Emirate Investment House, a consortium of United Arab Emirates rich businessmen from Dubai are in the process of investing billions of Pula into the entire Selibe Phikwe and SPEDU region and turn them into an empire of value chain businesses and cash spinning enterprises – highly placed sources revealed to WeekendPost this week.
Sources close to developments have disclosed to this publication that investors who recently arrived in the country and were interested in re-opening the mine now want more than the mine and want to turn the whole area into their own economic hub, in line with what the Revitalisation Strategy seeks to achieve.
Suggestions are that Linah Mohohlo who was tasked with coordinating the efforts of resuscitating the once vibrant copper mining town through the Phikwe Revitalisation Strategy played her cards right and convinced the investors to not only pump money into saving BCL alone but to invest in other activities autonomous from mining in the region.
“This is a delegation encompassing highly connected and loaded business magnates, they run and own multinational corporate entities with multibillion dollar revenues, they are looking into tens of billions pula investments locally,” said a source who preferred anonymity. WeekendPost investigations reveal that SPEDU executives along with Mohohlo are scouting for investors from the Emirate Investment House to resource and realize their mandates.
Mohohlo has used her investment wooing expertise to convince and solicit interest from the Abu Dhabi Arabs, and sources reveal she is succeeding as the investors expressed interest and wish to turn the region into their base for agriculture, transport and logistics, international trade as well as manufacturing, exactly what SPEDU seeks to achieve as well.
Sources close to SPEDU and Mohohlo offices have revealed that a chunk of land would be readily available for the Arabs to branch into high value large scale agriculture as well as manufacturing. “The entire SPEDU tourism master plan, agricultural potential unearthing blueprint would be handed over to these investors as soon as they are done with BCL take over,” he said. Minister Kebonang has confirmed that the Dubai investors were not only eyeing BCL but will venture into other business sectors.
“The Emirates Arabs will invest in agriculture, manufacturing, transport and logistics and government is ready to make the ground fertile for them to undertake such ventures as long as jobs are created for our people,” he told WeekendPost this week however underscoring that it might not necessarily be in Phikwe.Efforts to reach Phikwe economic recovery coordinator, Mohohlo were not successful. SPEDU is of the view that their aim was to woo any serious investor to setup economic transforming business and judging by the progress so far, jobs will be created.
THE CASE FOR SELIBE PHIKWE
Selibe Phikwe became a special case last year when government decided to put BCL mine under provisional liquidation due to loss making operations caused by amongst other reasons low copper and nickel commodity prices.BCL dissolution shocked the entire nation and the aftermath left Selibe Phikwe and the entire eastern block in an economic stand still.
Immediately government introduced measures to try counter anticipated socio-economic impacts. From October last year to date the harsh effects of the dissolution of the region’s economic nucleus have not been that catastrophic as anticipated owing to ex-employees still enjoying terminal benefits, and lately shares from their 5 year BCL Staff pension fund which paid collectively over P150 million to qualifying members in February this year.
With the government BCL closure package slowly reaching its afternoon, the aftermaths of the mine closure are expected to hit hard on Phikwe settlers. Incentives included the government paying school fees for former BCL employees’ children attending private English medium schools aimed which is expected to go on until the end of the last quarter of 2017. Currently over a significant number of former BCL miners are still occupying staff houses.
THE BCL SALE
Things may ease up sooner than previously believed should Minister Kebonang’s helter-skelter investor wooing marathon bear fruits, as matter of fact it seems to be already outputting positive results. The group of rich Dubai tycoons are about to seal a deal with Botswana Government on BCL sale – Kebonang was quoted as saying. Critics have raised concerns over the sudden worth of BCL deposits to be up for grabs whereas the initial sentiments were that the company and assets were valueless, as well as lack of consultations on the matter.
However Minister Kebonang, has stated in various interviews about the BCL mine sale that the government reserves the right to consult the public or to deal with the matter privately considering the sensitivity and high value worth and monetary language of the subject. “I don’t know what consultation people are talking about, we are dealing with a sensitive issue here, moving with speed to try and save thousands of jobs by looking for monetary able individuals,” he was quoted as saying recently.
Last week the Dubai investors visited BCL and undertook a due diligence exercise, a comprehensive appraisal of a business undertaken by a prospective buyer, especially to establish its assets and liabilities and evaluate its commercial potential. Reports indicate that the investors were impressed by what they saw.
“They assessed the company assets and looked into any information they required,” Provisional Liquidator Dixon-Warren had revealed. According to him, the prospective buyers are expected to make an offer and if agreed upon, purchase of shares would be conducted. “The intention is to put liquidation at halt as soon as possible and hand over the assets to the investors,” he said.
Kebonang revealed last week that government as the largest BCL creditor because of shareholding is willing to forgo its stake from BCL sale returns so that other creditors can be fully paid. “We are looking at about 300 million USD these investors are willing to pay as an offer to take over the assets; and looking at that money, almost all of it will go to creditors such as BPC, Altlas Corp, Air lique just to name but a few and the government will only in return be looking at having its people going back to work,” he explained last week in an interview with one of the local private radio stations.
Kebonang also added that the new BCL owners would further pump over 2 billion pula into the mine to prepare it for operation “well over 2 billion will be required to refurbish the mine, remodel and restructure the mining shafts, and re-arrange the smelting operations to re-craft the entire mining setup to a modern profit making operation,” he stipulated.
NAPRO UP FOR SALE
National Agro Processing Plant (NAPRO) is also geared for privatization, WeekendPost has gathered. Established last year as National Food Technology and Research Centre (NAFTRC) commercial arm, NAPRO processes tomatoes, onions and other vegetables to increase their shelf life. The plant initially established and funded by Office of the President with over P100 million is said to be approaching zero balance status in their working capital accounts.
Earlier this year in Talana Farms, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Partrick Ralotisa made remarks that the Plant would be sold to any interested investors with the aim of turning it into a world-class food processing entity. Information reaching WeekendPost suggests the Dubai investors have been sold the idea of pocketing NAPRO as well to enhance their agricultural and food processing ambitions in Botswana.
An Executive from NAPRO who preferred anonymity told this publication that rumours of the plant being privatized have reached their understanding “Yes, we know that any time we might find ourselves no longer under NAFTRC of Botswana Government,” they said. According to the source NAPRO financial figures are not commercial and business viable for continuity under the current setup.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.