Govt didn’t care – BCL worker

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 24 January 2017   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane

Former BCL miners have shown the middle finger to the liquidator Nigel Dixon-Warren after he announced on Tuesday that he will on February 07 recommend that the company be closed down because it is "fatally insolvent". "We never had any hope for good news from the liquidator because even the employer never engaged us from the onset. We have never been briefed," said Mbinganyi Moffat Ramokate, Secretary General of Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU). Some miners told The Patriot on Sunday during the week that they are not surprised by Dixon-Warren's verdict because from the onset the shareholder – government – had disregarded expert advice and chose an alternative that was not part of suggestions to save the mine. "Three options were presented to a Parliamentary Committee assessing the viability of BCL mines – and to advice on way forward – with assistance from a team of experts from the mine. They suggested that the mine either be placed under care and maintenance, or be refinanced for restructuring. In the latter proposal Government would inject some capital to finance restructuring, which would result in minimal loss of jobs. Closure was not one of them," said one geologist.

Although he was still hanging around Selibe Phikwe during the week, former BCL employee Abel Senyatso said he never had any hope for possibility of the mine re-opening. "I have already started handing applications in the search for alternative employment. Ke a marketa gongwe re tlaa bona sengwe ko bo Mowana," he said in reference to Mowana Mine, whose new owner Alecto Minerals is raising capital to re-open before end of March 2017. Ramokate said they are not surprised by the announcement made by the liquidator, but they still hold on to the conviction that with political will BCL could have been saved from total collapse. He said even though mismanagement and reckless spending by the Daniel Mahupela led EXCO had drained the mine's coffers and brought it to its knees, there were alternatives suggested by experts which could be explored to navigate troubled waters. On the announcement by the liquidator Ramokate said: "This exactly what we predicted, it is part of the strategy. It is a way through which those with vested interests at government enclave want to discourage those willing to buy and operate the mine. After killing all interest, they will dismantle BCL and sell the assets of the mine to their preferred business partners for a song, an acquisition they will later benefit from".

Ramokate is quick to point to the long predicted recovery in global copper prices by 2018, which recently saw a 20% spike due to demand in China, the world's second biggest economy. He said already there are signs of recovery in copper/ nickel prices, which brings hope for the operation of at least the profitable shafts at the mine. Before the Tuesday briefing the liquidator is said to have cut BCL workers who were retained to assist in the winding up and liquidation process. But some insiders allege that BCL asset are being looted as some of the employees managed properties which have not been reconciled in the inventory held by the liquidator. They give examples of exploration licences in Kgalagadi region acquired under the failed Polaris II strategy, through which some diamond discoveries were made. There is growing tension between government and BMWU after the latter took a decision to decampaign the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) politicians in upcoming elections in protest for the closure of BCL, which left almost 6 000 workers jobless. Dixon-Warren announced on Tuesday that he will on February 07 recommend that BCL Mine –Botswana's largest copper and nickel producer – be placed under final liquidation and wound down.

BCL owes creditors, including suppliers and banks, about $85 million and the government said in October that it could not afford the roughly $720 million needed to keep BCL running. The company was placed under provisional liquidation last October, with global accounting firm KPMG appointed as liquidator. At the time, Mineral Resources Minister Sadique Kebonang said: "The liquidator is the one who will make a decision to either shut it down or restructure the operations." Dixon-Warren said that three of the state-owned company's subsidiaries were insolvent and that there were no resources available to finance operations. "There has been interest in the assets of the three companies from a number of parties. The interest has been in some or all of the assets and has been from local and overseas parties," Dixon-Warren said. "However, the expressed interest has not led to any formal offers."

[Additional reporting by REUTERS]