trade.
The midstream, where rough diamonds are traded in wholesale and bulk to cutters and polishers, was for the most part of second quarter 2020, suffocated by international travel restrictions as countries responded to the contagious Corona Virus.
This halted movement of buyers and shipment of the rough goods , resulting in unprecedented decline of sales, in turn ballooning stockpiles as the upstream operations produced with little uptake by the midstream.
The situation was exacerbated by muted demand in the downstream where jewelry industries and tail end retailers closed to further curb the spread of COVID-19.
However towards the end of third quarter getting into the last quarter of the year, demand in both midstream and downstream started to steadily pick up as countries relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.
De Beers, the world’s largest diamond producer by value started reporting significant recovery in sales in the sixth and seventh cycle, figures began to reflect an upswing in sentiment as well as increase in uptake of rough goods by midstream.
Sales for the sixth cycle amounted to $116 Million, following a sharp downturn in the previous cycles, significant jump was realized during the seventh cycle, registering $320 million, an over 175 % upswing when gauged against the proceeding cycle.
De Beers noted that diamond markets showed some continued improvement throughout August and into September as Covid-19 restrictions continued to ease in various locations.
“Manufacturers focused on meeting retail demand for polished diamonds, particularly in certain product areas, accordingly, we saw a recovery in rough diamond demand in the seventh sales cycle of the year, reflecting these retail trends, following several months of minimal manufacturing activity and disrupted demand patterns in all major markets,” said De Beers Chief Executive, Bruce Cleaver in September last year.
The diamond mining behemoth continued to register impressive sales in the eighth and ninth cycle signaling the industry could end the year on a positive note.
The momentum was indeed carried into the last cycle of the year. The value of rough diamond sales (Global Sightholder Sales and Auctions) for De Beers’ tenth sales cycle of 2020 amounted to $440 million, a significant increase from the 2019 tenth sales cycle value.
Against what seemed like a positive year end that would split into the New Year Bruce Cleaver, CEO, De Beers Group, however warned the industry not to count eggs before they hatch.
“Positive consumer demand for diamond jewellery resulting from the holiday season is supporting the continuation of retail orders for polished diamonds from the diamond industry’s midstream sector. This in turn supported steady demand for De Beers’s rough diamonds at our final sales cycle of 2020,” Cleaver had said in December.
In caution the De Beers Chief noted that “While the diamond industry ends the year on a positive note, we must recognise the risks that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic presents to sector recovery both for the rest of this year and as we head into 2021.”
All segments of the supply chain were severely impacted by the global lockdown measures introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the first half of 2020.
After a strong US holiday season at the end of 2019, the rough diamond industry started 2020 positively as the midstream restocked and sentiment improved.
However, from February 2020, the Covid-19 outbreak began to have a significant impact on diamond jewellery retail sales and supply chain, with many jewelers suspending all polished purchases and/or delaying payments to their suppliers.
Rough diamond sales were materially affected by lockdowns and travel restrictions, delaying the shipping of rough diamonds into cutting and trading centers and preventing buyers from attending sales events.
These resulted in significant decline in total revenue for the business in the first six months of 2020. Total revenue decreased by 54% to $1.2 billion from $2.6 billion registered in the prior half year period ended 30 June 2019.
For the entire first six (6) months of the year 2020 De Beers Rough diamonds sales fell drastically to $1.0 billion from $2.3 billion in the prior H1 period ended 30 June 2019. Sales volumes decreased by 45% to 8.5 million carats compared to 15.5 million carats registered in the prior period.
Next month Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka will face the nation to deliver Botswana‘s first budget speech since COVID-19 pandemic put the world on devastating economic trajectory.
The pandemic that broke out in late 2019 in China has put the entire world on unprecedented chaos ,killing over P1 million people across the globe , shattering economies and almost rendering the year 2020 – a 12 months stretch of complete setback.
The 2021/22 budget speech will come at time when Botswana’s economy is still trying to emerge out of this.
National lockdowns and local travel restrictions have hit small medium enterprises hard, while international travel restrictions halted movement of both good and people, delivering by far some of the heaviest and worst catastrophic blows on the diamond industry and tourism sector, the likes of which this country has never seen before on its largest economic sectors.
As Minister Matsheka faces parliament next month, the reality on the ground is that Botswana’s national current cash resource, the Government Investment Account (GIA) is depleting at lightning speed.
On the other hand the COVID-19 economic mess is prevailing, the virus is reported to have taken a new dangerous shape of a deadly variant, spreading like fueled veld fire and causing some of the world’s super powers back to tough restrictions of lockdown.
According official figures released by Bank of Botswana, in October 2020 the GIA was running at P6 billion compared to the P18.3 billion held in the account in October 2019.
However reports indicate that the account could be currently holding just about P3 billion. The draw down from the GIA has been by exacerbated by declining diamond revenue, the country‘s largest cash cow. The sector was experiencing significant revenue decline even before COVID-19 struck.
When the National Development Plan (NDP) 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at a budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively, since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances.
Taking into account the COVID-19 economic mess in 2020/21 financial year, the budget deficit could add up to P20 billion after revised figures.
Drawing down from government cash balances to finance these budget deficits meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account, hence the near depletion of this buffer.
Meanwhile should Botswana’s revenue streams completely dry up to zero levels; the country would only have 11 months, before calling out for humanitarian aids and international donors, because foreign reserves are also on slow down.
During 2019, the foreign exchange reserves declined by 8.7 percent, from Seventy One Billion, Four Hundred Million Pula (P71.4 billion) in December 2018 to Sixty Five Billion, Three Hundred Million Pula (P65.3 billion) in December 2019.
The reserves declined further in 2020, falling by 2.3 percent to Sixty Three Billion, Seven Hundred Million Pula (P63.7 billion) in July 2020. This was revealed by President Masisi during State of the Nation Address in November last year.
The decrease was mainly due to foreign exchange outflows associated with Government obligations and economy-wide import requirements.
However latest statistics(October 2020) from Bank of Botswana reveal that Botswana’s foreign reserves are estimated at P58.4 billion, with government’s share of these funds significantly low.
Government has since introduced several measures to contain costs and control expenditure with the most recent intervention being the halting of recruitment in government departments and parastatals.
Furthermore, Value Added Tax has been signaled to go up from 12% to 14% in April this year with more hikes and service fees anticipated as government embarks on unprecedented domestic revenue mobilization.
Botswana Stock Exchange listed hotel group Cresta Marakanelo Limited (“CML” or “the Company”) announced the signing of a lease agreement for Phakalane Golf Estate Hotel & Convention Centre, which will see CML extend its footprint by adding the 4 star Gaborone property to its already impressive portfolio. The agreement is subject to regulatory approvals therefore the effective date of the transaction is expected to be 1 February 2021.
CML brings a wealth of expertise to the lease and despite the difficult year for the tourism and hospitality industry, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, CML remains confident in the recovery of the sector and the need to invest in expanding the Company’s footprint.
CML Managing Director, Mr Mokwena Morulane commented: “Our continued efforts to improve our offerings, understand the market dynamics and modern day trends in the face of global challenges, means we are ready for the changing face of tourism and international travel, and this addition to the Cresta portfolio signals our confidence in the future.
“Despite the headwinds faced in 2020, Management has continued to focus on projects that enhance CML’s product offering such as the refurbishments at Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa in the tourism capital Kasane and the ongoing refurbishment of Cresta Marang Residency in Francistown. The signing of the lease for the 4 star Phakalane Golf Estate Hotel & Conference Centre is a great addition to the Cresta portfolio and will unlock shareholder value in the future.
“We remain vigilant to value-enhancing opportunities including acquisitions or leases, after having reconsidered our pipeline against current and expected market conditions.”
Commenting on the lease agreement, the Chief Executive Officer, Mr S Parthiban, speaking on behalf of Phakalane noted; “No hotel chain holds as much expertise in the region, understands our local culture and tastes and what hospitality is about better than Cresta Marakanelo Limited. We believe that the renovations done to the property has made Phakalane Hotel and Convention Centre a unique product in Botswana and at par with international facilities. We believe that this lease will benefit not only us as Phakalane , but the market in general as Cresta has run hotels successfully in Botswana for over 30 years and is therefore expected to bring new offerings that appeal to the local and international markets as well as the residents and visitors to the Golf Estate. We look forward to a long mutually beneficial relationship with Cresta.”
CML like the rest of the tourism and hospitality industry and the entire value chain was hard hit by lockdowns with the surge of COVID-19. By investing during the low period, the company hopes to realise the future value of spending time in preparing for the new consumer dynamics and behaviour. Despite business interruptions as a result of a six-month long state of emergency and several lock-down periods declared by the Government of Botswana to limit the spread of COVID-19, the Company is starting to record an increase in occupancies, which bodes well for the recovery of the industry and the Company’s future prospects.