Selibe Phikwe might be considered for the multibillion pula Coal Liquefaction Project (CLP) by Botswana Oil Limited, Acting Minister in the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Nonofo Molefhi had told Parliament.
Minister Molefhi was addressing a question tabled by Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse, who wanted parliament to be updated on the progress of the much anticipated coal-to-liquids project, what it entails, the current stage of project implementation and timelines as well as projected employment opportunities to be created by the billion dollar petroleum end product undertaking.
The youthful Selibe Phikwe lawmaker also wanted to know the prospects of Selibe Phikwe being considered for housing the plant as part of the town’s resuscitation and economic recovery undertakings after the sudden demise of BCL mine late last year, which resulted in thousand job losses.
In response, Molefhi who was standing in for Minister Sadique Kebonang, who was reported to be abroad on BCL acquisition matters, told parliament that the Ministry of was currently going through proposals from interested petroleum companies from the private sector who put forth expressions to develop a Coal-to-Liquids (CTL) Plant. The plant is expected to convert Botswana ‘s abundant tones of coal to petroleum fluids.
“Mr Speaker, my Ministry is inundated with requests and proposals from the private sector to develop Coal to Liquids plant (CTL) in Botswana together with Botswana Oil Limited (BOL)” Molefhi said, explaining that their interest was to have Botswana Oil Limited as the anchor customer of their petroleum products.
“As you are aware, Botswana imports all her petroleum requirements (approximately 1.2 billion liters per year) from the Republic of South Africa with small quantities coming from Namibia and Mozambique” he noted. It is believed that the development of the CTL plant will go a long way in ensuring that Botswana becomes fuel self-sufficient with further potential of being a net exporter of petroleum products in Southern Africa and the African region.
Reports from parliament indicate that the coal to liquids projects require substantial investment; it is estimated that the plant which would meet Botswana’s current annual demand of 1.2 billion of petroleum products could costs between US $ 3 – 4 billion (P40 billion) over a four (4) to five (5) year construction period.
According to Minister Molefhi although the Government recognizes the importance of the project as well as its potential turn around to economic diversification efforts, the Selibe Phikwe East Lawmaker observes that it will however be very expensive for the state to develop the plant alone. “Though this would replace the current importation of approximately one billion liters of petroleum products annually, the expenditure will be too high for Government under the current financial pressures to bear” he said.
Molefhi also added that currently government through the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security is readying itself for assessment processes in which it will screen and come up with qualified private companies to partner with Botswana Oil Limited: “As things stand, my Ministry has developed a Pre-Qualification criteria which will be used to select companies that can be facilitated in order to realize the project. The Pre-Qualification Notice will be in the media platforms soon” He said.
The Acting Minister noted that the project will be a private sector led investment, with Government’s role limited to being that of facilitator. “Botswana Oil Limited as a company mandated to ensure Botswana‘s petroleum self sufficiency is engaging experts in the field to provide Technical Advisory Services to Botswana Government.” He revealed that currently the project was at concept stage with no detailed studies conducted as yet.
“The project schedule and timelines will become realistic once consultants are on the ground and that of course is being planned for end of this month, the private sector also continues to explore avenues of implementing the project’” Said Molefhi.
PROSPECTS OF THE CTL PLANT BEING SET UP IN PHIKWE
Following the placing of Bamangwato Concessions Limited (BCL) under provisional liquidation, Botswana government has devised economic recovery strategies to revitalize the town and the entire Region which used to be lively before the demise of its economic engine, BCL mine.
Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament, Dithapelo Keorapetse wants government and Botswana Oil to facilitate the Coal-to Liquids plant towards being built in Phikwe, a project he explains will make a permanent economic turnaround in the town and the entire SPEDU region. When posing a supplementary question after Minister Molefhi‘s description of the project in parliament last week “Thank you Honourable Minister.
I just wanted to find out from you, in light of what you have said about the cost of the project, whether you are working with any multilateral or bilateral development partners in that regard? Also concerning Selibe Phikwe, don’t you think that this is a project in which Selibe Phikwe must be given priority given the recent placement of BCL under provisional liquidation?”
In response however, Minister Molefhi, who is also an MP for Selebi Phikwe East, noted that the location of the project will depend largely on the feasibility studies by consultants and potential investors. He added that the availability of resources and accessibility of raw materials being coal, will influence the decision of plant location.
“The location of the CTL plant will be greatly influenced by the availability of raw materials, the distance from the plant will be critical, of course that will also take into consideration lowering of costs of production to ensure that they are manageable. My Ministry through Botswana Oil Company will work closely with the private sector and other sectors of Government to ensure that the project addresses the current challenges and facilitate the investment by the private sector” he explained.
Molefhi stipulated that considering the situation in Selibe Phikwe after closure of BCL mine, the shortlisted investors will have the discretion to decide on the location of the plant, “The consultants will manage the guideline and the framework which has been designed for the selection and the short listing of potential investors.
The decision on the location of the plant is a decision to be made by the investors. Taking into account what is also available for Selibe Phikwe as incentive packages, Government would soon be announcing the extent of packages and that is designed to motivate people to consider Selibe Phikwe as an investment zone”.
Since location of the project will also be influenced by the cost benefit analysis, if it is found that locating project in Selibe Phikwe away from where the abundance of the resources are (Palapye), can be accommodated, at that point a decision would be made by the investors and of course they will take into consideration the incentive packages which Government would extend or has decided to extend to Selibe Phikwe as a Special Economic Zone
When speaking to WeekendPost this past week, Keorapetse added that since structures and mechanism is already in place, which transported coal from Morupule to BCL mine, the same infrastructure can be sourced and used, if the plant is in Selibe Phikwe. “Since government is somewhat constrained to immediately start the project because of unavailability of resources.
The state should amenably engage multilateral and bilateral development partners like it did with projects such as Kazungula Bridge, for instance, for sourcing out resources to immediately start this project and give Selibe Phikwe a priority, especially given that the primary raw material for the project is coal and this coal was used by BCL from Morupule Colliery and it can just be a continuation of the usage of that coal’’ he said
The Acting Minister who is also in this regard Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe East told this publication that consultations have been extensive in terms of looking at the scope of the project, its potential and cost of investment and therefore government will be putting up the project to public tender.
“We will be doing so, so that we are able to select the experts who will provide Government with the appropriate advice. On the basis of that, we would then progress the project to the next level where the selected companies would then determine the extent of the investment, at this point in time, it is difficult to give an estimated number of people the project can employ. Like I said, we are still at concept design stage,” Molefhi explained.
This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.
The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.
Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at 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. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”