Saturday, December 2, 2023

BPC’s 48 months of ‘technical’ errors reflect our lack of ‘accountability’

On Thursday morning, an alarming statement prepared by South Africa’s power utility Eskom warned of the grave danger of the ‘lights going out’ in most part of that gold-rich country.

But as we all know when South Africa sneezes, Botswana catches the influenza thus the whole nation also went ‘black’ as of this past Thursday.

As it’s been the norm for the past 48 months or so most households and business, since Thursday morning had power for only a few hours a day. It was not only a question of lights and televisions. Refrigerators could not keep food fresh. Water pumps did not work. Lifts stood idle and production companies slashed their productions to undesired levels.

The latest national power cut comes after on Thursday South Africa’s Eskom announced a power emergency caused by heavy rains, which wet its coal stocks. This left both South Africa and Botswana with limited supply and an increased deficit capacity during peak.

On Friday, Eskom Chief Executive Brian Dames apologised to South Africa on for the approximately 3,000 megawatt (MW) shortfall that forced the state power utility to employ load shedding on Thursday for the first time since 2008 to save the country from blackout.

His Botswana counterpart, the BPC Chief Executive, Jacob Raleru was nowhere to be found. No word from him whatsoever. He was probably trying to stop the boilers at Morupule B from collapsing and melting. After all it’s his mess.

At the same time, the minister responsible for energy, Kitso Mokaila last week Friday made a statement in parliament to the effect that “Morupule B should be stable by April.” We wait to see the validity of the statement in three weeks time.

With all these several power cuts, it is a source of immense shame that to this date, the government has not found it necessary to do an audit of how this power interruptions and delays at Morupule B, will in the overall affect Botswana’s economy, especially small and medium businesses.

While we all know that Morupule B has been plagued by technical problems throughout its development and operation, the situation worsened three weeks ago when all four units went offline simultaneously, resulting in total plant shutdown.

The government need not to be reminded that its failure to invest in new plants, lack of maintenance of existing plants such as the old Morupule power plant as well as a very slow development of private producer market, are some of the factors that have led to the power deficit that we are facing now. The real scandal, of course, is the woeful inability of cabinet to select a credible and competent company to build a power station of what was to be Morupule B.

The Chinese company (CNEEC) won the tender ahead of four other companies, one from India, another one from Europe and two other from China. These was despite the fact that before winning the tender, CNEEC had no proven record of constructing power station of over 1000 mega watts.

At the same time, before awarding the Morupule B tender the cabinet knew very well that a five year power supply agreement which was set up between Eskom and the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) at the beginning of 2008 was uncertain after South Africa decided to cut back on supplies to neighbours so as to meet its domestic demand.

Just how desperate the situation has become was demonstrated by the government’s risky political decision to switch on the controversial power plant although it was not ready for commissioning as confirmed by the African Development Bank.

To add further insult, the President and the Minister went on record to say everything is in control, “There will be no longer load shedding”. When the project was started, it was sold to the nation as a panacea to all of the country’s electricity need.

While the most recent power cut is not necessarily as a result of a direct failure of Morupule B, which has long failed, Jacob Raleru, Kitso Mokaila and other chief executives’ members of the government need not to forget that frequent power outages mean big losses in forgone sales and damaged equipment.

Past research shows that companies could lose up to 6 percent of turnover on average for formal enterprises, and as much as 16 percent of turnover for informal enterprises who unable to provide their own backstop generation.

In the meantime no one has been held accountable for this P11 billion loss. Under normal circumstances, such a defaulter should bear the costs not households and businesses like it is the case now.

All these are signs of how far down the tube we have plunged that not a single executive at BPC for that matter, has resigned, if not for accepting responsibilities then for showing moral conscience that this unfolding tragedy happened as a result of their assistance.

That is to say, generally there is a culture of impunity, which has, over the last five years or so, cost this country very dearly.

Projects have either been left unfinished while others are of sub standard quality yet nobody is liable. At the same time, no one questions anything, we all lack ‘accountability’.


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