Saturday, June 15, 2024

Debswana, BMWU brace for Scannex war

If Orapa mine’s Completely Automated Recovery Plant (CARP) was a correctional facility, it would fall under the category of a super-maximum security prison.

The ‘supermax’ sections of these U.S facilities house the most dangerous and notorious American criminals, hence the name and resources allocated to them.

The same can be said of CARP ÔÇô the state-of-the-art multi-storey Debswana plant where diamond recovery takes places.
This is where some of the world’s best diamonds are recovered before they are sent out to the high street where they meet a girl. The plant uses the moniker “Red Area”. You get the sense ÔÇô it is a sensitive area and access is restricted.

Hugs and hands-in-the-pocket are forbidden. If your belonging falls to the groundÔÇöyou raise your hands and show to it surveillance camera before you pick it up.

On exiting the plant, visitors, workers or contractors are subjected to full body searches similar to those in scenes from crime movie ‘Con Air’ ÔÇô where hardened criminals are subjected to inhuman frisking, including Cyrus “The Virus” Grissommanner, the notorious mastermind in the movie who despite his imposing figure, opens his mouth sarcastically as Sheriffs check if he has any harmful device hidden in his body.

Like Debswana, these searches in ‘Con Air’ are not 100 percent effective as the human eye misses the concealed contraband that makes it in and out of the prison.

The company has deployed a number of security measures including the controversial camera surveillance on personnel at work areas, controlled access and physical body and strip searches. All these have limitations as human errors lead to diamond smuggled in and out of the operations.

BMWU spokesperson Jack Tlhagale argues in a recent paper that Debswana has no interest in the dignity of employees when it comes to diamond security.

“The company has installed surveillance cameras in toilets at Orapa and went all the way to win a case in the High Court of Botswana against employees who complained that such cameras invaded their privacy. Thus it is no longer a point to talk about privacy either with strip search or cameras or x-rays in matters of protection of our diamonds.”

However, De Beers will not want to see its diamonds failing certification as smugglers are using the name of the Orapa mine to con dealers in the streets, and hence concerns of Botswana diamonds failing the Kimberly Process criterion ÔÇô and hence the development of the Scannex technology.

“By the nature of the searches, we cannot say it is effective,” laments one Debswana official. “Some people were arrested with old OLDM logo and when we establish where these diamonds come from, there is always the connection of an employee.”

General Manager of Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaa mines, Dr Adrian Gale, argues that there is need for increased sophistication to combat theft because even the smallest diamond the size of a figure could be worth millions of Pula.

“This is a way of combating such theft. It’s the best technology and it’s readily available. We need to find ways to protect our resource,” he says.

Diamonds are prone to theft as they are small in size, high value, easy to hide and difficult to detect. The company admits the current methods are not effective in addressing the illicit trafficking of diamonds.

Of the 673 stolen diamonds from Debswana mines from 1988 to 2011, the anus remained the most popular area to hide diamonds at 36 percent, followed by between buttocks at 30 percent, socks and hair at 14 percent. Other methods of concealing the contraband include mouth, under scrotum, underwear and clothing.

The BMWU has raised concerns that radiation from Scannex could be hazardous to employees and visitors. However, Debswana insists that a team of experts has given the project the green light and a clean bill of health. The union has confirmed it is opposed to the granting of a license to Debswana to install and use Scannex full body search x-ray machines at its operations.

It argues that the technology emits doses of ionizing radiation to the body, saying Professors at University of California, San Francisco, led by John Sedat have raised many red flags against radiation, including back scatter or body surface scans.

The BMWU says possible damage to body cells which may change the DNA and cause mutation in some individuals is the major concern.

“The union maintains that the security and economic value of diamonds is important and should not be compromised, but at the same time believes that the health of mineworkers as people is equally important and should not be compromised,” Tlhagale argues.

The company, owned 50/50 by the Botswana government and De Beers, says it has satisfied all the requirements and is only awaiting the final approval, and will defy the unions and implement Scannex.

The machine, according to the company, not only acts as a detector for diamond theft but as ‘deterrent which serves the purpose of reducing temptation’ from employees in being involved in theft or organised crime.

“We believe the technology on the mines is effective. Like any equipment, it can be improved from time to time, but without resorting to use of ionising radiation,” states the union.

Senior Projects Manager, Eunice Mpoloka argues that Botswana has adopted international standards informed by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). She made an assurance that employee exposure records shall be kept until the employee is 75 years and not less than 30 years after termination from employment.

Mpoloka says there will be a Radiation Safety Officer (RSO) or a Legal Appointee, who will be trained and experienced in radiation health & safety and will be legally empowered to stop any unsafe practices.

“After interactions with regulators, we agreed to protect pregnant women and they will not be scanned. However, they will be given alternative jobs during pregnancy,” she says.?Debswana has also made an undertaking that there will also be exclusions based on medical grounds and on individuals under the age of 16 if exposed to x-ray screening. The required limits of allowed ionizing radiation dose has been set at 1 milli sievert (mSv) for members of the public and 20 milli sievert (mSv) to workers. This means an individual is allowed 200 scans annually. One scan is measured at 0.006 milli sievert. It is argued this is less than radiation dosage used at airports and some medical facilities.

In June 2012, Debswana was given a conditional approval from the Radiation Protection Board. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was submitted in August 2013. The company now awaits approval from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), which will be the last stage in the vetting process.

The DEA constituted a Reference Group (Public Health, RPI, BMWU, Dept. of Mines, UB Dept. of Physics), while the BMWU brought in their technical experts.

“All technical members approved implementation of Scannex and submitted project supporting letters to DEA, except BMWU.”
Mpoloka says a joint Union/Management task team was formed to investigate the use of Scannex. The team presented their findings to JNCC and unanimously recommended use of Scannex.

“The Union raised concerns on health and two occupational health experts; one being an independent nuclear physicist were brought to present to JNCC,” she says. “After extensive consultations with BMWU, Management informed Union that they’re proceeding with the application to install Scannex.”

The BMWU, on the other hand, says the task team report was never brought to the Joint Negotiation and Consultative (JNCC) forum for discussion before it could be considered for adoption per normal practice.

“Instead Debswana used a raw report to get conditional license from Department of Radiation Protection to buy and use Scannex which license was issued even before EIA was done.”

The project will cost about P50 million. It will see 10 machines installed in Jwaneng, Orapa, Letlhakane, and Damtsha operations. The technology is already being used at Namdeb, the Namibia’s equivalent of Debswana and De Beers’ owned Venetia mine in South Africa’s Limpopo province.

“The technology has been used within the region and no cases have been raised,” argues Mpoloka.

Debswana, the bloodline of De Beers, has scored badly on security at its mines compared to its peers.

Again BMWU argues: “To say that Scannex has been used in South Africa and Namibia for 20 and 40 years respectively is not significant if one fails to show how subjects survived or succumbed many years after exposure to ionising radiation.”

But if it had its way, the diamond mining company would have gone ahead and implemented the project.

Already, the company faces vulnerabilities as employees (and possibly external people) are taking advantage of the weaknesses, as evidenced by recent cases of illicit diamond trafficking (IDT).

Debswana’s determination comes at the back of breaches in security areas, but the union argues that the bulk of allegedly stolen stones do not come from local mines.

“It is dangerous and misleading to use the figure of 673 alleged to be the number of stolen recovered by the Botswana Police Service to justify Debswana’s case to get a license to buy and use Scannex because the Police have indicated that the bulk of these diamonds do not come from Debswana mines, but from other mines in Southern Africa such as Namibia and DRC. Debswana admitted this to be true and explained that they used the figure to get an idea (extrapolate) of what is the situation is likely to look like in Botswana mines,” says Tlhagale.

There is worry that lower quality diamonds are sneaked to Debswana operations and replaced with gems from Botswana.
Scannex technology has been approved by the South African and Namibian Government Health Departments for its non-medical application. The technology has been developed and supplied by DebTech, a technology business unit of the De Beers Family of Companies.

The BMWU is worried that the choice of technology is limited and restricted to what De Beers family of companies is manufacturing and using’, which is sold and maintained by DebTech. “No comparison with any other search technology outside the De Beers group is made.”

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