Saturday, January 23, 2021

Cable theft, white collar crime bleeds BCL

The two government parastatals Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and the Botswana Telecommunications (BTC) are not the only ones that lose millions of Pula every year to copper thieves.

The Selebi Phikwe-based copper and nickel miner, BCL, is another company that is a victim of cable thugs that skip the fence and cut the cables in search of copper wire, which they later sell to scrap yard owners.

The mine’s Security Superintendent, Noah Makaba, said on Tuesday that the situation is made worse by the Mines and Quarries Act that governs operations like BCL since the law is silent and does not specify the type of security needed in mines like the one producing copper and nickel. It is contrary to the Precious Metals Act that governs diamond mines which is clear on the kind of the security to be provided.

“This company like any other is not spared from cable theft. Theft is rampant here,” explained Makaba. “This means that the safety of people underground is at stake if there is theft of power cables. If guys cut power cables to ventilation, people have to vacate the workplace because they cannot work under these conditions.”

Makaba has been praised for making improvements in the security since he joined BCL security ranks in 2001 as he brought some changes to the safety of the company’s property.

The theft of cables from insecure mine’s three shafts is not the only concern to Makaba since he also has to deal with internal theft. BCL employees have teamed up with suppliers to defraud the company. He says in the past BCL has lost grinding machines and survey and geology equipment to people who work for the mine. This does not stop there since white collar crime is also a concern at the mine.

“There are people who connive with contractors to inflate prices and in some instances we were asked to investigate and we came with positive results”.
In the recent past, there were some BCL employees that were fired for conniving with contractors. In some incidents, the mine was able to recover R1.3 million from a South African company after discovering fraud and thousands of Pula has been recovered from local companies.

Last year November, BCL recovered P2.2 million from another supplier after the contract paperwork was found not to be in order. Cumulatively over P5 million has been paid back to the company.
“We are continuing with a lot of people coming up with information and we confront those who committed the fraud,” revealed Makaba.

Makaba says times have changed and the mine needs to move with times in stepping up security adding that he is impressed with the support he gets from the higher offices.

He says the management is in agreement that security is needed in order to secure the company’s parameters. BCL, Makaba says is in the process of improving its surveillance with the company looking at installing a Metal Detection System and camerasÔÇö-a process which is at a quotation stage.
The security chief also says the plan is to erect a razor type fence in some of the security areas while saying that the project to fence the entire mine’s 35 km stretch will require P7 million excluding labour. This is a high cost looking at the current price of steel.

“We need proper security fences, they (management) thought of erecting a security fence, but now the prices are high”.
Early this year, Selebi North Shaft had to be shut for two days because of theft and millions were lost in revenues.

“If things go according to plan, we will have surveillance system in place. We will set up cameras by next year”, he promised.

The cameras will be set up in areas like gates and supply chain. Meanwhile, in an endeavour to fight crime at the mine, BCL on Tuesday formally launched its anonymous ethics hotline, which is an international trend.

Whistle blowers will call the hotline number 0800 60 06 45 and report BCL related incidents of theft and after that the report will be sent to the General Manager’s office. The Security Superintendent will then tell the Divisional Manager about the allegations and if they are they are happy the security division will go ahead with the investigations. Many companies around the world have now recognised ethics hotline and saved money by introducing this system.

“Unethical behaviour raises the cost of running a business and an example is the Enron scandal in the US”, said Keenlord Dube, Divisional Manager of BCL at the launch.

“At BCL, unethical behaviour needs to be red carded”. The mine’s values in the past have been centred around trust, which has come to cost the company millions of Pula in fraud. Dube said that around 2004, there was unethical behaviour where ‘our employees even those at senior management connived with suppliers’ in South Africa.

“Suppliers not competent were awarded works. Then what we started was to offer amnesty: few people came forward and that was when R1.3 million was paid back to BCL and some employees parted ways with BCL”.

Apart from the amnesty, Dube said that they introduced a mobile phone ‘hotline’, which was well publicised, but it was flawed because they were not offering anonymity. That is when they decided to come up with the ethical hotline that is being managed by independent auditors from South Africa.

“Some of the results have been rewarding: we got some tips and got back some machinery valued at over P4 million”.

“Our efforts have not gone unnoticed. Botswana Training Authority (BOTA) have come here on a benchmarking mission”, added Dube. BCL is the first company to offer ethics system from scratch. Those whistle blowers who want to reveal their identity are compensated depending on the level of allegation.

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