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Half billion pula gone as Chinese raided Gov’t coffers

The Fengyue Glass project shenanigans are refusing to go away, especially after Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Mephato Reatile took aim at the imbalance demonstrable in the sale of the failed plant equipment and 100 hectares of land. But Government has indicated that it was well aware that it will never recover the P500 million gobbled by the briefcase Chinese company behind the glass project.

The inquisitive legislator had asked the Minister of Trade Industry and Investment whether in view of approximately half a billion Pula of public revenues expended on the Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) Fengyue Glass Manufacturing Plant in Palapye, due regard was made by his Ministry in its decision to sell the Plant for the price for which it was sold by the Liquidator. Reatile also wanted to know how much the 100 hectares of the Plant consisting of a glass producing Plant, Power Sub-Station and the Railway Spur was sold for; and how much was realised after the sale of the 100 hectares of the Fengyue Glass Manufacturing Industrial Estates.

Responding directly to Reatile, Assistant Minister, Biggie Butale indicated that in November 2013, the Board of BDC resolved to place Fengyue Glass Manufacturing Botswana (Pty) Ltd under liquidation and a provisional liquidator was appointed. “Liquidation is a process by which a company is dissolved or wound up, and the assets and properties of the company are sold and the proceeds thereof redistributed to shareholders,” he explained.

The Minister apportioned all blame to the liquidator: “the liquidator is responsible for the process of winding up the company which includes receiving all claims from creditors as well as the distribution of assets. The liquidator works under the supervision of the Master of the High Court. As such, BDC as a company nor my Ministry had any control or influence over this process.”

However, Butale confirmed that BDC spent half a billion Pula on the project, but stated that it was not possible to recover the money. “Whilst it is acknowledged that BDC spent half a billion Pula through its investment of debt, equity and purchase of the assets of the Fengyue Glass Manufacturing Plant in Palapye, it should be made clear that it was unlikely that the Corporation would recover the capital invested.”

Further, the minister said the sale conducted by the Liquidator was not in respect of the business and equity. “On the contrary, the sale was in respect of the assets of the company. I should however indicate that a credible, auditable and fair process was used by the Liquidator to value the assets of the entity prior to the sale. The assets of the entity were in this regard valued by a Certified Professional Valuer.” He said the valuation report demonstrated that the technical equipment to be sold was either used, incomplete, considerably deteriorated and/or certainly out of any possible warranty by the manufacturer or the supplier.

Butale the liquidator opted for an online auction to maximise recoveries hence ensuring that as many local and international bidders would have access to the sale. According to the Minister, the auction attracted a total of 2 713 bids of which 60 per cent or 1 628 were from Botswana bidders.

He further indicated that the Ministry could not have any say in the amount to be realised from the sale of Fengyue Glass Manufacturing Plant’s assets through the sale process.  The junior minister said following a valuation of the assets as explained above, the land, plant, power station and railway spur were sold for the sum of P54 382 000.00 inclusive of Value Added Tax. “What remained following the sale of 110 hectares of Fengyue Glass Manufacturing Industrial Estate was sold for P50 million, these being the movable assets.”

Warren Schewitz’s company was awarded an auction by KPMG for the sale of Fengyue Glass Plant. This publication has established that every bidder who participated was FICA registered and had paid a refundable P5000 deposit. In total there were 2 713 bids placed on 79 assets with an average of 34 bids per asset. Weekend Post understands that following the auction, two high bidders, namely G4 Consulting Engineers and Sable Transport of Zambia failed to pay despite numerous and vigorous correspondence. It has been verified that both actually attended the viewing day and wanted to bid for the entire plant and as such bid extensively on almost every item.

In the first planned auction in 2015, no buyers had shown interest in purchasing the BDC’s Fengyue Glass Manufacturing plant. The plant, situated in Palapye, was sold after the project collapsed amid allegations of corruption and was put under liquidation. The Fengyue glass project was expected to create hundreds of jobs for residents of Palapye and surrounding areas. Amongst the company assets that were up for auction is a float glass plant and equipment. An advert on the sale indicates that the float glass is designed to have a daily melting capacity of 450 tonnes of molten glass and designed in compliance with the China Louyang Float Glass Standards.  The majority of the plant and equipment remained in its original packaging. A list of other goods that are on site has been prepared by the contractor, though it has not been independently checked or verified.

The plant also boasts of a 100 hectare piece of land close to the centre of Palapye and has a dedicated electricity substation with a railway spur. Of the area, 1,000 m by 600m has been fenced. There are also 11 temporary accommodation blocks on site. But these have been temporarily rented out to a third party for a period of two years with 18 months remaining on the lease.

Civil engineering works had commenced on most of the plant and required utilities buildings with the foundations been laid. Also, varying degrees of civil steel and concrete had been completed, though the exact level of completeness is not known. The advert further stated that there are also construction plant and equipment consisting of small tools and heavy plant equipment and machinery, as well as assets from office and accommodation blocks for construction workers. The oxygen plant is believed to be complete and the oxygen is on site but in a self-contained area. The oxygen plant consists of three independent buildings outside the area of the plant, but access to it can only be gained through the main entrance of the plant.

Minister recognizes the BDC journey

This is how Assistant Minister Butale began his response to Reatile’s question: “BDC is a company limited by guarantee which was registered on the 15th April 1970. The company has played a pivotal role in pioneering growth in a number of sectors such as; Aviation with Air Botswana, Car rental with Avis Property Development, Hospitality through Cresta Group of Hotels. BDC has led the industrial development drive of Botswana through the likes of; Sechaba Breweries, Nortex Industries, Kromberg and Schubert, Kwena Rocla and Can Manufacturers.

These companies have been important in the creation of sustainable employment for Batswana. Having started off with an investment base of R20 000.00, BDC now has an asset base of P4.2 Billion. Mr Speaker, let me now respond to the Honourable Member’s specific question on the Fengyue Glass project.” The Minister wants the role BDC played in the past in industrialization and employment creation to be recognized, instead of the Fengyue blemish.

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