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BCL SHUT DOWN: A knockout punch for Phikwe!

A knockout punch also known as a chassis punch can end all contests decisively. It can finish fights without dispute and can save your life in grave circumstances. Government’s shocking announcement last week Saturday to place BCL under provisional liquidation with immediate effect owing to unprofitable business dealings – delivered a final blow to a mine that was battling with high operational costs, huge debts, and low commodity prices.

The decision is surely meant to stop the government purse from bleeding excess Pulas, but it shall wilt away a lot of livelihoods. Nigel Dickson Warren of KPMG has been instructed to finish off the job in four months, as a liquidator.

Addressing multitudes of mine workers in Selibe Phikwe last week Saturday (October 8) former Minister responsible for Minerals & Energy, Kitso Mokaila stated that the mine was a business running at huge loses hence the government as the single shareholder was drained by bailing out the mine countless times to prevent job losses. He said the bailouts were now crippling the national economy.

Advocate Sadique Kebonang who now heads the re-organised Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Green Technology explained that it cost double the selling price to mine the ore from BCL deposits. “BCL mines at 8 USD per tonne and sells at 4USD, that is a big loss and we cannot continue pumping money into such a business,” said new Minister who recently took over from Mokaila.

“Currently the mine needs P7.6 billion ($713 million) pula to continue operations and if the government was to inject such amount into BCL through guarantee loans or direct bailout, we would have to put the entire economy to a halt and cease provision of ARVs and tertiary education just to name a few,” emphasized Advocate Kebonang.

A cabinet subcommittee commissioned by President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama to evaluate and map the way forward on the BCL mine explained to workers that a consensus has been reached after an intense assessment, that it makes economic sense to cease operations at the copper nickel mine because commodity prices in the market were not business friendly.

THE HISTORY OF BCL

Originally known as Bamangwato Concessions Limited, BCL was founded in 1956 in a meeting arranged by John Bunchunan, Chairman of Minerals Separation Limited, between Tshekedi Khama, Regent of Bamangwato Tribe in Bechuanaland Protectorate and Sir Ronald Prain, Chairman of Roan selection Trust (RST).

An agreement between the parties was signed on the 2nd June 1959 and subsequently ratified by the British House of Lords. This agreement with RST Exploration Limited, a subsidiary of Roan Selection Trust deployed BCL to operate the concession and to commerce mining copper and nickel discovered in Selibe area in 1963. In 1966 higher grade ore was discovered at Phikwe.

BCL continued to grow, dominated by private shareholding with Norilsk Nickel being the largest shareholder until 2013 when the government bought out the Russian mining giant by converting an outstanding P2.3 billion loan BCL owed to government into equity. At the time of that decision Norilsk was holding 6 % stake in BCL and had reduced its stake over the past two decades of operations at BCL.

In 2014 the BCL also announced buying out of all Norilsk Nickel operations in Africa and that included Tati Nickel Mine and 50% of Nkomati Mine in South Africa. The transaction was to see BCL pay P3 billion plus and, earlier on that year the company bought 50.5 % in Pula Steel Casting Manufacturing.

EVENTS THAT LED TO COMPANY LIQUIDATION

In February 2016 government agreed to guarantee a 1 billion pula BCL loan acquired from Barclays Bank. When addressing multitudes of workers at Selibe Phikwe stadium this past Tuesday, the Vice president, Mokgweetsi Masisi indicated about three weeks ago BCL management had submitted a proposal requesting another P1 billion from the government, and decision makers reached a consensus that enough was enough, no more bail out.

The Vice President explained that BCL lifespan was shortened by low copper and nickel prices in the market. “Market prices put by foreign countries who buy BCL products is the reason BCL reached a dead end sooner than expected, we don’t have control over commodity market prices, thus it was only right to close BCL in order for other economic activities to continue,” said Masisi.

The Vice President went on to explain that under these circumstances, the best decision was to put the company under provisional (voluntary) liquidation in order to protect workers packages and exit incentives . “Creditors were going to put this company under forced liquidation anyway, and that was going to be harsher on employees, thus we weighed options and approached the High Court on Sunday,” explained Masisi. He said a liquidator was appointed to asses BCL asserts, pay its debts and make final economical stance on the future of the company.

BCL POOR MANAGEMENT

However workers, opposition political parties and other pressure groups have rubbished reasons advanced by government that BCL is closed because of the prevailing low copper and nickel prices in the international market.

The Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse lashed out on the BCL management. He accused some in the leadership of corruption and poor management. He said the government lacked monitoring and proper oversight as the only shareholder. Speaking to Weekend Post on Tuesday, Keorapetse said: “I have talked about this in Parliament, that Polaris II and its Nkomati acquisition were corruption breeding exercises, and the same can be said about the shutdown undertaking – this will cost BCL and government billions of Pula.’’

The MP said the government has been ignorant and did no listen to him, “I warned the then Minister, Mr Mokaila about reckless procurement occurring at BCL, for the shutdown, billions of Pula left the mine through unprocedural processes.”

Meanwhile, government and BCL officials told Weekend Post that the shutdown of the smelter was done to allow for its refurbishment so it readies for more ore from Tati and Nkomati for processing, “We anticipated pick capacity for the Smelter and thus shut down and Nkomati acquisition was to get ready for that, unfortunately it did not work out as expected,” permanent secretary in the Ministry of Minerals, Mr Kgomotso Abi explained. 

The permanent secretary said if there were corrupt dealings, those who have information should have or still should come forth. Addressing the press on Monday, Abi said: “DCEC doors were open for any corruption tip offs and the expectation is that those who were aware of any maladministration and economic crime at BCL should have reported the cases.”

THE LIQUIDATION PROCESS

The High Court on Sunday appointed Nigel Dickson Warren of KPMG to dissolve BCL Limited. Addressing members of the media on Monday, Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Mineral, Energy & Green Technology, Mr Kgomotso Abi alongside dissolved BCL board Chairman, Kholane Fichani indicated that the appointed liquidator was given four months to complete the liquidation processes. In a stakeholders’ consultative meeting on Tuesday, before addressing multitudes of workers, Vice President Masisi revealed the government will conduct a parallel inside look to the liquidation process in order to iron out any concerns that might arise.

Adding her voice, Chairman of government owned Mineral Development Company which recently bought out De Beers at Morupule Coal Mine, Reginah Sikalesele-Vaka told workers in Selibe Phikwe and its subsidiary, Tati Nickel Mine that the liquidation process intends to come up with resolutions that are in the best interest of workers.

“The liquidation process is necessary to determine and inform the government on what assert BCL has, and what can be sold at what price, as well as advice the government on possible operations or ore deposits that can be resurrected at a later stage,” said Sikalesele-Vaka.

She explained that the liquidator will most importantly determine workers’ exit packages. “The liquidator will determine how much and how you as the workers will be paid as exit compensation, I urge you to cooperate with the government and the liquidator,” she said.  

Sikalesele-Vaka has just assumed duty at the government Mining Industry oversight company from Botswana Stock Exchange where she served as Chairman as well.

WORKERS SALARIES & BENEFITS

On Saturday (October 8) Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Vincent Seretse revealed that despite the halted of operations, workers remain BCL employees and shall receive full salaries until decision is taken on the way forward.

Seretse who is also a member of the cabinet BCL investigation subcommittee added that those occupying BCL houses shall do so until liquidation process is complete.

On Tuesday 12th October, Minister Advocate Kebonang shocked the workers with a slightly different statement at the Selibe Phikwe stadium. ‘’We guarantee full salary payments for October only, for next month and the month after next, that is entirely on the jurisdiction of the liquidator who is currently handling all paperwork and financial accounts of the company.”

 For their part Botswana Miners Workers Union (BMWU) expressed concern over the rushed decision and short notice implementation of the resolution to close the mine. In an interview with this publication this week, BMWU representative, Mr Western Ebepile  said they had anticipated that BCL operations will come to halt, but they question government lack of transparency and the supersonic decision to shut down.

“We will fight tooth and nail to ensure that our members receive their packages, if need be we will approach the court of law if there are unconstitutional delays,” said Ebipile.

THE SOCIO- ECONOMIC IMPACT OF BCL CLOSURE

Selibe Phikwe is home to over 50 000 inhabitants as per the 2011 population census and BCL had absorbed well over 4000 workers who provided socio-economic support to their families.

Consequently the closure of BCL, the largest single employer in Selibe Phikwe, and second largest private sector employer in the country, cripples other businesses that relied on 4000 BCL employees’ income for survival, from Retail outlets, SMMEs, transport providers, hair salons, the list is endless.

Speaking to Weekend Post this past week, Mr Philip Malema, a taxi driver expressed hopelessness as he shed tears, “I have been given this corolla by someone to work for it and pay back his money with interest, they are going to confiscate it as they will be no business that allows me to pay them as per our contract. It is very likely that I have worked for nothing,” said Malema who hails from Bobonong.

BCL mine closure is said to also threaten other parastatals and private companies’ production. The mine accounts for the largest stake in Morupule coal mine clientele, being the largest consumer of the coal produced from the Palapye based mine.

The complexity of the BCL operations has also seen the company being the largest consumer of electricity and water in the country, thus its closure is likely to impact heavily on the balance sheet of Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and Water utilities Corporation (WUC).  Morupule Colliery is likely to cut down its production and consequently reduce workforce unless new business is identified, especially in neighbouring countries.

Parents have also questioned government’s decision to close the mine now, they find the decision reckless and lacking vision.  Speaking to this publication, Mr Boipuso Makame, a middle income parent at Botshabelo Township, told this publication that the mine closure comes at a wrong time when children are writing examinations – from primary to senior secondary schools. “They should have waited until exams are completed, psychological shock will disturb our children, our schools are likely not to do well this year,” observed Makame who also works a BCL.

GOV’T PIN HOPES SPEDU AND OTHER PARASTATALS

Various Government officials have indicated during the past two weeks that Selibe Phikwe will not be left to turn into a ghost town. In his address to workers on Tuesday Vice President Masisi revealed that SPEDU is now a revived company that will work at a high speed to resurrect the economy of Selibe Phikwe. He revealed that a cabinet sitting has already proposed more cash injection into SPEDU. “We are in the process of evaluating how much SPEDU needs to create double the employment here in Selibe Phikwe,” said Masisi.

The Vice President further indicated that CEDA and SPEDU as well as the SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE AUTHORITY and other business development parastatals will make proposals and the government is in a position to pump more money into those, in order to unearth other alternative economic activities.

“We will not allow Phikwe to turn into a ghost town, ’’ said the Vice President while speaking at a meeting arranged by the Ministry of Investment, Trade & Industry to engage the business community this Monday (October 10ths).

The Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Ms Peggy Serame urged the Selibe Phikwe Chamber of Commerce to put up feasible business proposals that can help resuscitate the town and the region.

 According to Khumbulani Mabena, Chairperson of the Chamber of Commerce, they have been given a week to do so. “We already had those business proposals in our shelves, so we will just polish them up and submit them,” said Khumbulane Mabena.

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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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