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MAHUPELA: I will turn around Phikwe through SPEDU

Government this week announced the liquidation of BCL, a copper and nickel mining company which was the second largest employer in the country employing over 4000 people and was the heartbeat of Selibe Phikwe economy. Only Debswana, a diamond company, employs more people.

Explaining factors that led to the liquidation decision, members of a cabinet subcommittee commissioned by President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama to evaluate and map the way forward on the future of the unprofitable mine noted the decision to liquidate was informed by the poor performance of the copper nickel in the global market.

BCL liquidation has prompted many to zoom into the leadership of Daniel Mahupela, the General Manager of BCL who took over the reins in 2011 from Montwedi Mphati who currently flourishes at the helm of Southern Africa’s largest salt and soda ash producer BOTASH. The company is enjoying positive figures ever since Mphati relocated to Sowa Town. BOTASH paid P91 million dividends to Government for the 2015 financial year alone. Currently Mahupela also doubles as SPEDU board chairman, an institution mandated to transform the town and the regional economy. This further piles more pressure on the embattled Mahupela. BCL mine workers have not hesitated to compare him to his predecessor, Mphati and he does not rank well.

At the point of Mphati’s exit from BCL, the company was enjoying a slightly positive cash flow owing to profitable global commodity prices and perhaps good corporate governance. BCL was involved in various income diversifying projects like fruit and vegetable production, Mine Museum and other CSI undertakings.

RECKLESS INVESTMENT DECISIONS UNDER MAHUPELA

Immediately after assuming office, Daniel Mahupela developed a huge appetite under what was to be name BCL investment Pty Ltd, a subsidiary company under BCL limited aimed at finding diverse ways to help expand the company’s treasury. Mahupela and his board, which was at the time led by Dr Akolang Tombale of the financially troubled  BMC, was to inject US$337 million(P2.9 billion) into BCL Investments for the acquisition of Tati Nickel Mine and 50% stake of Nkomati mine in South Africa, in both transactions  BCL was buying out Norilsk Nickel operations  from Africa.

Quoted in 2014 at a press conference announcing the acquisition, Mahupela said: “On October 17, 2014 BCL Limited through its wholly owned subsidiary, BCL Investment (Pty) Ltd entered into a binding sale and purchase agreements (the SPA’s) with Norilsk Nickel Mauritius (NNM) and other international Norilsk Nickel Group Companies for the acquisition of 100 per cent of the issued share capital of Norilsk Nickel Africa (NNAf) and Tati Nickel Mining Company.” BCL became South African billionaire’s partner in the Nkomati mine which faced possible closure before Mahupela came to rescue.

However the acquisitions never boosted BCL’s financial muscle as anticipated, but rather only added more misery to the company’s negative balance sheet. Sources close to the echelons of power revealed to WeekendPost that cabinet’s decision was influenced mainly by the Nkomati mine debt alone.

The mine alone is reported to be responsible for P3 billion of the BCL debt. “The Nkomati Bill alone is at $US265 million, the 2014 transaction is the reason why BCL is liquidating now,” said a source who preferred anonymity.

Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse also confirmed the Nkomati deal crippled BCL. Norilsk Nickel Group disinvested out of  Africa and decided to sell all of its African Operations owing to anticipated commodity price fall, and Mahupela‘s BCL Investment (PTY) Ltd was there to purchase the depleting business.

Earlier in 2014 BCL Investment bailed out another financial troubled business in Pula Steel, Daniel Mahupela approved 30 million Pula for the steel manufacture on 50.5 % equity investment. Pula Steel struggled to takeoff, a year down the line the steel casting & Manufacture Company was shut down owing to poor financial management, environmental unfriendly operations, and workers were put on indefinite no pay leave. Pula Steel is almost dead. Indications are that BCL spent roughly P150 million on Pula Steel.

MAHUPELA’S DATE WITH SPEDU

Daniel Mahupela was appointed Chairman of SPEDU board in September 2013. Selibe Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU) was  established in 2008 under the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, set up to facilitate economic diversification within the area. In 2012 SPEDU was transferred to the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry and has since been incorporated as a company.

SPEDU was transformed into a company so as to have it operate semi-autonomously outside the cumbersome government processes. For the three years that Mahupela was presiding over major decisions and approving major financial undertakings and expenditures at SPEDU, Mahupela has been occasionally fingered on numerous alleged conflicts of interest. In July 2015 Mahupela was reported to be suspended by Minister Vincent Seretse on allegations of having used inside information to influence the formation of a Recycled Energy and Fuels company which was to be based in Sefhophe within the SPEDU region. Mahupela’s associate was to be the director of Recycled Energy and Fuels Company, owned by the Verma family who were already in partnership with BCL at Pula Steel Casting and Manufacturers, a subsidiary of BCL Limited.

Reports indicated that the project was one of the proposed undertakings by SPEDU and board members were shocked that Mahupela was involved in the formation of a similar company.

Information gathered by WeekendPost shows that SPEDU wanted to complement the steel recycling company by empowering one of the communities to start a recycling company dealing especially with used tyres but was shocked that the Vermas and Mahupelas have already started one.  Mahupela later denied his suspension and reports reveal that Vincent Seretse was brought to calm by Mahupela’s questions over James Mathokgwane’s appointment.

Again in July 2015, Daniel Mahupela reportedly had a rift with SPEDU CEO, Dr Mokubung Mokubung over the employment of former acting SPEDU CEO, Monte Phuthego as caretaker consultant for research. Phuthego was engaged as a caretaker consultant by Mahupela at a cost of P1.5 million with benefits which included a housing allowance and a company car and Mahupela had done so without consulting other board and senior management members.

SPEDU intends to transform and resurrect the economy of Selibe Phikwe with Mining, Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Tourism and of the four strategic areas; Daniel Mahupela leadership has failed dismally in all of them.  

The Pula Steel investment is best described as ‘dead man walking’- observers say this casts doubt on Mahupela’s ability to lead an entity like SPEDU.  His negligence of the BCL farm suggests he has no plans to unearth jobs and increase trade through agriculture. To date BCL is yet to set up the proposed museum that was intended to display the rich history of copper and nickel locally, proving Mahupela‘s lack of business acumen. At SPEDU, 50 percent of expenditure is directed to workers’ salaries only, this publication gathered from Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Enterprises recently.

The committee led by Samson Guma Moyo expressed concern over SPEDU’s lack of urgency on the future of Selibe Phikwe. This publication has it on good authority that Mahupela might just have sown his appetite seed for bailing out failed companies into SPEDU’s investment plans as he is on the verge of influencing SPEDU to take over Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) stake at Talana farms after the Government equity investor liquidated the farm when Bashi Gaetsaloe took over. The deal is said to be almost complete as the other partner (yet to be disclosed) has already paid up P1.5 million to secure the farm. It is still to be seen if the man who failed dismally at the day to day driving seat of the town’s economic heart beat can resurrect the town through a vehicle called SPEDU which he chairs.

MAHUPELA REMAINS DEFIANT – I WILL TURN AROUND PHIKWE

When responding to concerns about his inability to lead Phikwe out economic crush as SPEDU chairman, the soft spoken Daniel Mahupela told weekendpost on a telephone interview Wednesday October 13th around 12:12 pm, that SPEDU has day to day executive staff that works tirelessly to transform the economy of the town. He explained that the board exists to give guidance and accountability. “I am not in a good position to comment about SPEDU, as am currently engaged in complex matters of handing over operations and paperwork to the liquidator, but I can tell you that SPEDU is in good shape and will resuscitate this town,” said Mahupela .

Sharing more on his SPEDU chairmanship Mr Mahupela told Weekend Post that he was not aware of any rifts or un-cordial relationship between or within his board and executive management. “Like I said I cannot comment much about SPEDU, we are in good progress at SPEDU, that’s why I am still chairman, you can ask the Minister if there are any developments.”

For his side of story on allegations of poor decision making at BCL, Mahupela explained that the acquisition of Nkomati mine was influenced by the desire to keep the smelter full peak operational, and that BCL was in the process of reviving the farm under new strategies that complemented the efforts of the National Agro Processing Plant.

For their part SPEDU management declined to talk about the developments, and efforts to contact Minister Vincent Seretse were unsuccessful as he was said to be engaged with back to back meetings.

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Media have a Role in Accelerating Harm Reduction Adoption

8th December 2022

African Scientists and Experts Call for the adoption of a Harm Reduction in approach in Public Health Strategies and Tobacco Control. Media have a critical role to play in accelerating Harm Reduction efforts by informing and sensitizing cigarette smokers on the availability and benefits of alternative, potentially lower risk products to cigarretes. Traditional cessation and smoking prevention norms are not the only ways that smokers who cannot or don’t’ want to quit can make healthier choices that cause less harm to themselves and those around them.

This was said during the 2nd Harm Reduction Exchange conference for African journalists held in Nairobi, Kenya on the 1st of December 2022. Speaking at the Harm Reduction Exchange Conference, Integra Africa Principal Dr. Tendai Mhizha emphasized the role that journalists and media houses should play in handling misinformation and disinformation in tobacco harm reduction discourse that is actually perpetuating the death and disease caused by people continuing to smoke combustible cigarettes. “There has been a lot of disinformation surrounding the topic of nicotine and the alleged negative effects that e-cigarettes have on public health.

This has led to policies that disfavour risk reduces products and narratives that completely deny their benefits. The media have the difficult responsibility to curb the scourge of disinformation and misinformation on harm reduction just like on other socio-political stances that are prescriptive and do not uphold consumers’ right to healthier lifestyle choices,” Dr Mhizha said.

The Harm Reduction Exchange cast a spotlight on alternative ways to reduce harm among tobacco smokers. Held under the theme Harm Reduction: Making a difference in Africa, the conference focused on the progress being made through harm reduction strategies in all fields related to public health such as drug and alcohol abuse, excessive sugar consumption, skin lightening and other addictive and behavioral practices. A wide array of harm reduction strategies and initiatives that are deployed towards reducing unnecessary deaths through non-communicable diseases were presented and discussed.

On his part, Prof. Abdoul Kassé, a world renowned and awarded Oncologist and a Professor of Surgery at the Cancer Institute in Senegal, said that Harm Reduction is a powerful public A Summary of the HR Exchange 30th November  1st December 2022 health tool that has the potential to reduce cancer by 30% and should be at the centre of all public health development strategies. Harm reduction, he said, has already benefited many people in public health and is the most viable alternative in tobacco control.

It applies to areas where there is a need to reduce the harm associated with a practice or consumption of a substance that is overused in society leading to increased morbidity and mortality. “Innovative Harm Reduction initiatives will help to keep more Africans alive. Tobacco Harm Reduction initiatives, including the use of popular e-cigarettes, nicotine patches and chewing gums, have continued to generate a lot of misunderstanding in both the public health community and in the media. However, there is evidence that the use of potentially less harmful alternatives than cigarettes for those who are not willing or cannot give up smoking with currently approved methods may be a solution, not necessarily the best for everyone but by far better than continuous smoking.

Where cessation repeatedly fails, switching to less harmful products is expected to result in benefits for many smokers,” Prof. Abdoul Kassé said. Similarly, views were expressed by Kenya’s Dr. Vivian Manyeki who said tobacco Harm Reduction has a solid scientific and medical basis, and it has a lot of promise as a public health measure to assist millions of smokers. “Many smokers are unable, or at least unwilling, to achieve cessation through complete nicotine and tobacco abstinence. They continue smoking despite the very real and obvious adverse health consequences and against the multiple public health campaigns. Conventional smoking cessation proposals should be complemented with alternative but more realistic options through Harm Reduction,” Dr. Manyeki said.

Tobacco Harm Reduction was introduced to mitigate the damage caused by cigarette smoking—the most dangerous form of tobacco use, and the leading cause of preventable diseases, including cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “Nicotine has an addictive potential but plays a minor role in smoking-related morbidity and mortality. Across the world, there is growing interest among experts in novel approaches towards tobacco control and there is an ongoing discussion that reducing the negative effects of smoking can be also achieved by tobacco harm reduction,” Dr. Kgosi Letlape, an ophthalmologist and President of Africa Medical Association and the president of the Association of Medical Councils of Africa, said.

Tobacco cessation is a key factor in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Abstinence from tobacco smoking is one of the primary goals for health promotion and management globally but it is unachievable in a huge amount of cases. This task remains unaccomplished despite extensive public campaigns on the health dangers of tobacco smoking. Thus, the development of novel strategies to reduce smoking is imperative. Moreover, the use of innovations in smoking products has been currently adopted by several smokers to reduce the health risks of smoking.

“The Harm Reduction approach prevents drug-related deaths and overdose fatalities and is the only way out for addicts. In the same way these alternative technologies can reduce tobacco harm and accelerate the journey to a smoke-free world as they reduce exposure to toxicants,” Bernice Apondi, A Policy Manager at Voices of Community Action and Leadership Kenya (VOCAL-Kenya), said.

During the Harm Reduction Exchange, journalists drawn from Southern, West and East African countries, including: Nigeria, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Eswatini, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe debated and set forth several resolutions in regards to the present and future as well as the challenges and progress made in Harm Reduction,and science-led regulation.

The Harm Reduction Exchange brought together high-level policy makers, physicians, scientists and health policy experts with media stakeholders from Africa in a lively mix of speeches, presentations, and panel discussions. The key note speakers included Prof Abdoul Aziz Kasse, Ms Bernice Opondi, Joseph Magero, Jonathan Fell, Chimwemwe Ngoma, Clive Bates, Dr. Kgosi Letlape, Dr. Vivian Manyeki and Dr. Tendai Mhizha.

 

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Over 2 000 civil servants interdicted

6th December 2022

Over 2,000 civil servants in the public sector have been interdicted for a variety of reasons, the majority of which are criminal in nature.

According to reports, some officers have been under interdiction for more than two years because such matters are still being investigated. Information reaching WeekendPost shows that local government, particularly councils, has the highest number of suspended officers.

In its annual report, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) revealed that councils lead in corrupt activities throughout the country, and dozens of council employees are being investigated for alleged corrupt activities. It is also reported that disciplined forces, including the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), police, and prisons, and the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) have suspended a significant number of officers.

The Ministry of Education and Skills Development has also recorded a good number of teachers who have implicated in love relationships with students, while some are accused of impregnating students both in primary and secondary school. Regional education officers have been tasked to investigate such matters and are believed to be far from completion as some students are dragging their feet in assisting the investigations to be completed.

This year, Mmadinare Senior Secondary reportedly had the highest number of pregnancies, especially among form five students who were later forcibly expelled from school. Responding to this publication’s queries, Permanent Secretary to the Office of the President Emma Peloetletse said, “as you might be aware, I am currently addressing public servants across the length and breadth of our beautiful republic. Due to your detailed enquiry, I am not able to respond within your schedule,” she said.

She said some of the issues raised need verification of facts, some are still under investigation while some are still before the courts of law.

Meanwhile, it is close to six months since the Police Commissioner Keabetwe Makgophe, Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) Tymon Katlholo and the Deputy Director of the DIS Tefo Kgothane were suspended from their official duties on various charges.

Efforts to solicit comment from trade unions were futile at the time of going to press.

Some suspended officers who opted for anonymity claimed that they have close to two years while on suspension. One stated that the investigations that led him to be suspended have not been completed.

“It is heartbreaking that at this time the investigations have not been completed,” he told WeekendPost, adding that “when a person is suspended, they get their salary fully without fail until the matter is resolved”.

Makgophe, Katlholo and Kgothane are the three most high-ranking government officials that are under interdiction.

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Masisi to dump Tsogwane?

28th November 2022

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and some senior government officials are abuzz with reports that President Mokgweetsi Masisi has requested his Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane not to contest the next general elections in 2024.

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