Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has rejected a proposal tabled by opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to save the beleaguered BCL mine, which is headed for possible closure.
When addressing the media this week, BDP Secretary General, Botsalo Ntuane, dismissed UDC’s efforts as political grandstanding aimed at scoring political points amid a desperate situation.
“They have sought to cash some political brownie points from the problems engulfing BCL mine in Phikwe. The fact of the matter is that it is only Government that can bring relief to BCL,” he said.
“There is absolutely nothing UDC can do to assist BCL. They cannot offer any financial guarantees, tax exemptions, loan guarantees or any form of bailout, which is what the BDP government has been doing every time BCL find itself in distress.”
Two weeks ago, UDC called a press conference, addressed by party Secretary General, Ndaba Gaolathe and president, Duma Boko, during which the former called on government to open avenues of national dialogue for stakeholders in order to save the financially riddled BCL.
Gaolathe remarked that it was clear there is a real danger of BCL closure, which will collapse Selibe Phikwe as well as a chance of precipitating a recession of the entire country’s economy despite the fact that the crisis could be averted.
“There is need to forge a national dialogue on BCL and mining in general to lay bare the seriousness of the financial and economic challenges faced by the BCL,” he had said.
“We should bring stakeholders together to find robust collective solution and demonstrate that BCL could be an opportunity for the country, not just gloom, if we get it right.”
Ntuane has however expressed that the BCL situation has been occasioned by the plummeting of commodity prices.
“In huge economies like Brazil and Australia, privately owned copper mines have shut down. The same applies in neighbouring Zambia where thousands have lost jobs because of this problem,” he stated.
The former legislator also said the fact that BCL continues to survive, albeit in challenging circumstances is because it is a nationalised operation and government still refuses to abandon the mine.
“This is a compassionate government that has at heart the interests of BCL workers, as well as the town of Selebi Phikwe itself and its surrounding communities. Workers must not be misled by the rhetoric and political opportunism of UDC because that won’t improve their situation,” he said.
Gaolathe had argued, when addressing the media that, BCL’s problems are not entirely because of the commodity prices, as he noted that, incompetent leadership in the board and at management level have the larger share of blame.
Gaolathe said it was wrong for government to have had Akolang Tombale presiding over BCL Board because of his track record at Botswana Meat Commission (BMC). BMC is another financially ruined parastatal.
“Government intervention has been ineffectual because of failure to appoint high impact board members, which in turn led to failure to appoint a high impact CEO and management,” he expressed and added that, “finding the right people is not a difficult task because we can identify them. We know them. We can sit down and agree that these are people who are knowledgeable. They do not have to be UDC or BDP (Botswana Democratic Party). They just need to be high impact people.”
BDP also questioned the P6 billion suggested by the UDC as money required to save the fortunes of BCL. Ntuane said UDC leadership was ‘throwing figures around’ without anything which informed their statement.
Also speaking at the BDP press conference was Deputy Secretary General, Shaw Kgathi who said UDC never thought about the impact the amount they suggested could be used to bail BCL would have on the economy.
Kgathi said Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Kitso Mokaila has engaged team of experts with the view of soliciting a well informed analysis of the situation and what ought to be done by government.
Gaolathe had opined that government do not necessarily need to be the one financing the whole P6 billion, as he noted that a proportion of the amount can be through debt.
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.