Monday, October 26, 2020

BCL’s long walk to “premature” death

Amid fears that the copper mining town of Selebi Phikwe will soon denigrate into a ghost-town, and while the nation wait for economic pundits as well as the appointed liquidator to draw up a plan to help save Selebi Phikwe and nearby villages, Sunday Standard Business Editor VICTOR BAATWENG looks at a few but key “Selebi Phikwe-BCL” throwback news headlines. 

BCL MINE HAS ITS BACK AGAINST THE WALL
NOVEMBER 2006
: As early as 2006, the BCL mine made headlines with all sorts of accusations being levelled against management by the workers, trade unions as well as political leaders. The former Member of Parliament for Selebi Phikwe West ÔÇô Kavis Kario was one of those who expressed his unhappiness with the way things are going at BCL copper/nickel Mine. On the other hand, Jack Tlhagale, the Secretary General of the Botswana Mine Workers Union could not hide his contempt for the mine management who he accused of indiscretion. During the same year, another controversy started when the then Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Botsalo Ntuane, brought a question to parliament asking the then Minister of Labour Moeng Pheto to disclose the salary and perks of the mine General Manager, Montwedi Mphathi. Minister Pheto declined, saying Mphathi’s salary was a private matter that could not be discussed in a public forum such as parliament.

BCL MINE UPGRADES ROAD FOR P5 MILLION
SEPTEMBER 2007:
It was during the tenure of Montwedi Mphathi as General Manager, that BCL splashed P 5 million in the upgrading and refurbishment of BCL- Selebi Phikwe road as part of its corporate social investment programme. The road was one of the programmes which the mine was involved with apart from other concerns such as such education, environment and health, which are all done under the banner “Sustainable mining ÔÇô empowering communities”.

GOV’T ADVISED TO INVEST BILLIONS IN SELIBE PHIKWE
NOVEMBER 2007:
CAS Consultants, an international consultancy company, blatantly warned the government that if it does not take any action aimed at diversifying the economy of Selebi-Phikwe it risks prospects of a revolution. In its bulky report delivered to the government, the consultants stated nine strategic points adding that “doing nothing is not an option”. The implication of the closure of the BCL Mine would, in the absence of diversification programme, be severe. The consultants warned that the loss of employment would directly affect thousands of Batswana. 

EU HELPS A SOCIO ECONOMIC AUDIT OF SELEBI PHIKWE REGION
MARCH 2009:
Three years down the line, the European Union (EU) provided an amount of P450, 000 for the preparation of a detailed socio economic ‘picture’ of Selebi Phikwe and its surrounding areas. The Socio-Economic Audit was part of EU’s comprehensive programme of P300 million to support BCL operations as well as economic diversification of Selibe Phikwe and surrounding areas
The Socio Economic Audit was commissioned to produce a basis of ‘hard information’, data and analysis which will help Selebi Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU) and other authorities to identify priority areas for utilisation of the available resources.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST MARS NORILSK BID TO BUY BCL
DECEMBER 2009:
Still in 2009, plans by Russian outfit – Norilsk Nickel to buy the BCL copper and nickel mine in Selibe Phikwe hit a snag following ethical concerns raised by the BCL board of directors.
Norilsk Nickel which owns a controlling stake in Tati Nickel and a minority stake in BCL had made a proposal to the Botswana government to buy the BCL mine. BCL board members representing the government of Botswana however objected to the Norilsk bid, citing conflict of interest. By then the Russian metal company had representatives in the BCL board of directors.

The two sides in the BCL board could not reach an agreement on the issue and legal opinion was sought to resolve the dispute. The legal opinion by an independent law firm confirmed the conflict of interest in the Norilsk bid.
The then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources – Gabaake Gabaake confirmed that a legal opinion was tabled but would not go into details.

BOTSWANA GETS EU SUPPORT FOR SELEBI PHIKWE DIVERSIFICATION
JANUARY 2011:
By early 2011, the Botswana and the European Union (EU) on Friday signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the use of approximately P640 million from the Sysmin Re-Employment Account (REA) to foster economic diversification in the region of Selebi Phikwe.
The agreement was signed by the then Head of Delegation of the European Union to Botswana, Ambassador Paul Malin, and his counterpart, Solomon Sekwakwa, who is still the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.
At the time, the Government had identified a number of priority projects, which could be funded under the REA: the Selebi Phikwe Technical College, the Botswana Mining Museum and Research Centre (BOMMERC), an Acid Capture Plant, tourism infrastructure at Letsibogo Dam and a packaging house and processing plant for horticulture produce.
The money was also to aid SPEDU ÔÇô the regional development agency, as the main driver of the economic diversification process in Selebi Phikwe and its region. 

BCL SEEKS GOV’T APPROVAL TO TRANSFORM INTO A REGIONAL POWERHOUSE
June 2014:
In mid 2014, documents shown to the Sunday Standard, also presented to cabinet indicated that BCL Mine leadership proposed to government a new set of drastic steps to get away from the “sundown mentality that the curtain is about to close.”
The leaked documents indicated that the mine wanted to be allowed to become a “Base metals business of Southern Africa.”
The proposals came after internal discussions in Government established that SPEDU ( a parastatal established to save the town beyond BCL Mine) would not be able to move fast enough much less be capable of becoming a replacement of BCL in the town.
As part of the new plan, BCL was said to have started looking for mining deposits around the country that would replace the diminishing copper deposits that the company was mining.
The Mine was also to establish joint ventures which will fast-track the process of enlisting into its production pipeline a number of known deposits which had been left un-mined because at the time they were deemed not
economic enough.

BCL TAKES OVER NORILSK OPERATIONS IN AFRICA
OCTOBER 2014:
Fast forward to the last quarter of the 2014, a general elections year in Botswana, BCL Limited and Norilsk Nickel announced that they have entered into definitive transaction agreements to sell Norilsk operations in Africa to BCL. 
This was to include a 50 percent participation interest in the Nkomati Nickel and Chrome Mine (‘Nkomati’), South Africa, and its 85 percent stake in Tati Nickel Mining Company located near Francistown. The total expected consideration for the Assets payable by BCL to Norilsk Nickel amounted to US$337 million payable in cash. In addition, BCL assumed all attributable outstanding debt and environmental and rehabilitation liabilities associated with each asset.

BCL CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF CONTROVERSY OVER ITS LINKS TO KENTZ SA
MAY 2015:
Kentz SA, a leading South African mechanical and electrical engineering firm won a multi-million Pula contract at the BCL mine in Selibe Phikwe. The shut down entailed large scale maintenance and renewal of production lines.
Citizen owned electrical firms cried crying foul saying Kentz should not be the involved in BCL. An association of citizen owned mechanical and electrical firms then wrote a formal letter to BCL management seeking clarification on Kentz involvement on a contract that could easily be carried out by local firms. The citizen owned firms were concerned that the arrival of Kentz SA which they allege is not represented locally and would not be paying taxes here is also a sure way of exporting Botswana jobs to South Africa at a time when the economy of Botswana needs jobs the most. Kentz has had a tempestuous relationship with Botswana. 

PRESSURE MOUNTS ON BCL MANAGEMENT AS MINISTER HINTS AT DISMISSAL
FEBRUARY 2016:
By early this year, signs were already showing that BCL’s top executives of the trouble ridden BCL mine might not have their 13th cheque this coming December. 
Kitso Mokaila, who was redeployed from the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, hinted in February to parliament that their future hangs in the balance as he was considering showing them the exit door. When responding to a question from Selebi Phikwe West Member of Parliament (MP), Dithapelo Keorapetse during parliament question time, Mokaila described BCL management as “slow” and fell short of calling them useless.
“The management is not serious. They were too slow in doing certain things,” said Mokaila.

BCL OWES SUPPLIERS CLOSE TO P600 MILLION
MARCH 2016:
Just a month after his signal to send Dan Mahupela and his team packing, Mokaila returned to parliament to tell it that by March 2016, BCL owed its suppliers at least P595 million. Mokaila said the number of suppliers owed by BCL surpassed 600, with local suppliers owed at least P452 million while foreign suppliers debt was at P143 million. 

BCL
OCTOBER 2016:
On 7th October 2016, BCL miners clocked out of the final shift under the Mahupela management. Operations at the mine were stopped with immediate effect following the government’s decision to place the mine under the management of a provisional liquidator tomorrow. During the night of the same day, a delegation comprising the newly appointed Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security Minister Sadique Kebonang, area MP and Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development Nonofo Molefhi, Transport and Communications Minister Kitso Mokaila and Chairperson of Mineral Development Company Botswana Regina Sikalesele-Vaka addressed the BCL management and union leaders. Sunday Standard reported that due to BCL’s technical insolvency, Cabinet decided that government should apply for the mine’s provisional liquidation. It also emerged that the government, which is the sole owner of BCL was worried that should any creditor apply for its liquidation government would lose control of the mine.

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