Sunday, September 27, 2020

A “Hardrock” block at BCL….

By Bonnie Modiakgotla

It would appear that the Botswana government has now become directly involved in the BCL liquidation process decisions, a departure from an earlier approach where the government’s role in the whole matter was limited to pumping in billions during the liquidation process.

Last week Thursday Eric Molale, minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Technology told parliament how he stopped Nigel Dixon-Warren, the BCL liquidator, from halving the remaining staff of BCL that is engaged for purposes of care and maintenance.

Molale was responding to questions posed by Dithapelo Keorapetse, Selebi Phikwe West legislator, who inquired about number of workers employed, and whether there are intentions to reduce the number of these workers.

Molale said the BCL Liquidator has engaged 477 permanent and 33 temporary workers at BCL, while 34 permanent and two temporary workers have been engaged at Tati Nickel Mine. He also told parliament that the ministry has no intention to reduce the care and maintenance employment levels. In fact, he has asked the liquidator to optimize employment levels to comply with the relevant legislation, in particular, as it relates to safety and health.

Keorapetse then asked the minister about the letters given to the employees by the liquidator which stated that their contracts are expiring, and that the staff will be cut in half. He asked if Molale was aware of the letters, to which he responded that he was aware of it and has stopped the liquidator right in his tracks.

“As I said in my answer, the halving or reduction or even stopping is not an option and that is what I made clear to the liquidator when I was in Selebi Phikwe last month,” Molale said. “Lastly, we are going to be meeting sometime next week; myself, the liquidator and the Registrar and Master of the High Court to try and resolve certain issues around the reporting channels that have to do with the liquidator doing his job and who they report to.”

The government’s direct interference with the liquidation process must have been prompted by the criticism it has received for continuously spending money on the liquidation while not certain when the process will end, with the liquidator saying it could take several years.

With no definite timeframe for winding up the liquidation process, the government has spent over P1.1 billion towards BCL since its closure, with a larger proportion of the funds paying former employees’ benefits, and the rest towards the care and maintenance of the mines. The liquidator has so far pocketed over P42.3 million in over twenty months, averaging P2.2 million monthly in fees.

Molale has previously defended the government’s decision to pay the liquidator, explaining that the payments are in the form of advances, of which the government will be paid back after the liquidation process wounds up. While the government did not have to pay for the liquidation process, Molale said the government as the main shareholder of BCL mines had to step up to protect its interests.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.