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.
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.
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.
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.