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Government failed to prepare for BCL’s closure?

Ndulamo Anthony Morima
EAGLE WATCH


At a meeting at which His Honour the Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, introduced BCL’s court appointed Liquidator, Nigel Dixon-Warren, to management, the trade union and town authorities, he is reported to have said “… we don’t want to see this town disintegrating and turning into a ghost town and we will jerk up SPEDU.”

According to Mmegi’s online edition of 13th October 2016, BCL Mine, which closed on 8th October 2016, directly employs 4,300 people, while Tati Nickel Mine, its subsidiary, which closed on 10th October 2016, employs close to 700 workers.

Though government has decided to keep the employees on its payroll for now, inevitably most of these 5,000 employees will eventually lose their jobs. This will affect thousands of people and hundreds of businesses which depend on these employees’ incomes for a livelihood.

The question is: since government always knew about BCL mine’s lifespan, has it prepared Selibe Phikwe for BCL’s closure? Should HH Masisi be talking about jerking up SPEDU or he should be telling Batswana what SPEDU and other government programmes have done to prepare Selibe Phikwe for BCL’s closure?


From as far back as the 1980s government has had several initiatives to prepare Selibe Phikwe for BCL’s closure. According to government’s press statement of 1st June 2010 “… these initiatives are inclusive of the Selebi Phikwe Development Programme of 1985, the Selebi Phikwe Regional Development Unit of 1987 which culminated in the Financial Assistance Policy (FAP) and the Special Incentive Package. By the year 2001 the Selebi Phikwe Diversification Committee was established following a private sector led initiative.”


The statement continues to say “… In 2006, a consultancy firm, CSA, was appointed to carry out a study on Regional Economic Diversification following the failure of the FAP and the Special Incentive Packages. The main recommendation of the CSA study was the establishment of a Unit to coordinate the Diversification Programme of Selebi Phikwe and the region, hence the birth of the Selebi Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU).”


SPEDU, a unit under the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, was set up to, in government’s own words, “… spearhead the implementation of the economic regeneration programme for Selebi Phikwe and surrounding regions.”


Of significance is government’s assertion that “…SPEDU has been set up to secure a long term survival of Selebi Phikwe and the surrounding regions beyond the closure of the BCL mine and smelter through actions and initiatives which may bring sustainable new employment and investment to the region and hence broaden and underpin its economic and social base…”


The question is: has SPEDU achieved its objectives, namely furthering economic development and regeneration of the Selebi Phikwe region; promoting business efficiency, and competitiveness in the region; promoting inward investment and trade facilitation; promoting employment and enhancing the development and application of skills relevant to employment in the region?


According to government, “… a number of feasibility studies looking into possible diversification industries such as Tourism and Leisure, Agriculture, and Heavy Engineering were undertaken. These studies have recommendations that guide SPEDU on projects that can be of economic benefit to the region.”


In the said press statement a summary of the studies was presented thus:  “…the Letsibogo Tourism Study concludes that there is a prima facie case for Selebi Phikwe to become a stopover destination for travellers en route to the wildlife parks and an accommodation base for day trips to surrounding attractions…”


Further, “…the development of the Dikgatlhong dam offers the opportunity to extend the route to the northern areas via Selebi Phikwe past the Letsibogo Dam and onwards to Francistown… The ‘funnel’ nature of the region predisposes it to act as a ‘tourist corridor’ that would link the region with the tourism attractions and products further north…”


“The study clusters development around the corridor by linking existing and potential attractions which once in operation would serve to increase tourist stay and spends in the region…” the statement says. It adds that “…the heavy engineering study recognizes the need to ring fence the substantial non-core assets owned by BCL as strategic business units so as to enhance the industrial potential of the region…”


According to the statement, “… the horticulture study concludes that the region has potential to become the bread basket of the country as a result of abundant water and fertile soil resources. The study recommends such projects as a ‘washing, sorting and packaging’ plant as well as a processing plant for vegetables hence adding value to produce tomato sauce and related products…”  


The statement further disclosed that “… the SPEDU Regional Economic Development Agency has developed a six year Regional Economic Development Strategy (REDS) which intends to improve the economic performance of the region, enhance the region’s competitiveness and address market failures that prevent sustainable economic development, regeneration and business growth in the region…”


The statement adds that “… the REDS has as its strategic priorities Business and Enterprise support, Investment and Trade Facilitation, Economic Renewal, Promotion of Employment, Land and Development, Infrastructure and Economic Inclusion…”


Admittedly, these were noble plans, but very little has been done to achieve them. Selebi Phikwe and the region have not been made a stopover destination for travellers en route to our wildlife parks and game reserves. They have not been turned into an accommodation base for day trips to surrounding attractions as had been planned.


Dikgatlhong and Letsibogo dams have not been used to make the region, which is said to be of a ‘funnel’ nature, to act as a ‘tourist corridor’ that would link the region with the tourism attractions and products further north.


There has been no ring-fencing of the substantial non-core assets owned by BCL as strategic business units so as to enhance the industrial potential of the region. The region has not been turned into the bread basket of the country despite it having abundant water and fertile soil resources.


No economically viable projects in the washing, sorting and packaging industries are in existence. No profitable processing plant for vegetables has been established. No value adding plant, e.g. to produce tomato sauce and related products has been established as planned.


According to Sunday Standard’s online edition of 6th February 2014, BCL General Manager, Daniel Mahupela, who is also the Board Chairman of SPEDU, said, during one of the events on its Polaris II strategy, before he was appointed Chairperson, he took a deliberate decision to forge cooperation with the SPEDU leadership and to align their strategies…”


He continued to say “… following the adoption of our new corporate strategy, popularly known as Polaris II, it became apparent to me and my teams at BCL that SPEDU and BCL are working towards a common goal that is of preventing this town of Selibe Phikwe from disappearing. On the other hand, SPEDU can benefit from downstream opportunities under the BCL Polaris II strategy…”

Clearly Mahupela’s words, just like those of the then Vice President, Dr Ponatshego Kedikilwe,  who, at the same event, said BCL, through its Polaris II strategy, will enable Selibe Phikwe region to witness the creation of a cluster of large heavy industry projects, leading to a boom in employment and minerals processing centres, turned to naught.

Contrary to HH Masisi’s words, during a tour of Selebi Phikwe Senior Secondary School and NFTC Agro Processing Plant facility as well as the Pula Steel Plant construction site on February 2016, the SPEDU regional development strategy has not rekindled Selebi Phikwe and the region at large. It is common knowledge that Pula Steel recently shed jobs.

But, why have government’s efforts to rekindle Selebi Phikwe and the region at large which started as far back as the 1980s not born fruit? There have been reports that government did not take a leading role; and that there were rifts between BCL and SPEDU. There are also reports that there is confusion on the role played by SPEDU.

According to Sunday Standard’s online edition of 5th November 2012, during the National Stakeholders Conference for Mid-Term Review of NDP 10, DDP 7 and UDP 3, participants expressed skepticism among relevant stakeholders about the role of SPEDU. While they had initially thought that it would tackle developmental challenges in the area, it was not being as proactive as they had hoped. They said SPEDU states that it is not an implementer, but a facilitator. 



According to the report, in response to this concern, officials from the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, confirmed that SPEDU was indeed a facilitator, saying SPEDU has no capacity to implement and it is Selebi Phikwe Town Council (SPTC) that has to shoulder such a responsibility. But does SPTC have such capacity?


If Selibe Phikwe and the region are to be rescued government has to retrace its steps. Perhaps it did not learn enough from the lessons from the Selebi Phikwe Development Programme of 1985; the Selebi Phikwe Regional Development Unit of 1987 which culminated in the Financial Assistance Policy (FAP) and the Special Incentive Package? Also, it has to clarify SPEDU’s role versus that of SPTC and government generally. 

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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