Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Gov’t’s double-turn on EU efforts to save Selibe Phikwe

Details are emerging on how government frustrated a plan by the European Union (EU) to ensure the survival of Selibe Phikwe Township after the closure of BCL copper mine.

Sunday Standard can reveal in good standing that government sneered at P600 million worth of projects sponsored by the EU to ensure that Selibe Phikwe did not turn into a ghost town when the mine closes.

The oldest mine in the country, which is the life-blood of over 80 000 people in the township and the surrounding areas of Selibe Phikwe, went down on its knees last week and there are fears that the EU may refuse to release money for some pending projects that were to be implemented under the Selebi Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU).

Although the EU has been instrumental in keeping the BCL running since the 1990s by injecting capital to extend its lifespan, it was, as a stakeholder not consulted on the closure of the mine.

Sunday Standard has turned up information showing that around 2004 the European Union Investment Bank  disbursed funds to  BCL mine totalling over P600 million to stop the mine from going under.

The funds which were spent on machinery and further exploration of ore to extend the mine’s life span helped BCL to return to profitability and was able to pay off the loan in a short period.

The EU then proposed that part of the funds and interest from the loan totalling should be held by the Botswana government through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. The funds are held under an account dubbed the Re-Employment Account (REA). 

Sunday Standard also turned up information showing how the EU, which was instrumental in the setting up of SPEDU, fell out with government over projects that were indentified to save Selibe Phikwe.

They included the Selebi Phikwe Technical College, the Botswana Mining Museum and Research Centre (BOMMERC), an Acid Capture Plant, tourism infrastructure at Letsibogo Dam and a packaging house and processing plant for horticulture produce.

According to insiders, the government had misgivings about some of the projects that were proposed by the EU and was reluctant to implement them.

It has also emerged that SPEDU, through the support of the EU, conducted studies but there was not enough input from government departments.

“It seems that the government had other plans as to what to do with the funds hence it was reluctant to implement some of the projects that were identified,” a source said.

Among some of the proposals that government rejected or was reluctant to support, was the setting up of a mining museum and a technical college as well as the construction of a bridge at one of the rivers that shares the border with Botswana and South Africa. The construction of the bridge was aimed at promoting tourism development. The projects that the government was in favour of were those relating to the Letsibogo Dam which resulted in a study dubbed ‘The Letsibogo Tourism’. Another project that the government approved was a processing plant for horticulture produce.

It has also turned out that Government also conducted its own study and some of the projects that it identified and wanted to implement as a matter of urgency was the expansion of the Selibe Phikwe air strip, among others.

It is alleged that the EU lobbied that the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BUIST) be based in Phikwe so that its students could benefit from the use of mine shafts. That is the reason the EU proposed that a mining museum be established in Selibe Phikwe, one of the sources explained. The BIUST main campus was, however, set up in Palapye.

Former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning Serwalo Tumelo said while he had knowledge that EU injected capital to extend the lifespan of BCL, he could not recall the exact figures.

Reached for comment, government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay advised that questions be sent to the ministry responsible. The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning and the EU had not responded to Sunday Standard queries at the time of going press.

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