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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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Botswana confirms new COVID-19 variant

17th May 2021
covid19

Botswana health officials have confirmed the new COVOD-19 variant, which was first found in India. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has through a press statement informed members of the public that a new COVID-19 variant (B.1.617), first discovered in India. The Indian variant was confirmed in Botswana on 13 May 2021.

According to Christopher Nyanga, spokesperson at the Ministry, this followed a case investigation within Greater Gaborone, involving people of Indian origin who arrived in the country on the 24th April 2021.

“As at 16 May 2021, the B. 1. 617 variant was confirmed in two (2) people. The clients are currently receiving medical care and remain stable with no life-threatening symptoms. The two (2) cases were part of 383 people (both Batswana and some Indian nationals) who were tested for COVID-19. From this number, 43 tested positive, with two (2) showing the B. 1. 617 variant as already alluded to. Contact tracing has been expanded in line with COVID-19 protocols. All contacts and confirmed cases have been evacuated to facility based quarantine and isolation respectively, for close monitoring,” Nyanga narrated.

The World Health Organization recently announced that the Indian Covid-19 variant was a global concern, with some data suggesting the variant has “increased transmissibility” compared with other strains.

Meanwhile in the wake of Botswana’s confirmation of the Indian variant, Nyanga reminded the public of the government intervention to control the introduction of new variants of public health concern into the country. He stated that all those who have travelled or transited through areas of high risk as previously communicated on 3rd May 2021 upon return shall immediately quarantine in a central area to be identified by the Ministry of Health and Wellness for a period not exceeding ten (10) days; Repeat Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test after seven (7) days of quarantine and be discharged as per the outcome of the results.

He said the requirements are complementary to the mandatory requirements of producing on arrival a negative PCR test not older than 72hrs from the time the sample was collected

“The public is advised to remain vigilant and minimize the spread of COVID-19 by following the already outlined preventative measures such as washing of hands with soap or use of a hand sanitizer, wearing of face masks, avoiding crowded places/social distancing and avoiding non-essential movement,” Nyanga said.

The India variant – officially called B.1.617.2 – is one of four mutated versions of coronavirus which have been designated as being “of concern” by transitional public health bodies, with others first being identified in Kent, South Africa and Brazil.

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Khama lawyers dismiss BDP’s MacD

17th May 2021
former President Lt Gen Ian Khama

The lawyers representing former President Lt Gen Ian Khama, Ramalepa Attorneys have come forth dismissing a response letter penned down by Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) activist MacDonald Peloetletse after he was slapped with a P1.5 million lawsuit for defamation of their client.

Tebogo Tladi, an attorney at Ramalepa, said last week Thursday Peloetletse took to social media to publish a substantively false, wrongful and unlawful statement about Khama. MacDonald Peloetletse’s commentary which was posted on Gabz FM News page reads, “I am a former soldier. Everything former President SKI Khama said here is a LIE. In fact, soldiers suffered more under Khama than under his predecessors.

He actually stole money that the UN had paid to the soldiers who went for the operations and paid them less than a quarter of what was actually due to them.  “Unhappy soldiers took the BDF to court and won, the BDF is still struggling to pay the debts! Khama can fool some people, but not all the people and not all the time.

“In fact many soldiers, serving, retired and those that resigned and were in the operations during Khama’s time get even more annoyed to such disrespectful statements by Ian Khama.” Khama’s lawyer says the impugned statement was published with the intention to injure his client (Khama) in his personality rights, good name and dignity, further indicating that the statement has damaged his good reputation.

“We have therefore been instructed by Client to demand, as we hereby do, that you publish on the same forum a retraction and a full and unconditional apology to Client within three days of receipt of this letter- and that you deliver such apology in a formal letter to the Office of the Former President, Dr Khama. In the event that you have not compiled with this demand by close of business on Monday 10th May 2021, our Client will assume that you have refused to comply with this demand.”

To top it all off, Khama demands that Peloetletse pay him P1.5 million in damages for defamation. “Furthermore, we hold instructions to demand as we hereby do, that you pay our Client damages for defamation in the sum of P1, 500,000.00 within seven days of receipt of this letter.” In the event that Peloetletse fails to pay the amount of damages demanded by Khama, Tladi says they will institute legal proceedings for the recovery of the aforesaid damages.

In his response letter addressed to Ramalepa Attorneys, Peloetletse said that he requests enlightenment and clarification that he be provided with proof that the allegations and comments which they attribute to him were indeed authored by him and that the platform which the comments were placed was not hacked.

“Please also advise if whether your clients has been endowed with a “special particular privilege status” that restricts the citizens of this country from commenting or responding to public statements made by your client in the course of political discourse especially when made on public forum and relate to matters of general public concern. (I trust that your brilliant legal mind is well informed with respect to the jurisprudence in such matters)”.

Peloetletse also said he would like to share with the attorneys a video which was posted on a public forum. “Please listen carefully to the conversations and discussion herein and advice if possibly such discussions form a reasonable basis for a justifiably rebuttal by any Motswana Citizen to the public pronouncements and defamatory statements made by your client about our government (bearing in mind of course a citizens constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression).’’

Consulted for further comment on the matter on Thursday after receiving Peloetletse’s response, Khama’s attorney Tebogo Tladi said the letter doesn’t hold any water. “The only way out for him is to prove the truth of the allegations on his comment or deny publication. He does not answer substantively to the defamation and does not respond to the demand of an apology or payment of damages.

So his letter really contains largely matters irrelevant to the substance of the letter of demand. His response in fact presents no legally cognizable defence at all- it would appear he responded without the benefit of legal advice, which would not be prudent for such an important case. So we will proceed to issue summons and wait to see what defences he will plead in court.’’

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Inside the multi-million Dollar Kazungula Bridge business

17th May 2021
kazungula bridge

Botswana and Zambia this week celebrated the opening of a multi-million Dollar infrastructural project, the Kazungula Bridge, projected to contribute around P100 million annually for Botswana. This project comes after the signing of the 2012 Agreement between the two countries to construct a bridge that would ease movement of goods.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi said the Kazungula Bridge will open avenues for improved trade, job creation and economic diversification in both countries. Further, the Bridge will significantly accelerate Southern African Development Committee (SADC) regional integration agenda which Botswana and Zambia are vigorously pursuing.

“By growing our strategic partnerships through this project, we have improved the development and competitiveness of our economies to attract more private sector investment, thereby, supporting our efforts to create employment, especially for the burgeoning youth,” Masisi said at the opening ceremony in Kazungula on Monday.

The Kazungula Bridge comprises a road and rail bridge over the Zambezi River, directly linking Botswana and Zambia. It has One-Stop-Border Post facilities on both sides, which will enhance the operational efficiency at entry points, replicated on both sides of the boarder.

The Bridge was originally conceived as a critical link in the African North-South Corridor under the African Union’s New Partnership (NEPAD) for Africa’s Development programme. It has since evolved to encompass a multimodal transport plan under the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA).

The PIDA programme, which encompasses liberalisation of air travel, rail links, road, water and all other modes of transport has only one objective: to unite the States of Africa in order to foster trade on the continent

“Connectivity of our nations will in no small measure, promote people to people interactions and uplifts their standard of living. I am pleased to state that the completion of this project is a clear demonstration of our commitment to PIDA.”

The 260 million US Dollar Kazungula Bridge was commissioned by Zambian President, Edgar Lungu and President Masisi. President Lungu said the bridge was a monumental effort linking Zambia internally and externally to ease the movement of goods and services.

“I have held talks with my counterpart in Botswana that this project must run daily up to 22 hours as soon as possible and you the technocrats must not play ping-pong with us after making these public procurements,” Lungu said at the official opening in Kazungula.

For his part, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi said the project was tandem with the Africa Union (AU) goals and priority areas for Agenda 2063 which called for a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.

KAZUNGULA FERRY

The new Kazungula Bridge replaces the Kazungula Ferry, a pontoon ferry across the 400-metre-wide Zambezi River between Botswana and Zambia. It was one of the largest ferries in South-Central Africa, having a capacity of 70 tonnes.

In 2003 the ferry was the site of a disaster when a severely overloaded Zambian truck capsized one of the pontoons and 18 people drowned. The accident was blamed on the lack of weighbridges in Zambia to check the weight of trucks.

In August 2007, the governments of Zambia and Botswana announced a deal to construct a bridge at the site to replace the ferry. The existence of a short boundary of about 150 meters between Zambia and Botswana was apparently agreed to during various meetings involving Heads of State and officials from all four States in the 2006-2010 period.

The route for this new bridge crosses the boundary without entering Zimbabwe and Namibia. Zimbabwe already has a bridge into Zambia at Victoria Falls, 70KM from Kazungula. Namibia on the other hand has a bridge into Zambia at Katima Mulilo about 150KM upriver.

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