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Norilsk Nickel Group sues Gov’t for P2.8 billion

Norilsk Nickel Group is suing Botswana’s government in efforts to recover close to P3 billion after a deal gone sour. The Russian miner, in a loaded statement released on Friday, says the lawsuit is the last resort after it failed to find an amicable solution, laying blame on the lack of commitment from the government of Botswana.


“MMC Norilsk Nickel Group (hereinafter “Norilsk Nickel”) has served notice that it intends to commence legal proceedings in Botswana against the Government of Botswana in respect of its involvement in the reckless trading of BCL Limited and BCL Investments Proprietary Limited (together “BCL”), with a view of recovering the USD 271 million plus damages and other costs that are owed to Norilsk Nickel in relation to the sale of a 50% interest in the Nkomati mine in South Africa (“the Nkomati deal”) and the USD 6.4 million that are owed to Norilsk Nickel in relation to the sale of the Tati mine in Botswana,” the company said in a press release statement.


Norilsk says it is suing the Botswana’s government since it is the ultimate shareholder of BCL through its corporate vehicle MDCB, adding also that the notice to sue was served under section 4 of the State Proceedings (Civil Actions by or against Government or Public Officers) Act and was served on the Attorney General of Botswana, the Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, and the Minister of Finance.


This is the second attempt by the Russian miner to sue the government for breach of contract. The first law suit was filed last December but later withdrawn after negotiations with the government, with Norilsk agreeing to become the creditor on the ongoing liquidation of BCL group. In the centre of the lawsuit is a deal gone wrong that began when Norilsk agreed in October 2014 to sell their operations in Africa to BCL for a total price of $337 million (P3.5 billion), though that amount was later reduced when Norilsk agreed to price concessions requested by BCL and the Government. The concessions by Norilsk were in light of falling commodity prices.


The Russian miner’s main line of arguments are that the Nkomati deal, which was announced by BCL as a strategic priority as part of its high-profile “Polaris II” diversification and investment strategy, was designed to guarantee the long-term future of BCL’s operations by securing the supply of concentrate to its smelter in Selebi Phikwe, Botswana. This line of argument by Norilsk is intended to highlight the overarching role of the government of Botswana in the deal.


“The Government was involved in or approved all material decisions relating to this transaction. It is well known that BCL had always historically relied on financial support from the Government to survive and, in view of BCL’s financial position, it was clear that most if not all of the funding for the Nkomati deal would have to come from or be guaranteed by the Government,” the company explained in the press statement.


The trouble began to emerge when the government started developing cold feet. According to the press statement, BCL became obliged to buy Nkomati on 13 September 2016. However, BCL and the government have made no attempts to complete the deal, in clear breach of the agreement with Norilsk.


In a shock twist, Norilsk says in October 2016, it learned through the media that BCL had been placed into provisional liquidation by the government in an apparent attempt to avoid its obligations to Norilsk. At that point, the Russian miner says it has tried on numerous occasions, and through numerous channels, to reach a satisfactory and amicable resolution, but none has been forthcoming.


“Norilsk has therefore been left with little option but to pursue a resolution through legal channels.  In its claim against the Government, Norilsk asserts that the business of BCL has been carried on recklessly and that the Government was party to that recklessness through the actions of individual Government Ministers, MDCB and the Government-appointed directors on BCL’s board,” read part of the statement.


The statement goes on to explain how the Botswana government cannot just simply walk away from the deal since it was the government that was instrumental and gave surety that it will come to the BCL rescue should BCL find itself in a financial mess. “In addition to the Government taking and being involved in material decisions in relation to the management of BCL, it was also aware of BCL’s financial situation throughout, and knew or ought to have known that there was no reasonable prospect of it being able to pay the amounts due to Norilsk without support from the Government.

 

Norilsk was also provided with assurances throughout the negotiations for the deal that the Government was fully supportive of the Nkomati transaction, and that BCL would perform its obligations in full.  Yet, when the time for completion of the deal came, it became apparent that the Government had had no intention of supporting BCL and had in fact taken steps which meant that BCL would not be able to perform its obligations.”


In its claim, Norilsk will ask for a court order making the government responsible for paying all of the liabilities due from BCL under its agreement with Norilsk and the costs of the intended court proceedings.  “The Government has displayed a complete disregard for the fair, frank and reasonable dealing with outsiders which BCL’s insolvent circumstances demanded.  It has failed to honour the obligations under the sale agreement concluded with Norilsk in October 2014,” said Michael Marriott, Norilsk Nickel Africa CEO.


“Throughout the process Norilsk has acted in good faith, and given the Government and BCL repeated opportunities and offers of assistance to complete the transaction, including concessions to significantly reduce the sale price,” he added. The lawsuit is expected to bring the spotlight on Botswana’s government which has been for many years known for its respect for the rule of law. Just recently, the country was ranked highly as the most attractive investment destination in Africa in an Africa Investment Index 2016 by Quantum Global’s independent research arm, Quantum Global Research Lab


“Botswana has a reputation as one of the safest and best places to invest in the whole of Africa and it has earned the strongest credit rating on the continent on that basis.  The way that the Government of Botswana has acted over BCL brings the validity of that reputation into question.  The negative ramifications could be felt across the economy of the whole country,” the CEO of Norilsk Africa said in a thinly veiled threat. The press statement concluded with a threat to block any sale of BCL assets to any interested investor if the Botswana government fails to recognise the rights of Norilsk and what is due to them.


“On a related issue, it would appear that the Government of Botswana is in negotiations with potential investors about a possible sale of BCL. Norilsk reiterates its rights in relation to the Nkomati and Tati transactions and will continue to seek the repayment of the outstanding debts by all legal means. In this regard, Norilsk expects its rights to be recognised by the Government in its negotiations and in any agreement ultimately reached in relation to BCL, failing which Norilsk reserves its rights, including to challenge any such agreement.”

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Botswana’s development agenda in jeopardy

21st September 2020
Botswana’s-development-agenda-in-jeopardy--water-construction

Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review indicates that Botswana will fail to meet some of its Vision 2036 targets, particularly unemployment reduction and reaching high-income status.

The report says this is mainly due to the slow economic growth that the country is currently experiencing. This Quarterly Economic Review focuses on the 2020 Budget Speech.

The first paper reviews the entire budget with its key observations being that this budget is prepared as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act; the priorities it seeks to address are drawn from Vision 2036 and the eleventh

The 2020 budget Speech, which was the maiden speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, and the first after the 2019 general elections, was delivered to Parliament on the 4th of February 2020.

It has been well received by the labour unions, business community, and the public at large as well as international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It mainly derived its support from key facets including, emphasis on changing the business-as-usual approach to development; outlining the transformation agenda; fiscal reform that minimizes the negative impact on economic development and human welfare, competiveness and the decision to implement the 2019 negotiated and agreed public sector.

The budget’s progress review shows that economic growth was consistent with the NDP 11 projections, with growth of around 4 percent. At this growth rate, the country would neither ascend to a high-income status nor reduce unemployment towards the Vision 2036 target of a single digit.

Simple calculations of this review confirm that the economy will need to grow the Vision 2036’s target of 6 percent over the next 16 years for per capita income to increase from around USD 8,000.00 to above USD 12,000.00 in current prices.

Further, the population is anticipated to grow by only 2 percent per annum.

For this reason, the focal areas for the forthcoming FY’s budget include measures to increase economic growth towards an average of 6 percent per annum.

Economic diversification is reportedly progressing fairly well. The report says, the share of the non-mining private sector in value added has risen to 66 percent in 2018 from to 63 percent in 2015.

The sectoral pattern of growth showed that the performance of services sector (particularly transport & communications, trade, hotels & restaurants, and finance & business services) has been the silver lining and that of mining sector was subdued whilst the utility sector disappointed.

The drive towards the service sector of the economy, especially to low-productivity activities (tourism, public administration, wholesaling and retailing) does not bode well for the country’s development aspirations.

In the previous versions of this Quarterly Review, it was noted that there is need for the rethinking of economic diversification. Since the country’s domestic market is small, it is inevitable that economic diversification not only focus on broadening the product mix, but also the composition of exports and markets.

This understanding of economic diversification has not been embraced by this year’s budget. Consequently, Botswana’s exports are still overwhelmingly diamonds, which means that the rest of economic sectors are still highly dependent on foreign-exchange earnings from diamonds. Thus, “the transformation programme requires a review of the country’s entire ecosystem”.

The budget review of the economic context also depicts that an economy with positive medium-term prospects, with growth expected to recover to 4.4 percent in 2020 from the expected growth of 36 percent in 2019 largely due to faster growth of services sectors and, thereafter, to slow-down to 4 percent in 2021.

These projected growth rates are comparable to those of the IMF staff’s baseline scenario of 4.2 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2021. Thus, the business-as-usual scenario produces growth rates that are still too low to achieve Botswana’s development objectives and create enough jobs to absorb the new entrants into the labour market.

Trade tensions between the two major markets for diamond exports, viz., the United States of America and China, is one of the factors that are cited as contributing to, indeed, undermining not only the domestic growth, but also the fiscal position.

Another notable downside risk to both global and domestic growth is outbreak of the coronavirus in China around January 2020. This has been declared as a global health emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Chinese authorities have ordered city lockdowns and extended holidays, of course, at the expense of near- term economic growth, according to the new Stanbic Bank Botswana report.

According to Nomura Holdings Inc., fewer migrant workers returned for work than in previous years and business activities have been slow to pick up. The havoc wreaked by the virus on the world’s second largest economy is likely to spill over to the global economy. In fact, it has resulted in a glut in crude oil and, thereby placed oil markets into a contango, i.e., a market structure where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts.

It also presents significant risks one of Botswana’s main drivers of economic growth, diversification and foreign exchange earnings. According to the Financial Times (February 13, 2020), Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018. Regardless of whether the growth materializes, the projected domestic growth rate would not transform the economy to a high-income one.

Progress towards reduction of unemployment, to a target of single digit, and poverty and achieving inclusive growth has also been relatively slow, the Stanbic Bank Botswana Review says.

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OP leases Orapa House

21st September 2020
Orapa House

Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MOPAGPA) has through the Office of the President (OP) proposed to avail Orapa House for use by private training institutions as well as research institutions involved in the area of technology development.

For a very long time the monumental building located in the heart of the city has been a white elephant, despite government purchasing it for nearly P80 million from De Beers in 2012.

However, government has now identified a productive use for the iconic building. “The overall vision is for the building to be transformed into a hub for digital technology research and development to be carried-out by institutions, such as; Limkokwing University, BIUST, BITRI and other relevant stakeholders.”

The decision was taken as government traverse a new path of transforming the economy from a mineral led economy to a knowledge based economy through the promotion of research and innovation. However, the facility will need major maintenance to be carried-out in order to meet the requirements of the proposed change in use.

“The work will include provision of laboratories, work stations, production areas and seminar rooms; audio visual centre, high speed internet connectivity, exhibition areas and offices,” reads the proposal note for the development.

These developments will be done through the refurbishment and maintenance of the main building, workshop, and ablution block, gate house, parking area, grounds, and access control and security service.

“There will be minimal modifications to the structure as it stands. The project is estimated to cost approximately P50, 000, 000,” says the report. In this regard, it is said, the initial scope of the OP facility will be modified to accommodate the envisaged digital technology research and development hub.

With funds needed to improve the building, OP has requested that; “the 2020/21 annual budget provision for Orapa House will need to be increased by P37,500,000 from P2,500,000 to P40,000,000 to kick start the maintenance works.” Funds will be sourced from the projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19 protocols during the 2020/21 financial year.

The building has been a thorny issue for government for years. Initially, OP was expected to move there but the move never materialised. At one point it was a question of whether the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development were planning to override a decision by Parliament which rejected the proposal to buy Orapa House under the belief that government may be buying its own property. The building was to be bought at a negotiated cost of P79 million.

Again in 2012, Government had wanted to buy Orapa House for a negotiated P79m but the Finance and Estimates Committee of Parliament had rejected the request because of the inconsistencies realised in the supporting documents of the proposed procurement. The valuation of the building was put at P74 million.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing had initially offered De Beers P73, 000,000 as the purchase price. However, De Beers countered with P85, 000,000. On negotiation and converging of the minds, the selling price was finally agreed at P79, 000,000.

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Sad state of Brigades: dumped and ignored!

21st September 2020
Brigades

Auditor General, Pulane Letebele, has expressed discontentment at the worrying and deteriorating state of brigades in the country.

In an audit inspection which was carried out at Tshwaragano Brigade in Gabane, a number of observations showed weaknesses and shortcomings in the conduct of the financial affairs of the institution.

According to Letebele’s report, former students of the brigade had been engaged to carry out maintenance works on the school premises, comprising of painting, tiling, plumbing and electrical works, which covered the period from July 2017 to June 2018.

Although the agreed maintenance period had elapsed, the works had not been completed because of unavailability of funds and this situation had persisted up till the time of inspection in November 2019.

Auditor General says arrangements should have been made in time for funds to be available to complete these relatively minor works even before the works commenced.

Various contractors had been engaged for clearing the bush and for the supply of concrete stones, pit and river sand and hiring equipment for digging the trench towards the construction of an auto mechanics workshop, the report said.

It stated that the cost of services and supplies provided totalled P117 949.80. However, despite the services and the supplies having been paid for, the construction works had not commenced for a long period afterwards, resulting in the trench filling back in.

The audit inquiries had not elicited satisfactory responses as both the institution and the Ministry had not accepted the responsibility for the project, although orders for the provision for the supplies had been made. For their part, the Ministry had stated that they had sub warranted funds for the purchase of porta cabins.

Letebele indicated that it is therefore confusing that a project which is critical to the functioning of an institution such as this one would commence without a well-defined plan.

Furthermore, the accounting and maintenance of records for the supplies items were not of the standard prescribed by the Supplies Regulations and Procedures in that the supplies ledger cards, the main accounting records for Government assets, were not properly maintained for the recording of receipts and issues.

This had resulted in significant discrepancies between physical and ledger balances, while in other instances the supplies items had not been recorded at all.

The report says 24 of the 91 new computers found in the computer laboratory at Kumakwane ABC campus were not recorded anywhere, as were the other computers in the storeroom which could not be counted due to the disorderly storage conditions.

The institution had entered into a contract agreement with a security company for the provision of security services at Tshwaragano Brigade, ABC and Horticulture campuses at Kumakwane for a 2-year period which ended in June 2018, WeekendPost learnt.

After the contract expired in June 2018, an extension was granted till the 30th September 2018. Since then, there has been no security service coverage for the institution to-date. According to Auditor General, in the face of prevailing crimes, it is of paramount importance that government properties be protected by provision of security services at all times.

At Tlokweng Brigade, it was noted that the kitchen staff were working under difficult conditions as the kitchen facilities and equipment, such as the cold room, tilting pot, food warmers and solar power for hot water were dysfunctional. The kitchen roof was leaking and men’s restrooms was not working. All these need to be brought to a reasonable and functional state of repair.

The kitchen staff should use a purpose-designed Rations Ledger for the recording of receipts and issues of foodstuffs to reflect the usage of those items. As far back as 2014 the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services had found that the house occupied by the bursar was uninhabitable on account of structural defects, the report said.

A site visit during the audit had established that the house was indeed unfit for occupation as there were cracks on the walls, power switches were not working and the roof was leaking. On a sadder note, there were a number of finished items of clothing, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets from students’ practical exercises from the Fashion Design Textiles Workshop.

Auditor General shared her take on this, saying: “I have not been able to ascertain the policy on the disposal of products from these practicals. A trace of 103 green acid-proof overalls which had been purchased in August 2018 had indicated that there was no record of these items having been recorded or issued, nor were they available in stock. I was not able to obtain any explanation for this situation.”

Kgatleng brigade was also audited and inspected by Auditor General who observed that the brigade has 26 institutional houses at Bokaa, both old campus and new campus. Some of these houses are very old and dilapidated, with two declared uninhabitable. The condition of the houses is a clear indication of lack of care and maintenance of these properties.

At the time of the audit, there was no contractor engaged for the provision of security guard services at the new campus, after expiry of the previous one in July 2019.  It is hoped that steps would be taken to safeguard the security of the premises and government properties against any acts of hooliganism.

In August 2019, there was a break-in at the electrical and at the plumbing maintenance workshops and a number of high value items, such as drilling machines, bolt cutters, spanners and cables, were stolen. The break-in and theft were reported to the police.

“However, at the time of writing this report I was not aware of the outcome of the police investigation, nor of any loss report submitted in terms of the Supplies Regulations and Procedures,” Letebele said.

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