Friday, April 3, 2020

The audacity of Mineral Resources ministry

While the rest of the government tends to be coy about job creation targets, the country’s Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security (MRGTES) ministry has boldly projected that its intervention will create nearly 2,000 jobs. 

The ministry officials say they are reviewing pieces of legislation to create an enabling environment that will promote citizenship, adding that the ministry’s mega projects will be used to bolster citizen employment. Amongst the projects tapped by minister Lefoko Moagi, a mining engineer by profession is the renewal program which involves construction of 2 x 50 MW Photo Voltaic (PV) power station, 12 grid ties projects, and rooftop solar projects, all anticipated to create 130 jobs.

Debswana’s cash cow, the Jwaneng mine, which is the world’s largest producer of diamonds by value, is also expected to add to 1153 job opportunities during the Jwaneng Cut 9 which also extends the lifespan of the mine. The mine currently employs 4623 employees. The multi-billion expansion contract has been given to Majwe Mining Joint Venture, which is 30 percent owned by a citizen company. 

Some of the Cut 9 expansion benefits include a  mining equipment component rebuild centre which is expected to be built during the 2020/2021 financial year. Furthermore, the company is planning to reopen the Apprentice and Artisan Training, and to develop citizen suppliers in key areas of the value chain. 

The mining industry is also expected to add jobs through other Debswana owned mines –  Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaa (OLD) mines –  mostly through the Orapa Mine Cut 3 Project, which will extend the life of the mine from 2031 to 2046. The OLD mines already have a strong 6629 workforce. 

Other job opportunities will come through Morupule Coal Mine, which commenced the development of an open cast mine and a coal washing plant to produce one million tons of washed coal for export. The project currently employs 123 people, at peak construction it will employ 630 people, and at full production 242 permanent jobs will be created in mid-2021.

The ministry says in terms of green technology, it is currently considering a portfolio of projects with a potential for growing and diversifying the economy as well as creating employment. These include development of large and small scale solar photovoltaic (PV) generation, which upon completion in 2022, renewable energy will constitute 17 percent of the total electricity generation mix of 769 MW. 

The ministry’s anticipated job prospects are a departure from the government that has increasingly became hostile to providing employment target rate. Botswana’s finance minister, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, in February tried to absolve government from setting an employment target, arguing that it is a frivolous exercise, and that jib creation is best left to the private sector through government’s provision of conducive trading environment.  

Matsheka’s employment targeting denialism forms a raft of a chorus, which is led by  president Mokgweetsi Masisi, who has on several occasions said the government does not create jobs but plays a facilitative role. While unemployment rate is soaring, Botswana does not have proper employment monitoring mechanisms, and has been exposed for its dubious records. Still in February, the minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, Mpho Balopi, gave parliament a disputed figure of jobs lost from 2014 to 2018, of which some of the numbers were below what the government had officially stated. 

Faced with a troubling rise in unemployment, the government has often fumbled and has become sly in how it presents its official figures, which are for the most time confusing, and at worst misleading. The finance ministry officials have at time tried to obscure the troubling figures. 

“Statistics Botswana recently released its first ever quarterly labour force survey results for the three months of July to September 2019, which show an unemployment rate of 20.7 percent for that quarter. These results are for one quarter only and are subject to seasonal variations. It is therefore important to note that the unemployment rate of 20.7 percent for the quarter cannot be directly compared with the 17.6 percent annual rate for 2015/2016,” said Matsheka during the budget speech in early February.

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