Sunday standard Business Editor, VICTOR BAATWENG picks four of the top shocking business headlines in 2016 that are likely to continue in 2017.
ÔÇó THE BTO SAGA: In August, the sudden and unexpected resignation of the former Chief Executive of the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO), Thabo Dithebe, plunged the already ailing industry under a welter of further confusion and uncertainty. A month later, Dithebe then told the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Public Enterprises that he stepped down due to frustrations that all had to do with operational issues he had been facing at the government-owned tourism marketing agent. When breaking his silence, Dithebe shockingly revealed that there was too much political interference from the parent ministry. Dithebe was appointed to the BTO top post in February 2015 after a year of acting following the departure of Myra Sekgororoane – who also left under cloudy circumstances. Before his promotional appointment to the CEO post, Dithebe was director of Projects and Business Operations. However, in August, Dithebe announced his intentions to step down ÔÇô hardly 18 months after his appointment to the post.
At the time, allegations were rife that Dithebe had been forced to step down due to interference by the political head of the tourism ministry ÔÇô Tshekedi Khama – whose ministry oversees BTO. Amongst other things, Dithebe is said to have been sidelined when a multi-million Pula deal involving BTO and a Dubai-based company was signed without following proper procedures. The deal which is estimated to cost about P17 million was signed on behalf of BTO by the current Marketing Executive, Julian Blackbeard whose position then was Marketing Officer for New Markets and Products. Blackbeard who is believed to have close ties with Tshekedi was later to tell the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Public Enterprises that she signed the deal because she was “under the impression” that Dithebe had sanctioned it.
Dithebe, on the other hand, insisted that he neither sanctioned the Dubai trip nor the signing of the deal.
ÔÇó SUDDEN CLOSURE OF BCL: On October 7, 2016, BCL miners clocked out of the final shift under the former Managing Director of BCL, Dan Mahupela. 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. It, however, shockingly emerged that contrary to reports that the mine was under dire financial constraints and in need of billions of Pula for a bailout, the former BCL mine management believed that all it needed to keep the mine running was a mere P2 billion. This was in contradiction to earlier reports in which Kebonang was quoted as saying that “to keep it going, the cost is P8 billion, and if you sink that into BCL, you have to shut down the entire economy, meaning no provision of free Anti-retroviral drugs or free education.”
The document compiled by Mahupela and his then executive team when requesting for emergency funding states that BCL had a proposed funding through the equity of P2 billion spread as P1 billion required immediately and another P1 billion at the end of first quarter of 2017.
ÔÇó SALE OF MORUPULE B POWER STATION:
Still in the final quarter of the year, early November to be precise, Cabinet was reported to have reached an agreement to sell the troubled Morupule B power station for an undisclosed bargain basement price.
Although information then was still sketchy, sources close to the sale told Sunday Standard that the plant was being sold for about half its construction costs to China National Electric Equipment Corporation (CNEEC), the Chinese contractor that was commissioned to build the plant under controversial circumstances. To date, Cabinet chairman – President Dr Ian Khama – has not said a word regarding the possible sale of the country’s biggest power plant.
When making his State of the Nation Address (SONA) recently, Khama instead told the nation that the power station was still undergoing remedial works.
“The existing Morupule B is still undergoing remedial works, our energy supply is being supplemented by the Orapa and Matshelagabedi Diesel Peaking Plants,” said Khama.
Although the expectation was that Khama would shed more light on the proposed sale of Morupule B, indications are that, through the sale, Botswana intends to recoup all the money that it has spent on the construction and maintenance of the troubled power station.
Still in early November, in a memo addressed to Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) staff, the corporation stated that over the past few months the company together with the shareholder had been looking at options of ensuring security of supply and making the corporation financially viable again.
The memo further states that the BPC has been running at a loss for the past eight years (since 2009) and given the pressure and competing priorities, the Botswana government can no longer sustainably support the corporation.
“It is on this note that the shareholder made a decision to sell one of the assets of the Corporation being Morupule B 600 MW Power Plant to ensure reliable power supply and reduce the Corporation’s debts,” reads the statement.
BPC executives said then that Morupule B had proven to be costly to maintain and operate due to construction and equipment defects and the decision to sell the power plant would go a long way in alleviating this situation.
ÔÇó APPOINTMENT OF LINAH MOHOHLO
Hardly few weeks after her retirement from the central bank job, the former Bank of Botswana governor Linah Mohohlo landed a new position at the government enclave. President Ian Khama appointed Mohohlo the coordinator of the Selebi Phikwe economic revitalisation/recovery programme. Mohohlo’s new pay cheque is believed to have been scaled along the lines of most parastatal CEOs and permanent secretaries.
Although by closure of business on Friday it was not clear on the exact role that Mohohlo will be playing, government confirmed that she would be based at the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry. The Ministry also houses the Selebi Phikwe Diversification Unit (SPEDU) which was set up in 2008.
The unit was established following a study on Selebi Phikwe economic diversification that was commissioned through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning with funding from the European Union. The study recommended the establishment of a diversification unit to spearhead the implementation of the regeneration programme proposed for Selebi Phikwe. Afterwards, SPEDU was established as a regional economic development agency in 2008 through a presidential directive.
Its functions are to manage the diversification programme; identify projects and progress them to potential investors; work with existing project promoters and with government in respect of public sector projects; help promote and enhance the image of Selebi Phikwe and identify and secure outside technical assistance to carry out feasibility studies and other specialised tasks.
Permanent Secretary at the Office of the President Carter Morupisi confirmed the appointment of Mohohlo’s appointment but could not shed much light on her new role which economic experts believe might clash with that of the Chief Executive Officer of SPEDU.
“His Excellency trusts that with her unparalleled immense experience in the financial and economic fields, Mrs Mohohlo will greatly contribute to the economic recovery of Selebi Phikwe,” reads part of Morupisi’s statement.