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 troubledBMC, 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 transactionsBCL was buying out Norilsk Nickel operationsfrom 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.
Despite the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob giving an impression that the borderline security disputes are a thing of the past and that diplomatic ties remain tight, fresh developments from Namibia suggest otherwise, following Geingod’s close confidante’s attack on Botswana and its army.
Giving a Zambezi region state of the affairs last week, a Geingob-appointed governor of Zambezi region, Colonel Lawrence Ampofu, a retired Colonel in the Namibian Defence Force, former plan combatant during the liberation struggle of Namibia, in a written speech, charged at the BDF and condemned their killings of the Namibians as unacceptable.
“The security situation within our borders remains calm. The incidence of the Botswana Defence Force shootings and wanton killings on the Nchindo Brothers on 05 November 2020 and other 37 Namibian lives lost since independence remain a serious challenge with our neighbor, Botswana.
Our residents living along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwandu rivers are living under constant threats, harassment, fear, intimidation and killings and such activities are condemned and not acceptable,” he said under the safety and security title.
The attack suggests that Namibia has not bought Botswana’s story. Ampofu was part of the entourage that accompanied Geingob to the three Nchindo brothers and their cousin who were gunned down by the BDF, and is reported to be privy to the details of the unpublished Botswana-Namibia joint investigations report about the killings as a governor or political head of the region which has eight electoral constituencies.
The report contains the sensitive details of how the three Namibians referred as poachers by the BDF – and Fisherman by the Namibian government were gunned down on 5 November last year along the Chobe River. They were Tommy (48), Martin (40) and Wamunyima Nchindo (36), and their cousin Sinvula Muyeme (44).
His views are not really in contrast to his President’s views who also described the BDF as trigger happy in a scripted report to his cabinet.
The Zambezi region is located in the extreme north east part of Namibia and covers a total of 14,667.6 square kilometres. “We share borders with Angola, Zambia to the north, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the South,” he said.
Sampofu was first appointed governor of the former Caprive Region in 2010 by the former Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba and was reappointed as Zambezi governor by President Dr.Hage Geingob in 2015, a term running to 2025.
37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far
Sampofu is a man who continues to insist that Botswana has killed 37 residents of his region. A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows him alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.
“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.
It is not known how the BDF, which has maintained their position that the Namibians were engaging in illegal activities of poaching, treats the constant attacks by the Namibian authorities, but they have repeatedly vowed to continue protecting the country’s sovereignty and natural resources.
Botswana’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), this month dragged the government of Botswana to court after President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an alcohol ban with immediate effect. KBL labelled the decision as unjustifiable, irrational and that it overrides the rights that are enshrined in the constitution.
This week, Masisi through attorneys representing the government disparaged the case in his written affidavit of KBL’s application, referring to it as frivolous and that it ought to be dismissed with costs on a punitive scale.
In his court papers, Masisi reminded KBL that Botswana is a Republic whose laws find validity from the constitution, and in terms of Section 17 of the constitution the President is empowered to declare a State of Emergency and that it is a common cause that Botswana is under such state.
“It is common course that there is in existence emergency powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 as amended from time to time which is solely designed to regulate the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Masisi pointed out that he denies that the application before Court is proper such as to challenge the lawfulness and validity of a regulation made and a notice published in the exercise of a legislative function in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act which empowers the President to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary and expedient for securing public safety.
Furthermore, the President revealed that the decision to ban alcohol sales was not arrived at willy-nilly, but rather that there had been careful considerations that the risks posed by Covid-19 had increased and therefore it was expedient and necessary to suspend all liquor licenses.
Moreover, Masisi denied that the decision to reinstate the ban should be made by the Director of Health Services as indicated by KBL in their nature of the application, “the Director is to cause the notice to be published in the Gazette after consultation with the President.”
Masisi indicated that the role of the Director of Health Services is to publish a regulation made by the President.
He further, reminded KBL that the power to make regulations in a State of Public Emergency in accordance with the EPA lies with the President, “such power includes the amendment of any enactment, suspending the operation of any enactment or modification of an enactment.”
According to Masisi, his decision to ban alcohol sales was based on evidence provided by the Director of Health Services who indicated to him that there was a sudden spike in the transmission of the Covid-19 virus following the reinstatement of liquor licenses.
Another piece of advice tendered by the Director of Health to Masisi was that bars and other liquor outlets were some of the major hotspots in the sense of such being high-risk areas at which the virus spread rapidly.
“Alcohol was one of the major causes of non-compliance with the health protocols that were put in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, there was an indication that more arrests were made on people failing to adhere to Covid-19 protocols more particularly at places where there were gatherings,” he contended.
He pointed out that therefore, it was expedient and or necessary to preserve lives and to reduce the risks of transmissions of the virus to reinstate the suspension of liquor licenses.
Moreover, the President says that it must be noted that he avers that the Director of Health Services is a credible source on matters of public health of which he also accordingly gave due weight to the Director’s advice on deciding to reinstate the ban through the impugned notice.
“I am aware and was always aware at the time of promulgating the regulation complained of that it shall negatively affect some sectors of the economy. However, after due consideration and receipt of advice, I decided to give priority to the safety and health of the nation,” Masisi said.
He presaged KBL that it would not be prudent and in the best interest of the nation to ignore a health emergency such as Covid-19 and gave preference to trading and making of profits by the applicant. “The results would only be catastrophic to the extent that when we emerge from the scourge we would be left with a depleted and ailing nation from Covid-19 and its side effects.”
Furthermore, his written affidavit further pointed out that the decision to reinstate the ban on alcohol was taken notwithstanding understanding and appreciation of the economic hardships that would befall the country.
However, he said he deliberately made the decision based on the evidence provided to him by the Director of Health, whose evidence he believes to be credible to give public/safety and health priority over economic considerations in some sectors.
In making the decision, Masisi states that he was and considered different options including allowing for sale of alcohol consumption off premises, however the evidence he had been provided with suggested that such other alternatives would not achieve the overall objective of securing public safety and health by reducing the risk of the spread of the virus.
“By the time I imposed the ban, alcohol was already being sold for consumption off-premises. This did not work. The information provided to me by the Director and the Presidential Task-Force team demonstrated that consumers purchased alcohol and then loitered and consumed it within the peripheries of bars and other liquor outlets,” he said.
Attached to the affidavit as emphasis, were photographs and videos of Gaborone West, Phase 4 in mid-June 2021, which he explains circulated on social media and was brought to his attention.
“I need not say much about the photos as they depict a crowd exceeding 50 gathered at the parking area of a bar. There is little or no regard to Covid-19 protocols. It was clear to me and my advisors, including the Director of Health Services and members of the Presidential Task-Force team that the total ban of alcohol was necessary to manage the risk of increase in infections, to understand what seems to have led to an increase in the risk of infection when alcohol is present I was advised by the Presidential Task-Force team that scientifically there has been evidence that alcohol narrows physical distance,” he argued.
Masisi says that allegations made by KBL are serious allegations of infringement of fundamental rights yet they fail to state how imposition and reinstatement of the suspension of liquor licenses out of necessity and expediency of the health of the nation infringes on the rights as alleged.
In an embarrassing turn of events that depicts disintegration in government communication on the fight against COVID-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe gave two conflicting statements on the same matter, same day, just minutes apart.
The Commander-in-Chef told health practitioners and residents in Ramotswa that the COVAX facility has scammed African countries after billions were paid in a crowd funding effort to procure COVID-19 vaccines in bulk.
“We have pumped money as developing countries of the African continent into the COVAX Facility but the returns were not satisfactory, they cheated us,” the President said in Ramotswa.
According to President Masisi, the COVAX facility Vaccine only came in bits and pieces, frustrating the continent ‘s head immunity targets amid rapidly spreading Delta Variant which is currently reversing all progress made by Africa in containing the contagious virus.
“What we are getting is very small portions of the vaccine, they keep telling us that there is shortage of supply, this is not fair, but we have paid in advance, however what can we do, we have no choice but to spend more money and look for other avenues of securing other available vaccines,” he said.
Meanwhile in Gaborone, Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness told Parliament that vaccine from COVAX facility is anchoring Botswana’s vaccination program.
“I am not aware of such information that COVAX facility is not delivering as expected, we are actually bolstered by COVAX facility in this country,” he said responding to a question from Mahalapye West Member of Parliament David Tshere who is also Chairman of Parliament Committee On Health and HIV/AIDS.
“We have received doses as ordered from the COVAX facility, and we are still receiving more, I have not seen that information which is purported to have been revealed by the President, unless its new information, we as the Ministry we are not aware of any frustrations by the COVAX facility,” he said.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.
Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
The facility is a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. So far, 190 countries have joined the COVAX initiative, including all 22 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.
The COVAX Facility aims to have 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution across the globe by the end of 2021, targeting those most at risk (e.g. frontline health workers) and most vulnerable severe diseases and death (e.g. elderly and people with co-morbidities).
On other vaccination issues President Masisi revealed, still in Greater Gaborone vaccination centre visits, that Botswana has placed orders with Pfizer, a United States vaccine producer noting that they have promised to deliver next year.
Meanwhile, government kick-started phase two of the Covid-19 vaccination program this week, opening up for ages between 30 and 54.
President Masisi revealed that this was done because some elderly were reluctant to be inculcated.
“We can’t take forever trying to convince people to take vaccine, we moved to the next age segments because we cannot afford to have vaccines-which are already in shortage supply to just lie there,” he said.
On Friday, Ministry of Health revealed that it was receiving large numbers of people below the age of 55 lining up to be vaccinated.
In a statement the Ministry of Health said it, “acknowledges the huge turnout that marked the commencement of the Phase two COVID-19 vaccination program”.
Given this high turnout, especially in the Greater Gaborone region, the ministry announced an extension of operation hours in order to serve the huge crowds that had come for vaccination.
Of the nearly 85 000 doses that were being doled across the country as first doses, the majority of the Greater Gaborone vaccination sites were already getting depleted by 1800hrs on 22 July 2021.
As a result of this development, the ministry took a decision to discontinue the extended hours of operation announced yesterday for vaccination sites in Gaborone.
This means that vaccination sites in Gaborone and elsewhere in the country which still have some vaccines, will offer them in the normal working hours and days of the week.
The Ministry says it appreciates the great desire to be vaccinated shown by thousands of citizens and residents of this country and wishes to assure them that it will continue to expedite their vaccination every time vaccines become available. As has been communicated in various fora, more vaccines are expected in August 2021.
As at July 2021, Botswana has so far received 62, 400 doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD bought through the Covax facility, 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Republic of India, 19, 890 doses of the Pfizer vaccine bought through the COVAX facility, 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, donated by the Peoples Republic of China and another 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine bought through bilateral negotiations with Sinovac company in China.
“We encourage Batswana to remain hopeful that although it’s taking longer than anticipated, enough COVID-19 vaccines will eventually arrive in our country. We urge them to always strictly abide by all COVID-19 protocols so that they protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the ministry said.