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 Ebepilesaid 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.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.