BCL Managing Director, Daniel Mahupela this week rebuffed calls for him to resign despite the worst financial strain experienced by the mining company he is overseeing.
Mahupela has said he will not resign as he believes that the company is still a viable business and he, together with other top management, will stay put as they are currently embarking on a “new BCL – business reorganization”.
Mahupela joined the organization in September 2011 – taking over from Montwedi Mphathi. Countless employees out of the 4 300 mine labour force face retrenchment as the financial crisis bedeviling the company continues.
Speaking to Weekend Post shortly after a press briefing on Wednesday in Gaborone Mahupela said he would not resign since the non-performance of the company is attributed to shrinking of the market and nickel prices, and not him.
“Why should I resign? And yes I could resign only if we had control over the nickel price – then possibly that’s when we could be accountable,” he said when asked by this publication if he does not find the need to relinquish the MD position as they (management) are answerable for the current financial mess due to poor planning and lack of oversight.
Instead, Mahupela said the current financial situation is a result of market forces and other factors that have conspired to deprive them of the projected revenue and of pursuing their strategic intentions under Polaris II. He said the mess can also be qualified to decline in commodity, below budget production from underground operations and smelter shutdown funding issues.
“Right now if you want to take out the rest of the management then you will be essentially taking out the business, because now the guys that are guaranteeing us, the guys that are lending us money, they are actually looking at us, they will actually say they base on the fact that we are there, they will do their due diligence again. And again the bank will not give us money if they sniff something fishy about us,” he justified.
Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe East Dithapelo Keorapetse, who BCL falls under his auspices as area MP, has made earlier calls for “BCL executives and the board to own up and take responsibility for this mess”. In fact he moved an urgent motion in Parliament calling for a commission of inquiry into BCL cash flow problems and other incidental problems saying those responsible for the mess should be “fired”.
However the BCL MD emphasized to this publication that “we just need to re-organise that’s it.” He added that initially BCL was supposed to close in 2013, but they ran around and did their best to extend the lease of life for the mine.
As a result he stressed that he is satisfied with his performance as the captain of the ship.
Government rejected BCL bailout, parley approved Barclay loan
Government is the sole shareholder of BCL Mine and solely responsible for either pumping in further capital or approving/underwriting external debt arrangements.
As such area legislator, Keorapetse previously said that government should intervene through a bail out and a good strategy to save jobs and the mine.
However, Mahupela told Weekend Post that government had rejected their request for a bail out citing insufficient funds for the undertaking. However Barclays Botswana loaned the struggling BCL 1.1 billion pula after Parliament intervened.
“Government can put in money if they have, but she has said clearly that they don’t have the money to bail us out.”
Corruption, imprudent management of money at BCL
BCL Management has confirmed that Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) has invaded their premises to sniff around on allegations of corruption and misappropriation of funds.
Mahupela stated: “DCEC have come to us and said they want to see all the documents that they need like the contractors we engaged for various projects and we provided to them such information because we are quite confident that there is nothing untoward in the organization.”
He said the DCEC wanted information but they were not sure what they are particularly investigating. “We don’t think we are clean, but we know we are.”
Initially, the Selibe Phikwe law maker had highlighted that there were serious allegations of corruption at BCL. “I suspect imprudent management of finances and corruption at grand scale at BCL; this imprudent management of money and corruption may be found in BCL outsourcing of services and engagement of consultants and the BCL purported strategy to diversify its portfolio.”
Keorapetse also added that Pula Steel project may be a big fraud. He added that it’s like opening a pork restaurant in Mecca or Moria. “How is it going to survive when big steel plants and corporations which produce high quality and quantity of billets have closed shop due to collapse of steel prices? Who are they going to sell to? It’s a big scam I suspect and probing questions have to be asked.”
A fraction of 4 300 employees to be retrenched
The organization management pointed out that they are re-organising the company, and in the process there will be a new resource requirement. In the process of refining and reconfiguring they “anticipate redundancy”.
Once structures have been approved, they will have the details of how many people will be required and how many will be laid off consequently.
Keorapetse had wanted government to bail out the mining company to “save BCL and jobs and families that depend on it”. “We can’t afford job losses because unemployment is very high in Phikwe,” he had stated then.
Workers blamed for fatalities at BCL
According to Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU)11 workers died at the BCL Mine between 2011 and 2015 – making it the most dangerous mine in Botswana.
Mahupela also conceded to this publication that “underground mining is one of the most hazardous and dangerous jobs anywhere in the world.”
He continued: “we have had our fatalities and most of our fatalities had to do with workers not following laid down procedures. There are those areas which you are not supposed to go into because if you go into them you will get killed.”
In our mines if you follow procedures, he said, chances of getting injured are very low. “All these procedures, all these laws and rules are made so that you don’t get injured. But if for any reason you don’t do what you are supposed to do, your chances of getting injured will rise. But we can’t really blame them because sometimes they are human and they forget.”
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.