Something fishy at Pula Steel

SHARE   |   Sunday, 08 February 2015   |   By Phillimon Mmeso
Pula Steel construction site Pula Steel construction site

• Uses P38 m a month
• Project Manager and Clerk of Works fired
• Mosenene defends company – this is not ordinary project

PULA Steel Casting and Manufacturers, a subsidiary of BCL Limited, which has been hailed as an opportunity for economic diversification of the copper mining town of Selibe Phikwe is said to be facing serious drought of project management leadership.
BCL bought 50.5 per cent of PULA Steel shares at P20 million which was just a startup company and pumped P89 million to construct the project. Other shareholders are the Verma family who are said to have the experience and expertise in the steel and casting manufacturing and Wealth Generations Holdings, a citizen owned company.
Since its inception PULA Steel, which is part of BCL ambitious strategy of POLARIS II, has been surrounded by controversy with some in management at the mine questioning the viability of the project and the experience and expertise of the Vermas.
Some members of the executive committee of BCL labelled it another Fengyue glass project disaster ready to explode. The ground breaking ceremony was done with pomp and fanfare in July last year by former Vice President  Ponatshego Kedikilwe and it was said that the project will help create employment for Batswana and boost the economy of Selibe Phikwe and the SPEDU region. Six months down the line the project is facing serious problems and some are wondering if it will be completed in the second quarter of 2015 as scheduled.


Project Manager and Clerk of Works fired
After acquiring 50.5 per cent of shares and as majority shareholder, BCL Limited in April 2014 seconded its Engineering Services Manager Bojosi Gaothuse to be the Project Manager at PULA Steel. During his tenure as project manager Gaothuse is said to have questioned some of the drawings for the project and the recruitment procedures at the project. Gaothuse an engineering graduate from University of Botswana with vast experience of over 24 years in the mining industry, is said to have raised his concerns over the violation of the Factories Act, Building Control Act and the standard specification of materials and workmanship for contracts.
He was later given the boot on the 29th December 2014 and ordered to hand over company files the following day. On the letter dated 29th December written and signed by Chief Executive Officer Ranvir Kumar Verma he was notified to, “kindly handover any Pula Steel files in your possession to the technical committee.”
He was replaced by Daljit Signh whose work permit shows that he was employed as a site engineer.  Following on the heels of Gaothuse, was the clerk of works Tonny Thumba. In response Pula Steel Corporate Services Director Brian Mosenene said that Gaothuse was wanted more at BCL than at the project as they felt that they were wasting his talent. “Most of the work that needed his expertise was almost completed and management felt that he should just go back to BCL," he said, dismissing allegations that Gaothuse was fired.
Construction of civil not clear and confusing 

Last year PULA Steel requested Watson Construction, a civil engineering and building contractors to submit a quotation for the construction of civils to furnaces, machine and discharge foundation and other structures at the site. On the 15th of December 2014, Watson Construction through their managing director M. Ellithorne wrote to PULA Steel raising some queries on the drawings they received.
Some of the queries that the civil engineering contractors raised was that the reinforcing details in general were lacking in detail. Watson has over 30 years experience in the construction industry. Reinforcing details particularly showing connections of one structure into another need to be defined, reads part of the response. He also added that reinforcing details showing starter bar configurations.
“To complete the work in an acceptable time frame, bending schedules for reinforcing need to be produced.  We have this attended to at an additional cost,” reads a letter from Watson Construction MD Ellithorne to PULA Steel project manager.
The civil engineers also pointed out to PULA Steel project manager that floor details on the furnace structure were not clear and that machine and discharge foundation layout drawing is not clear and the “lines are too thick for this much detail.”
There seems to be conflicting dimensions on different drawings, Watson Contractors pointed out to Pula Steel. In their defence, Mosenene admitted that Watson contractors pointed out some issues regarding their drawings but was quick to reveal that their architecture had also explained that to Pula Steel. “You have to understand that this is the first project of this nature in Botswana and they didn’t understand the drawings as it is not an ordinary plant,” said Mosenene.
Use of mining crane at construction site
When the construction of the Pula Steel project started, management at the steel casting plant requested BCL Mine to lend them their lifting crane to use it to lift heavy materials from the containers but not for construction. The reason forwarded by BCL mine was that the crane lifting machine has a license to operate in mines not on factories.
“Most of the moving and lifting  machinery at BCL mine have been given license to operate in mines and are not under the factories act hence they cannot be used at the construction site, it is against the statutory law,” revealed an engineer at BCL.
When The Patriot on Sunday visited the construction site recently, the lifting crane was still used at the site. On the 16th of December last year, a container from India arrived in Botswana as steel materials destined for Phikwe. The container it turned out contained a lifting crate which was assembled at the PULA Steel construction site on the 23 and 24 of December.  It was never declared at the Interpol since they have chassis and engine number. According to sources at the site, the equipment have not been examined and certified under the Factories Act section 32, subsection 1-6 dealing with lifting equipment. The machine was recently found operating alongside the BCL one.
On Friday Mosenene conceded that they did not know that it was unlawful to use the mining lifting crane at the construction site but have since complied. “We have acquired the factories licenses for the crane and is currently complying,” he said.
Erection of steel columns without painting
Protection of steel bars from corrosion is commonly called duplex system which is a combination of painting or powder coating and hot-dip galvanizing.  It is an internationally accepted standard. The galvanized coating protects the base steel, supplying cathodic and barrier protection.
When visiting the site recently, the opposite was happening as the steel columns were erected without being painted with red oxide as it is the norm. This is against ISO 14713:1999 on Protection against corrosion of iron and steel in structures -- Zinc and aluminum coatings – Guidelines. This, according to an engineer that this publication spoke to, is risky and has devastating effects as the steel easily corrode if not coated and the building can collapse.
In defense Mosenene said that they had to erect the steel bars without painting them as it was taking time for paint suppliers to deliver them. “We will paint them later of course it requires maximum safety measures which we will adhere to,” he said.
BCL responds 
In an earlier response BCL Marketing and Public Relations manager James Molosankwe confirmed that Gaothuse has been recalled to the mine as there was a very important project that needed his expertise. He was quick to add that “it is not that the PULA Steel is not important but something that needed his expertise came up at the mine and we had to recall him.”
Regarding the progress at the PULA Steel project, Molosankwe said that they are optimistic that phase one will be completed on time which is the second quarter of 2015.


Three companies dominate Pula steel tenders
Since construction started in July 2014, Pula Steel has gobbled over P38 million in one month.  Most of the funds were spent on three companies which are allegedly associated with the Verma family. According to a payment sheet that The Patriot on Sunday is in possession of during the month of July 2014, Pula Steel spent P38 460 624.00.
The major beneficiaries are Jumbo Wharehouse P1 879 383.00, Serious systems Transporter P10 780 000.00, Reliable Car Sales P5 500 000.00, NP Impex P779 780.00, Krupa Enterprices A1 P17 755 720.00. Mosenene explained that the reason they sourced a lot of materials from the same companies was that they were ready to give them materials on credit while other suppliers refused.

Related news