Thursday, August 13, 2020

De Beers robs workers to sponsor COVID-19 push

International mining giant, De Beers was tight-lipped this week following allegations that it is picking Botswana employees’ pockets to fund its P 20 million contribution to the COVID-19 Relief Fund.

De Beers is reported to have diverted money from its cash reserve fund towards the COVID-19 Relief Fund. The reserve fund is designed to meet up to three months short-term financial needs, like staff salaries in case of emergencies.

To make up for the money it has diverted to the COVID-19 Relief Fund, De Beers is understood to be planning to cut staff salaries and is putting pressure on its subsidiary, Debswana to follow suit.

Debswana like De Beers has a reserve fund is designed to meet up to three months short-term financial needs, like staff salaries in case of emergencies.

Debswana which is a 50/50 partnership between Botswana government and De Beers is the second largest employer in Botswana after government with more than 5000 employees, about 97% being citizens. Debswana also accounts for more than 70% of De Beers’ revenue.

Both De Beers and Debswana refused to comment on the report. In what appeared to be a choreographed response, both De Beers and Debswana issued separate but similar written responses to Sunday Standard queries.

While De Beers in its response stated that, “De Beers Group does not comment on speculation about its business”, Debswana on the other hand stated that “as a matter of principle, we do not offer comment on rumour or speculation.”

Debswana however went further and stated that, “suffice to say the company, like many others, is modelling various scenarios in order to be able to come up with an appropriate response to the current crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. At the forefront of our planning is the health and welfare of our employees. All decisions relating to Debswana’s business are the reserve of the Debswana Board of Directors and no other person or body.”

Indications are that Botswana government, which is a 50% shareholder in Debswana is being marginalised in the plan to slash staff salaries. President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his officials have gone to great lengths to protect Batswana’s jobs and salaries during the COVID-19 state of emergency period.

Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development Kabelo Ebineng was on public television this week, slamming companies that diverted staff salaries towards COVID-19 Public Relief Fund contributions.

De Beers Group last month announced that it would contribute 20 million Pula ($1.7 million) to aid the Government of the Republic of Botswana’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

According to a press statement from De Beers,
the contribution consists of a 10 million Pula injection to the Botswana COVID-19 Relief Fund, and a further 10 million Pula in logistical, supply and community support.

Bruce Cleaver, CEO, De Beers Group was quoted saying: “With our contribution of 20 million Pula, De Beers is proud to support the unprecedented efforts of Botswana’s government, healthcare professionals and all those confronting COVID-19 in the country. We have also refocused our business in Botswana to support Government’s response to the pandemic and our priorities are clear: prepare communities for the crisis, support the emergency response and be Botswana’s partner in recovery.

“For more than 50 years De Beers has been part of Botswana and Botswana has been part of De Beers. As COVID-19 tests the world, it will not test our resolve or commitment to Botswana. The men and women of De Beers are standing with the people of Botswana today and we will be standing with them tomorrow.”

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