Friday, December 4, 2020

Phikwe MP questions engagement of expatriates at BCL

The Member of Parliament for Selebi Phikwe West – Ditlhapelo Keorapetse has questioned the engagement of expatriates workers at the defunct BCL mine.

Speaking in Parliament this week, Keorapetse said unnamed expatriates have been engaged as part of the transition team adding that two of them do not even have work permits.

Keorapetse said that the BCL mine liquidation is in disregard of the laws of Botswana more especially the Mine Quarries Works and Machinery Act.

The UDC MP said that all the jobs at care and maintenance of BCL mine must be reserved for qualified Batswana who ran the copper mine for over four decades.

 Keorapetse questioned why some of the expatriates are still kept in the BCL liquidation payroll.

“Why still keep them if they work remotely and at very high cost, government should investigate procurement of services at BCL. Due processes are not followed,” said Keorapetse.

This is not the first time that the BCL mine liquidation process has received negative reports. In the past it was marred by a fallout between former minerals minister Eric Molale and Nigel Dixon-Warren, the then court appointed liquidator. Relations were strained in early 2018 when both parties clashed on the duration of the liquidation process, with the government piling pressure on Dixon-Warren to come up with a definite date on the winding up of BCL assets. However, the liquidator said it was a complicated process that could take up to seven years to conclude.

This did not go down well with the government which was facing criticism from other quarters as to why it has been spending huge amounts of money on the liquidation process while also the major creditor. Since 2016, government spent over P1.1 billion towards BCL, with a larger proportion of the funds paying former employees’ benefits, and the rest towards the care and maintenance of the mines.

By late 2018, relations between Molale and Dixon-Warren had deteriorated following a series of disagreements. The most glaring was the decision by the liquidator to axe half of the care and maintenance staff that were retained during the liquidation process. This happened after Molale had told parliament that he had spoken to Dixon-Warren and pressed upon him that he should not retrench any staff.

In December 2018, Molale told parliament that relations between him and the liquidator have irretrievably broken down. Molale disclosed that he had kick-started the process to have BCL removed from liquidation and put under judicial management to give the government more leeway in what to do with BCL rather than deferring to the liquidator, who under the liquidation process, can only be removed by Registrar and Master of High Court in terms of the Companies Act.

Dixon-Warren later resigned as BCL’s liquidator in May 2019. The registrar of the High Court later appointed South Africa based firm Sanek Trust Services – led by Glaum as BCL’s new liquidator.

Mine Closure

Faced with the dwindling commodity prices, and rising operating costs, the cash-strapped Botswana government made an abrupt decision to close BCL Group, made of BCL limited and Tati Nickel Mining Company, in a provisional liquidation by order of the High Court of Botswana on 9 October 2016. The government owns 100 percent of shares in BCL, and BCL’s wholly owned subsidiary, BCL Investments Pty Ltd, holds an 85 percent stake in Tati. The remainder of the shares in Tati are directly held by the Botswana government.

In late September this year, the Master of the High Court – Michael Motlhabi said that indicative offers to buy the BCL mine have been received from several interested bidders and that they are currently being assessed by an independent technical advisory consultancy appointed for that specific purpose.

This week, Keorapetse maintained that closing the BCL mine was a monumental mistake. He said the reasons provided then and now are still inadequate and consequently unacceptable as the liquidation has become a burden on the fiscus.

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The Telegraph December 2

Digital edition of The Telegraph, December 2, 2020.