Botash denies owing cash-strapped BR


Botswana Ash (Pty) Ltd (Botash)is denying a statement that was made by a Botswana Railways executive manager at a meeting with union representatives.

The meeting in question was between BR management and the Botswana Transport and General Workers Union (BTGWU) and one of the agenda items was late payment to staff. Minutes of the meeting, which have been annexed to a case at the Gaborone Industrial Court, quote BR’s Acting Director of Finance, Amon Sefawe, as saying that “Botash and MCM are not paying them well and also that they too are struggling. He said that the aim is to make arrangements with the two companies to pay them on time.”

Botash is the portmanteau of Botswana Ash (Pty) Ltd, a parastatal organisation owned by the Botswana government and a South African company called Chlor Alkali Holdings at 50 percent shareholding each. MCM is the abbreviation for Morupule Coal Mine, which is wholly owned by Minerals Development Company Botswana. In a rebuttal statement released last week, Botash denies what Sefawe is claiming in the minutes.

“Botash wishes to clarify that the alleged comments by BR management are unfortunate as they are not true both with regards to Botash’s payments to BR and in so far as it is implied that Botash is also facing challenges with its own financial performance,” reads the statement. “All payments due to BR have been made within the contractual terms. There is further no concern whatsoever over Botash’s financial performance and its ability to meet its obligations.”

BR and BTGWU are currently locked in a legal battle before the Gaborone Industrial Court. The latter’s case is that in failing to pay employees on time, BR is defaulting on its contractual obligations as expressed in its employment contract. The Union also raises the argument that BR should bear the cost of financial penalties that creditors and service providers impose on the employees for their own late payment of stop orders. 

Interestingly, BR’s response to the Union’s case doesn’t raise the argument that Sefawe made at the meeting in question. Such response is packaged in the form of an affidavit that has been deposed to by the Acting Chief Executive Officer, Chelesile Malele. She attributes the organisation’s financial problems to the following: a long turnaround times in South Africa due to the upgrade of a line from Mahikeng to Krugersdorp; public unrest that “usually occurs in South Africa”; vandalism and cable theft; shortage of locomotives both on BR and Transnet Freight Rail lines; long turnaround times on the National Railways of Zimbabwe lines due to shortage of locomotives; shortage of wagons such as those used to transport coal and salt – “this is mainly due to maintenance backlog”; Tarlton terminal remains closed for fuel dispatches due to South African Revenue Services compliance issues; “persistent” loadshedding at Slurry and Mahikeng (both in South Africa) resulting in loss of cement tonnage; and the suspension of movement of some BR wagons in South Africa by the South Africa Railway Safety Regulator due to maintenance issues.