When the true history of Botswana diamond beneficiation is finally written, the names of Israeli diamond billionaire Lev Leviev and Greek gemologist Yianni Melas will feature prominently as the main architects who provided the initial blue print that formed the basis of the current experiment in diamond value add.
Their business case presented to the Botswana media at Hotel Mondeo on that auspicious day in 2004, enabled Botswana to gain confidence to proceed to negotiate better – but not the best – terms with De Beers which resulted, among others, in the relocation of the Diamond Trading Company from London to Gaborone.
From that day onwards Botswana’s diamond beneficiation debate gained momentum and intensity despite much negative publicity and opposition from both government and De Beers. De Beers and Botswana Government finally somersaulted in their opposition in a rather strange turn of events due to intense public debate and concerted media onslaught in support of diamond value addition.
The change of heart was clearly opportunistic, self serving and mere face saving in the light of mounting public condemnation and debate. The real reason seemed to have been De Beers’ paranoia and the need to block its strongest and most feared and effective international rival billionaire, Lev Leviev from entering Botswana’s diamond beneficiation market.
This was after Leviev had made a compelling business case in support of beneficiation which in turn exposed De Beers and some of its harmful business practices against Botswana. De Beers apparently had not been acting in good faith in its opposition to diamond value add.
Indications are Botswana's diamond beneficiation is a poor and half hearted plagiarism of billionaire Lev Leviev's original business model presented in 2004 at various media briefings in Gaborone through his gemologist consultant, Yianni Melas at a time when Botswana government and De Beers dismissed the idea as nonsense and unworkable. De Beers sought to keep Botswana out of diamond beneficiation for its own benefit.
Leviev was able to demonstrate how Botswana was probably being cheated and not realizing the true value of its rough diamonds because there was no independent way of grading and determining the price at the time. De Beers over decades was conflicted for having had a hand in the appointment of a sole diamond valuer to grade and price Botswana diamonds, which in turn were all sold to its wholly owned marketing arm in London- the Central Selling Organization.
It was a national shock to learn that Botswana’s leadership and the public for long did not know the true price and value of their diamonds in the absence of an independent and competent grading and valuing system as De Beers alone was a player and referee at the same time.
Leviev and his Greek consultant, Yianni Melas recommended for the first time that Botswana should engage the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to provide an independent and credible grading, valuing and pricing for her diamonds as well as provide training in all aspects of diamond beneficiation as a basis for building a strong foundation for the emerging beneficiation industry.
â€¨â€¨Unable to find a coherent, cogent and convincing reason against Leviev’s proposal, the Botswana government, De Beers and their supporters in the media resorted to mudslinging, conspiracy theories and a smear campaign against Leviev and his supporters.
As a test case for those in doubt, Melas and Leviev had proposed for the first time, that Botswana set aside only ten per cent of her rough diamond production, a basis for a local diamond cutting and polishing segment to support an emerging jewelry manufacturing and retail industry.
Unlike local supporters of beneficiation who tended to appeal to nationalistic sentiments and rhetoric of patriotism, Leviev argued from an informed position as a practitioner with deep gemological knowledge, experience and understanding of the entire diamond value chain.â€¨â€¨
According to Melas, cutting and polishing segments were not meant to be stand alone but to be fully integrated through backward and forward linkages in the entire diamond value to move Botswana diamond industry a step further as a new and emerging diamond jewelry manufacturing and retail center in order to derive maximum returns from rough diamond production.
Melas and Leviev were advocating for branding Botswana internationally as a major diamond producer, by producing locally, "made in Botswana" an assortment of diamond jewelry, in turn creating new synergies and supporting new enterprises and other sectors of the economy such as air transport and tourism.
Leviev’s business case envisaged a scenario where international jewelry buyers would be persuaded through marketing and advertising to travel to Botswana to buy "made in Botswana" branded diamond jewelry at shops set up at major tourism and urban centers in Botswana like Kasane, Maun and Gaborone, at the same time, promoting the country as a premier retail, tourist, wedding and honeymoon destination.
For instance, for sentimental reasons, newlyweds were to be more pursued through advertising and marketing to prefer to travel to buy their piece of diamond jewelry where it is produced and probably wed and honeymoon at one of Botswana's world renowned and unique ecosystems such as various game reserves and the Okavango.â€¨
Other spinoffs of his business model was support for the development of hotel accommodation and bringing the huge investment and budget in marketing, advertising and promotions of diamonds and their transactions to Botswana which is currently done overseas. â€¨
However instead of seriously considering Leviev’s proposal and according him the opportunity to spearhead the new beneficiation industry because he was more competent than most, Botswana missed the boat by making the wrong policy choices by succumbing to the hostility and rivalry from De Beers.
There was no cogent reason for Botswana to have turned down Leviev’s business case since he was more competent and world renowned to deliver because he was already active and successful at participating in all levels of the diamond chain worldwide.
Botswana’s beneficiation model has been overtaken by events, because the trend now is for greater consolidation and integration through backward and forward linkages of the entire segments of the diamond value chain. In fact other African countries and Industry players are no longer content with specializing in mining and selling diamonds raw at low prices but to add value to them and invest in the entire value chain.â€¨â€¨
Because of lack of transparency in the valuation /and pricing of diamonds generally, Leviev also recommended use of other independent authorities to improve transparency and create an electronic trading platforms for diamonds such as IDEX, Guaranteed Diamond Transactions (GDT system, Rapport Net and DIAMDAX, which collects and supplies polished diamonds price data to a number of firms and utilizes online exchange that offers online trading platforms for polished diamonds using real time spot prices.
Leviev has a track record of being De Beers' most feared competitor after pulling the rug under the feet of De Beers on many occasions for lucrative diamond deals in Russia and successfully putting an end to De Beers' pervasive spell, dominance and gridlock hold on Southern Africa's diamond resources in Namibia and Angola.
Leviev called De Beers' bluff by demonstrating that indeed beneficiation was indeed not only desirable and overdue but also feasible as demonstrated by his impeccable track record internationally at all levels of the diamond value chain. Leviev’s proposal to Botswana diamond value add was unprecedented, more detailed, ambitious and innovative than what Botswana and De Beers ultimately settled for.
Unlike Levier's well thought out proposal, a reluctant De Beers gave Botswana a rope to herself by choosing to concentrate not only on cutting and polishing, but in venturing into the equally risky area aggregation and selling of selling rough stones. This is so because every diamond valuation is subjective.
Two appraisers can differ in their valuations of the same diamond by as much as 30%. A key consideration in diamond pricing is a stone's grade – not a monetary value – which is by no means an exact science but a subjective consideration, so that the same diamond often receive markedly different grades from different laboratories, resulting in large variations in the prices of comparable stones. â€¨
Tracing the diamond value chain is not the only way of measuring how African diamond producers lose on revenue and miss vast opportunities to diamond processing countries overseas.
By way of illustration, Botswana produces an estimated 33% of global diamond production and 75% by value of all the global diamond production and profit enjoyed by De Beers. Jwaneng mine in Botswana is the largest diamond mine in the world by value and third largest by carat volume.
In 2015, industry sources reveal that it is estimated to produce 11.0 million carats valued at $2.4 billion. The second largest diamond producer by value and volume, Orapa also in Botswana is estimated to produce 12.0 million carats in 2015 or $1.2 billion worth of diamonds up from 12.1 million in 2013.
Rio Tinto owned Argyle mine in Australia is the world’s largest in terms of production volume and is estimated to produce 17.5 million carats in 2015 up from 9.2 million in 2014 and expected to reach 20 million carats per annum in 2016. But Arygle diamonds, like those in Zimbabwe’s Marange, are of relatively low quality and colour are expected to fetch much less revenue than both Jwaneng and Orapa.
Yet the so called world diamond hubs have no significant diamond mines but where most of the diamonds from diamond producing countries like Botswana are sold and fully beneficiated makes such diamonds producers a laughing stock of the world and a shame to present future generations.
For example there are six major diamond hubs which aggregate a variety of industry activities in a single venue, including diamond trading centers, dealers and sales offices of cutting and polishing companies.
Spot trading of rough and polished diamonds between a buyer and a seller takes place in the sales offices. By contrast, Botswana generates revenues roughly of between US$1-2 billion on average per annum from its massive diamond production, and yet the traditional hub of New York, produces $35 – 40 billion turnover per year, hosts about 2600 diamond businesses.
Dubai with no single diamond mine, makes $40 -45 billion per year, and provides services to more than 500 regional and international diamond companies and is the fastest growing hub in recent years, according to the Bain report and INDEX.
Antwerp generates $50-56 billion per year, hosts four major diamond exchanges and 1500 diamond companies and is the largest diamond hub in the world. Mumbai attracts between $25-30 billion in turnover, is home to 2500 diamond offices and handles 60% of diamond exports from India.
The diamond hubs of Dubai and Hong Kong are luring trade with zero taxes on imports and exports and by exploiting their proximity to the cutting and polishing industry in China and India, while the traditional hubs on Antwerp, New York and Tel Aviv have opted to specialize by focusing on high value stones, well developed infrastructure and favorable tax revenues.â€¨
Botswana's potential to grow into a major cutting and polishing center is therefore limited on the basis of the opinion of Bains and Company report. It argues among others that the country's labour costs are high compared to those of China and India and its cutters lack expertise comparable to that of the craftsmen in Europe, Israel and the US.
The growth of Botswana's cutting industry may well be limited until it is better able to compete on cost with the industry in India and China. Cutting and polishing costs average range from approximately $100 per carat in Antwerp, New York and Tel Aviv, to $20 to $56 in China and Thailand and $10 to $30 in India.
However, Botswana still enjoys much competitive advantages to excel in diamond beneficiation across the entire value chain because unlike other cutting and polishing centers, she has access to secure supplies of rough diamonds and ability to resell.
But cost competition amongst cutters and polishers has intensified, making new investments in efficiency necessary while financing for working capital is growing harder and harder to obtain. Competition for access to key customers in jewelry manufacturing is heating up, while there is a never ending challenge of securing stones at prices that make economic sense.
At the upstream end of the value chain, the key challenges for retailers are to secure a supply of diamonds jewelry appropriate to their customer base and ensure that the diamonds in their jewelry are ethically secured, forcing many firms into more consolidation and integration of the entire value chain, according to the Bains and Company report.â€¨
Moreover, Botswana beneficiation model in aggregation and the sale of rough diamonds has severe limitations because there is no spot market for rough or polished diamonds, which are primarily sold through private contracts, with no public disclosure of negotiated prices.
Diamond producers have a compelling motivation to realize the highest possible price as prices directly affect their profitability. This desire may negatively affect the profitability of cutters and polishers who are in need of secure access to supplies of rough diamonds and ability to resell at competitive prices.
Cost competition among cutters and polishers has intensified naming new investments in efficiency necessary at a time when financing for working capital growing harder and harder to obtain. Competition for access to key customers in jewelry manufacturing is heating up.
There is also a never ending challenge of securing access to stones that make economic sense on the evidence of the Bains and Company report.â€¨â€¨Unlike Leviev's well thought out proposal, a reluctant De Beers has been calculative and seems to have given Botswana a rope to herself by choosing to concentrate not only on cutting and polishing, but in venturing into the equally risky area aggregation and selling of selling rough stones. This is so because every diamond valuation is subjective.
Two appraisers can differ in their valuations of the same diamond by as much as 30%. A key consideration in diamond pricing is a stone's grade – not a monetary value – which is by no means an exact science but a subjective consideration, so that the same diamond receives markedly different grades from different laboratories, resulting in large variation in the prices of comparable stones.
Although a substantial mark- up occurs at the cutting and polishing stages, it is only the countries and firms that are able to find the most cost effective, quality assured and increasingly safest means of doing so that will be globally competitive in the future.
Moreover, says Bains and Company, there is no spot market for rough or polished diamonds, which are primarily sold through private contracts, with no public disclosure of negotiated prices. Diamond producers have a compelling motivation to realize the highest possible price as prices directly affect their profitability.
This desire may negatively affect the profitability of cutters and polishers who are in need of secure access to supplies of rough diamonds and ability to resell at competitive prices. Cost competition among cutters and polishers has intensified naming new investments in efficiency necessary at a time when financing for working capital is growing harder and harder to obtain. Competition for access to key customers in jewelry manufacturing is heating up.
Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) moved swiftly this week to suspend BBS Limited from trading its securities following a brawl between Board of Directors and Managing Director, Pius Molefe, which led to corporate governance crisis at the organisation.
In an interesting series of events that unfolded this week, incumbent board Chairperson, Pelani Siwawa-Ndai moved to expel Molefe together with board Secretary, Sipho Showa, who also doubles up as Head of Marketing and Communications. It is reported that Siwawa-Ndai in her capacity as the board Chairperson wrote letters of dismissals to Molefe and Showa.
Following receipt of letters, the duo sought and was furnished with legal opinion from Armstrong Attorneys advising them that their dismissals were unlawful hence they were told to continue to report to work and carry out their duties.
Documents seen by BusinessPost articulate that in the meeting which was held on the 1st of April, the five outgoing board members, unlawfully took resolutions to extend their contracts by a further 90 days after April 30 2021 as they face tough competition from five other candidates who had expressed interest to run for the elections.
Moreover, at the said meeting, management explained that neither management nor the board have the authority to decline nominations submitted by shareholders or the interested parties which is in line with Companies Act and also BBS Limited constitution.
Molefe also revealed that as management they cautioned the board that it was conflicted and it would be improper for it to influence the election process as it seems they intended to do so. “Nonetheless, in a totally unprecedented move in the history of BBSL, the board then collectively passed the unlawful resolutions below. Leading to the illegitimate decisions, the board had brazenly directed that its discussions on the Board elections should not be recorded totally violating sound corporate governance,” reads the statement released by management this week.
When giving their legal advice, Armstrong Attorneys noted that notice for the AGM should state individuals proposed to be elected to the board and directors have no legal authority to prevent the process.
Armstrong Attorneys also noted that, “due process” cited by board members are simply to ensure that the five retiring Directors avoid competition from interested candidates to be appointed to the BBS Limited board. The law firm further opined that the resolution of the 90 day extension of term of the five directors pending re-election or election was unlawful.
Molefe expressed with regret that BBS has been suspended from trading by BSE until the current matter has been resolved. “I am concerned by this development and other potentially harmful actions on the business. As management, we are engaging with stakeholders to mitigate any negative impact on BBS Limited,” expressed a distressed Molefe.
He assured shareholders and the rest of Management that they are working very hard to ensure that the issues are being dealt with in a mature manner. BBS which hopes to become the first indigenous commercial bank has seen its shares halted barely four months after BSE lifted the trading suspension of shares for BBS following submission of their published 2019 audited financial statements.
According to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the local bourse, Thapelo Tsheole said the halting of shares of BBSL is to maintain fair, efficient and orderly securities trading environment. “The securities have been suspended to allow BBS to provide clarity to the market concerning the recent allegations which have been brought to the attention of the BSE relating to the company’s Board of Directors and senior management,” said Tsheole.
Meanwhile in their audited financial statements for the year ended 31 December 2020, BBS recorded a loss of P14.6 million as at 31 December 2020 compared to the loss of P35.7 million for the comparative year ended 31 December 2019. According to Molefe the year under review was the most challenging for the bank, its shareholders and customers endured the difficult economic environment and the negative impact of the coronavirus.
He revealed that as the bank, they were forced to put in place several measures to ensure that the business withstands the impact of coronavirus and also to cushion mortgage customers from the effects of the pandemic. “Since April 2020 up to the end of December 2020, BBS assisted 555 mortgage customers with a payment holiday,’’ he said.
This is the bank whose total balance sheet declined by 12 percent from P4, 626 billion for the year ended. 31 December 2019 to P4, 088 billion as at 31 December 2020. As if things were not bad enough, total savings and deposits at the bank declined by 14 percent from a balance of P2, 885 billion as at 31 December 2019 to P2, 494 billion as at 31 December 2020.
On a much brighter side, BBSL mortgage loans and advances improved from P3, 401 billion to P3.408 billion with impairment allowance significantly improving to P78, 648 million from P102, 532 million for the year under review, representing a positive variance of 23 percent. BBS maintained a strong capital base with capital adequacy ratios of 26.32% for the year ended 31 December 2020.
Molefe was optimistic and anticipated a positive outcome during the implementation of the new BBS corporate strategy, whose main drive is commercialization of operations, which is in full force. “It will be spurred on by the positive results we have achieved for the year ended 31 December 2020, and our planned submission of our banking license application to Bank of Botswana which we anticipate to operate as a commercial bank in the third quarter of 2021,” he alluded.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Premium Nickel Resources Botswana (PNRB), Montwedi Mphathi, has said his company will resuscitate the formerly owned BCL assets and deliver a new, sustainable and cutting edge mining operation.
The new mine which will leverage on modern and next generation technology, will be environmentally sensitive and cognisant of the needs of its people and that of the communities around the area of influence.
In a statement last week, Premium Nickel Resources Botswana and its parent company, the Canadian headquartered Premium Nickel Resources announced that they have now completed the Exclusivity Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Liquidator.
The MOU will govern a six-month exclusivity period to complete its due diligence and related purchase agreements on the Botswana nickel-copper-cobalt (Ni-Cu-Co) assets formerly operated by BCL Limited (BCL), that are currently in liquidation.
On February 10, 2021, Lefoko Moagi, the Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security of Botswana, affirmed in Parliament a press release by the Liquidator for the BCL Group of Companies, stating that PNR was selected as the preferred bidder to acquire assets formerly owned by BCL.
“This is encouraging for the company and for Botswana. Our ambition in this new project dubbed “Tsholofelo” is to redevelop the former BCL assets into a modern, environmentally sensitive, efficient NI-Cu-Co-water producer where sustainability and the people are at the forefront of the decisions we make,” said Mphathi in a statement last Thursday.
“We also understand that no matter how successful we are at building the “New BCL” , our success will only be measured at our ability to create local wealth , skills and support the continued transition of local economy to a longer term sustainable base.”
The next step during the exclusivity period will be the completion of the definitive agreement. Simultaneous to this the PNRB will be conducting additional investigative work on site to further its understanding of the potential of these assets.
Specifically the company will complete an environmental assessment, a metallurgical study, a review of legal and social responsibilities, a review of the mine closure and rehabilitation plans and an on-site inspection of the legacy mining infrastructure and equipment that has been under care and maintenance.
Mphathi said they continue to monitor the global Covid-19 developments noting that they are committed to working with health and safety authorities as a priority and in full respect of all government and local Covid-19 protocol requirements. PNRB has developed Covid-19 travel, living and working protocols in anticipation of moving forward to on site due diligence.
“We will integrate these protocols with the currently applicable protocols of Ministry of Health & Wellness as well as District Health Management Team ( DHMT) and surrounding communities,” reads a statement released by the Gaborone based Premium Nickel Resources team.
PNRB is looking to become a catalyst in participating and building a strong economy for Botswana, with a purpose where respect and trust are core to every single step that will be taken. “Our success will mean following international best-in-class practices for the protection of Botswana’s environment and the focus on its people, building partnerships and earning respect, through cooperation and collaboration,” explains PNRB on its website.
“We are committed to Governance through transparent accountability and open communication within our team and with all our stakeholders.” Mphathi, a former BCL Executive, is widely celebrated for achieving unprecedented profitability at the mine during his tenure as General Manager.
The Serowe-born mining guru obtained a Diploma in Mining Technology from Haileybury School of Mines in Canada. He later obtained a B.Eng. Mining degree from the Technical University of Nova Scotia. Mphathi went on to City University in London, UK and obtained a M.Sc. in Industrial and Administrative Sciences.
Before ascending to the top country managerial role of Premium Nickel Resources. Mphathi was General Manager of Botswana Ash (Botash), Southern Africa’s leading salt and soda ash producer. He was at some point linked to Debswana top post, which is still to date not substantively filled following the death of Managing Director, Albert Milton, in August 2019.
With Mphathi out of the race and now leading the rebuilding of his former employer, the top post at De Beers- Botswana joint venture is likely to be filled by current acting Managing Director Lynette Armstrong, a seasoned finance executive with unparalleled experience in the extractive industry.
“We are happy to hear that former General Manager of BCL, Mr Montwedi Mphathi, has a relationship with the new Company that intends to resuscitate the mine, he is an experienced Mining Executive who knows BCL better, we want the mine to be brought back to life so that our people can be employed ” said Dithapelo Keorapetse Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West recently in Parliament.
BCL was liquidated in October 2016 following a series of losses and government bailout occasioned by low Copper prices and allegedly poor Investment decisions and maladministration. Recently PNR CEO, Keith Morrison said his team of seasoned experts both from Canada and Botswana are committed to resuscitate the BCL assets and deliver a high performance mining operation.
“The World, Botswana and the mining industry have changed dramatically since mining first started at the former BCL assets in the early 1970s. The nickel-copper-cobalt resources remaining at these mines are now critical metals, required for the continued development of a decarbonized and electrified global economy,” he said.
Morrison added: “As we move forward, it is our goal to demonstrate the potential economics of re-developing a combination of the former BCL assets to produce Ni-Cu-Co and water in a manner that is inclusive of modern environmental, social and corporate governance responsibilities.”
He explained that to attain this, extensive upgrades to infrastructure will be required with an emphasis on safety, sustainability and the application of new technologies to minimize the environmental impact and total carbon footprint for the new operations.
“Our team remains committed to working with the local communities and all of the stakeholders throughout this period and we encourage anyone with questions or feedback to reach out to us directly,” he noted.
Lucara Diamond Corporation, the Canadian 100% owners of iconic Karowe mine, this week announced the extension of its supply deal with Belgian diamond midstream giant HB Antwerp.
The definitive supply agreement is in respect of all diamonds produced in excess. of 10.8 carats in size from its rare gem producing Karowe diamond mine located in the Boteti district of Botswana. Large, high value diamonds in excess of 10.8 carats in size account for approximately 70% of Lucara’s annual revenue.
Though the Karowe mine has remained fully operational throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Lucara made a deliberate decision not to tender any of its +10.8 carat inventory after early March 2020 amidst the uncertainty caused by the global crisis.
Under the terms of this novel supply agreement with HB, extended to December 2022, the purchase price paid for each +10.8 carat rough diamond is based on the estimated polished outcome, determined through state of the art scanning and planning technology, with a true up paid on actual achieved polished sales thereafter, less a fee and the cost of manufacturing.
“Lucara is beginning to see the benefits of this strategy in accessing a broader marketplace and delivering regular cash flow based on final polished sales,” said Lucara CEO, Eira Thomas on Wednesday.
“We believe these early results warrant an extension of the arrangement for at least 24 months to determine if superior pricing and market stability for our large, high-value diamonds can be sustained longer term.”
The Canadian junior miner initiated a supply agreement with HB for large stones from its Botswana Karowe mine in July 2020, after pausing its tenders shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic began. The deal enables Lucara to sell the rough diamonds to HB at a price based on an estimate of the polished outcome, which the companies determine using diamond scanning and planning technology. Once HB sells the goods, it adjusts the price that Lucara receives based on the actual selling price of the polished, minus a fee and manufacturing costs.
The extended supply deal will follow the same payment terms as the initial agreement, and will be in effect through to December 2022. Lucara said in a statement this week that the agreement also provides increased tax revenue and beneficiation opportunities for the government of Botswana, and creates a streamlined supply chain for Karowe’s rough.
“More than a supply agreement, this collaboration structurally embeds a new transparent and sustainable way of working in the diamond-value chain,” said HB CEO, Oded Mansori. “For the first time, different partners of the value chain are fully aligned, sharing data and information throughout the process from mine to consumer.”
Mansori added: “We are truly proud with this innovative and straightforward collaboration that has proven itself through the volatile and uncertain reality of 2020. We are confident to achieve even better results during the term of this new contract and demonstrate the power of a true partnership.”
Lucara, which early this year secured extension of Karowe mining license to 2040, announced over P2.4 billion funding for Karowe underground mining expansion project a fortnight ago. The Vancouver headquartered top large diamond producer says this supply agreement deal extension with HB will bring about regular cash flow for Lucara using polished pricing mechanism. Furthermore, the company says the deal has potential revenue upside, particularly suited for Lucara’s large, exceptional diamonds.
In the main, Botswana will benefit increased tax revenue and additional beneficiation opportunities for the Government and communities around Karowe mine. A streamlined supply chain that achieves alignment between Lucara and HB to maximize the value of each +10.8 carat diamond produced at Karowe.