Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The reopening of BCL: Stakeholders speak out

In about three to four years’ time, the defunct BCL mines might open its shafts again, ending over 5 years nasty chapter after the mines were shuttered overnight and placed on liquidation that was marred by high drama.

This follows an announcement by the government that a private company – Premium Nickel Resource are the preferred bidder for BCL mine takes over.

Faced with the dwindling commodity prices, and rising operating costs, the cash-strapped Botswana government made an abrupt decision in October 2016 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.

But now the government says PNR was granted exclusive access to the BCL mine to conduct a comprehensive due diligence exercise to enable the company to make a decision on the economic viability of extraction and processing of ore resources.

On Tuesday, PNR’s Chief Executive Montwedi Mphathi told a media briefing that his company will build a world class mine of benchmark levels.

“We are going to build a world class mine of benchmark levels, a mine that can withstand even low commodity prices so that we avoid a scenario where when commodity process across the world declines we shut down the mine,” said Mphathi.

For his part, Botswana chambers of mine Chief Executive Officer Charles Siwawa said that the anticipated re-opening of the mine will boost the mining sector which has been struggling since last year owing to the outbreak of Covid-19.

Siwawa indicated that they are planning to meet the new investor to discuss among other things the number of people who will be employed at the mine.

“It is our hope that the new investors will take into consideration that there was a large number of people that was employed by the mine before closure and it will only be right around that,”

“We knew about the issues which led to the mine closure in 2016 and we are excited that finally an investor has been found,” said Siwawa.

He further implored PNR Botswana to put in place various measures to ensure that the mine is sustainable.

“We are aware that the investors will also be going back to the mine to determine the available copper and that is when they will indicate how many people will be hired at the mine,” added Siwawa.

BCL liquidator Trevor Glaum said it has been an exhausting two years of trying to identify a suitable investor.

“My impression with PNR from day one has been their commitment to the social responsibility and the upliftment of the people and the economy of the Selebi Phikwe region,” added Glaum.

He also said permissions and conditions will have to be met in the next three to four months before PNR begin their study phase.

Area Member of Parliament for Selebi Phikwe West Ditlhapelo Keorapetse says they have been vindicated that it was a monumental mistake to close BCL.

“The decision was reckless, costly and destructive. We have been calling for reopening from October 2016 and these calls were vehemently negated by the ruling party. We even predicted the rise of Nickel and Copper prices in the international markets, which started to rise in 2017, hardly a year after closure”, Keorapetse said.

Keorapetse says from the Tuesday announcement, there is nothing in the government statements where there is acknowledgment of the fatal mistake of closing the mine and worse placing it under a very expensive and destructive process of liquidation instead of judicial management or a business rescue plan.

“It has now become more expensive to reopen the mine and that is why PNR is buying a few shafts and or buying a few assets. Whilst there is light at the need of the tunnel, it’s not yet Uhuru for us, many lives were unnecessarily destroyed in unemployment, instant destitution or abject poverty and indebtedness leading to blacklisting and civil imprisonments. We can only celebrate once impactful economic activities related to the mine are in place and our people are employed and empowered through meaningful participation”, Keorapetse said. 

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