Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Gov’t stubborn refusal to localize BPC top job has put country into current mess

Looking at the rate at which things are going, it is a fair comment that the electricity disruptions that have gripped the country since the beginning of the year are set to get worse before they get any better.
This week, the BPC executives called a press conference to clarify issues surrounding energy shortages.

The picture painted by the BPC is not only gloomy but scary.
It goes without saying that the outages are going to hit Botswana where it hurts most: the diamond mining sector.

This will spark a domino effect which we think by the time we emerge from the mess some irreparable damages would have occurred.
Botswana imports close to 80 percent of her electricity from the South African utility company Eskom.
In the meantime, Eskom is not able to satisfy the needs of their primary constituency, South Africa.
It is only natural that, the contract between BPC and Eskom notwithstanding, when push comes to shove Botswana will be sacrificed.

For Botswana, the situation is made worse by the fact that power from Mozambique which would somehow alleviate the situation here has to pass South Africa and Zimbabwe.
South Africa has its own power problems and it is not going too far to think that the country would want to help themselves to Botswana’s supplies before passing.
As for Zimbabwe, this is a rogue state that had power problems long before the region underwent the current crisis.

As we speak, electricity passing through Zimbabwe is not coming through.
There is no guarantee at all that the ration passing through SA is making it to Botswana.
It is not enough to say, as the BPC executives seem to believe, that no transgressions will occur simply because SA and Zimbabwe are parties to the cocktail of contracts that make up the Southern African Power Pool.

The truth of the matter is that for some years now, it was a well known fact that power demand in Southern Africa was growing at a rate that by far surpassed supply.

This much was acknowledged by the BPC executives themselves.

They say the economic boom, especially on the back of mining, has taken everyone by surprise. Maybe they have a point.
But our take is that the BPC internal planning has no doubt been affected by an absence of a substantive CEO.

The contents of the Eskom agreement with BPC were well known, at least to the authorities at the Ministry of Minerals and Energy as well as to the BPC.

Also known, as early as early 2000, was that energy demand in Southern Africa was growing much faster than supply.

Yet no contingency measures were put in place to plan ahead.

But that is all beside the point.
The gist of the matter is that about ten years ago, the Board of BPC sacked three leading executives in that utility.

They were Ketani Sithole (CEO), Alfred Mokone (Human Resources Chief) and Ben Ramasedi (Chief Operations Officer).

Since then, the BPC has never had substantive leadership.

With hindsight, whatever the reasons behind the sacking of these three BPC executives was a bad omen.

For BPC, things have never been the same again.
Not only has the organization lacked leadership and direction at executive levels, the anomalies have gone all the way to the levels of the Board.
The all important organization had to undergo a state of near comatose when it was led by people who were only given the jobs on acting capacities.
It is not clear why subsequent Boards decided never to appoint a substantive CEO.

The closest the Board came to appointing a CEO was when they gave the position to John Kaluzi, a Zambian native who, other than his smooth talking, did not undertake any major capital projects for BPC.

In the meantime, the government was dubiously rolling out electrification projects to many rural villages including in the most inhospitable areas, clearly unadvised that such expenditure was clearly the money gone down the drain as in the near future there would be no power to reach those area.
Now we hear Kaluzi has left BPC, and has been rewarded with an even plumier job as government advisor for the Mmamabula project.
That is weird to say the least.

We hope when the dust settles and the authorities take stock, they will closely evaluate the folly of having an important institution like BPC without a substantive leader for such lengthy periods of time.
As we like to say, energy supply is a security issue.
We believe that it is one area where the principles of localization, especially at the top positions, should never be compromised.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.