The embattled BCL mine now faces legal action over an acquisition deal worth 3 billion Pula that it initiated in South Africa but has now failed to see through.
For a period of two years since 2014, BCL was locked in the process of acquiring a 50% ownership of Nkomati mine in South Africa. The transaction was finally given the green light by South Africa’s Mineral Resources Minister, Mosebenzi Zwane, in August this year.
After going through all the necessary processes for acquiring the stake, BCL then failed to trigger the final process of the exchange of shares and the P3 billion payment because it simply did not have the money.
BCL said that at the time it negotiated the acquisition the market was still profitable but when it finally came to fruition, it had become unprofitable.
“The reality of the matter regarding Nkomati is that even though the transfer was approved by the Mineral Resources Minister in South Africa, BCL was simply not in a position to pay, so we never got the ownership of that company,” Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Minerals, Green Technology and Energy Kgomotso Abi stated.
“Clearly they have their legal options that they can exercise and at this juncture I am not willing to speculate on what action they will be taking,” Abi added.
The move to acquire the South African asset was made after the Polaris II strategy that put the remaining years of life for BCL at 10 and forced management to look elsewhere to continue business by smelting ore at BCL.
Chairman of BCL’s now dissolved board of directors, Dr Khaulani Fichani stated that the South Africans have indicated that they will indeed sue for the P3 billion and that there has been a flurry of communication between BCL’s legal minds and that of Nkomati owners, Norsirlk Africa.
“Now when you get the ministerial approval from South Africa, that they call the section 11 approval, that is a share transfer, now that means that that agreement has now been completed, in other words when that share transfer was approved, BCL owes Norisikl Africa an amount close to P3 billion. It’s the kind of situation we are in, where is that money going to come from? We could either wait for the letter of demand that says listen, we are now following this agreement we signed and according to the agreement, you owe us P3 billion, and we don’t have P3 billion, so that’s when we seek the protection of the courts,” Fichani related.
He further continued: “They promised us that they reserve their legal right, which means that they are going to sue for the P3 billion and this was the real danger because if they came and sued they would control the liquidation process.’’
“There was concern that they would not have the same interests as us because with individual creditors, they would indicate what they want to attach, then sell and leave, but if you do it yourself, as we have done it with a provisional liquidation, we ask ourselves, what can be done?” said Fichani.
Fichani further indicated of the deal with the South Africans: “that agreement was started in 2014 and we got the ministerial approval in August. That meant that we now actually had to make good on our intention to acquire that asset. But the sad thing is that when we talk about the mining business…the prices are cyclical so when the deal was concluded, it was concluded at a time when metal prices were healthy…and at the time of conclusion the metal prices had taken a 180 degree turn and there was no longer a business case for us to do that.’’
“So, our ability to actually follow through with that became a serious liability,’’ he further added.
Furthermore Fichani revealed that between the two options of being liquidated by a creditor or actual liquidation by themselves, they chose the latter as it gave them some level of protection. “In trying to understand why we are here today, in this situation we are in, if you are not able to meet your obligations really, you need some form of protection and the route that was chosen was to seek compulsory liquidation by the shareholder,” Fichani said
He also said that the Nkomati deal had gone through a robust acquisition process that involved both legal and financial transactional advisors. “Just to give the assurance that when you do a deal such as the Nkomati it is not just one individual involved, you are involving the lawyers, and you’re involving the banks, so all of those processes were ticked, it’s not one individual, the banks do their due diligence…we then got our team to do our due diligence as well. All of these steps were done,” Fichani said.
The BCL mine has now been put under the curatorship of Nigel Warren Dickson of audit firm KPMG. Dickson was appointed by the High Court on Sunday to determine the way forward for the mine and in his hands and mind, lies and weighs heavily, the fate of 5000 miners.
However, Abi also stated that at present the liquidator is now in charge of the mine and by extension its future. He further said that the liquidator will determine whether the mine’s assets can be salvaged such as several shafts in Selibe Phikwe which he said “can be worth a profit’’.
“What I wish to say now in terms of who is in charge, it’s the liquidator who can make decisions regarding the of the future of the mine but obviously he has not been part of the BCL situation so in fact he will be in consultation with the shareholder being government and BCL management so that whatever he decides, he will have the relevant information to make the rightful decisions,” Abi declared.
Fichani also stated that among other options, the liquidator will also be charged with assessing whether BCL cannot find a partner so that, “this is not a 100% government owned mining company”.
Dickson is expected to finish his job in a period of four months and thereafter hand in his report back to the High Court. Among a raft of options on the table includes the final liquidation of the mining company, restructuring BCL to operate in a different form or closure of the BCL mines.
He further said that the cost of extracting a pound of nickel at BCL had been exorbitant peaked at $8 while the price for the same pound was only $4. “This then means that for each pound we were producing there was a deficit of $4 per pound,” Fichani said.
He also stated that the liquidator will also have to look at what is to be done to change the current production costs at BCL, something he said the board had battled with for some time.
Fichani further stated that the Polaris II strategy has in fact not failed. “Instead it has presented an opportunity that even the liquidator, considering the business case of BCL now, that part of its centre of gravity clearly is shifting towards Tati. Remember we are saying that, the mines that we have at BCL are old mines, deep mines, we are talking about mining more than 2 kilometres underground. That is a challenge on its own, so our centre of gravity is being helped by the fact that we have Tati on board,” Fichani stated.
He further said that government’s injection of funds and Polaris strategy was beneficial because it cleaned the balance sheet of BCL making it attractive to investors. He also said that even the Nkomati deal materialised because of the company’s clean balance sheet. “There was no way we were going to get a partner if the company’s balance sheet declared that there were huge debts there.”
In terms of the quality of the leadership of BCL, Abi said: “Regarding the competence of the management or the board, hindsight is such a good teacher, anybody with the benefit of hindsight can say we could have done this differently and so forth.”
“Obviously there are things that we could have done better…At the core of things is: if you sell a product at $4 while your operational cost was $8, can you make a profit?”
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.