The questions on every journalist’s lips could not be asked at the BCL press conference last week because company General Manager, Montwedi Mphathi, did not show up. That was probably the point.
The press conference addressed by the BCL media liaison team, which was meant to “normalize relationships with the media”, is believed to be a PR stunt to divert the bad publicity against Mphathi.
The BCL and its General Manager have been making headlines since the dismissal of close to 180 employees in September after they went on strike. The media then went on a feeding frenzy as skeletons started tumbling out of the company cupboard.
First the staff questioned Mphathi’s hefty P105 000 monthly salary, then the employment of his wife as AIDS Coordinator and later Employee Wellness Manager earning a whooping P 30 000 a month.
Allegations of corruption and nepotism started flying thick and fast when it emerged that Divisional Manager, Keenlord Dube, was working alongside his wife Betty Dube who was employed as Safety Health and Environmental Manager. Dube is believed to be Mphati’s sidekick.
It also emerged that Mphathi and other BCL Executives were directors of a company that had direct dealings with BCL. Staff also questioned their relationship with a company that supplied gumboots and safety equipment to BCL.
When the Directorate on Corruption of Economic Crime knocked on Mphathi’s door, the BCL controversy took on a new twist.
A war of words broke out between Mphathi and DCEC boss, Tymon Katlholo. Mphathi argued that DCEC had no jurisdiction over the BCL because the mining company is not a public body.
Mphathi said that the BCL is not a public body as government has only a limited shareholding of 35 percent instead of the stipulated 51 percent but they had allowed them to proceed with investigations for the sake of
Katlholo of DCEC on the other hand argued that BCL was a public figure because government had shares in it, however limited. Speaking to The Sunday Standard on Friday, Katlholo said that the issue of jurisdiction was a tired one that had been greatly debated.
He maintained that DCEC was empowered by section 6 D of the Corruption and Economics Act which allows DCEC to receive and investigate any complaints and allegations of corruption in any public body, and government’s shareholding in the BCL, however minimal, makes it a public body more so that it was established by an act of parliament.
Katlholo also explained that Section 2 of the same Act defines a public body as any office, organization or any body created under powers conferred by any enactment or includes company in which 51 percent or more of the equity shares are owned by the government of Botswana and “BCL can be any one of these”.
Though he could not reveal the findings of the investigations Katlholo said that DCEC officers were still investigating BCL.
At the press conference the BCL media team flashed a copy of a letter that they claim was written by Katlholo back in 2004 to the effect that the allegations that were reported to them back then were not within their jurisdiction and they, therefore, could not proceed with investigations.
A senior security officer at BCL told The Sunday Standard that similar allegations were leveled against them in 2004 after the employment of Mphathi’s wife but the DCEC failed to act because they claimed lack of jurisdiction.
On other issues, the Botswana Mine Workers Union President Chimbidzani Chimidza made an unprecedented change in strategy when he spared the BCL management and aimed his canons at the Botswana Government, lambasting it for standing by and watching while hard earned millions are wasted away by a few unscrupulous individuals at BCL.
Chimidza was unyielding in his onslaught as he said that it is surprising that after spending millions of the taxpayer’s money to bail out BCL the government would sit back and watch when there are strong indications that all is not well at the mine.
“Government should have intervened and called for the man’s suspension while investigations are still ongoing” he said adding that government’s inaction raises strong suspicion that they have always been aware of the man’s exorbitant salary.
“The refusal by Finance Minister Baledzi Gaolathe to disclose Mphathi’s salary is a strong indication that government might have actually sanctioned it,” he said.
It also emerged that the BMWU dissidents who were imprisoned for 6 months after disobeying a high court order that they pay back BMWU funds have actually always been in the payroll of BCL even during their imprisonment.
Ndlovu admitted that after their release from prison the dissidents walked right back to their respective jobs as “they have always been considered to
be our employees”. BCL also refuses to recognize the branch committee that was presented to them by BMWU opting to deal directly with the national executive committee.