FRANCISTOWN: Government is failing to fulfill its promise of prioritizing employment for former BCL employees, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) President Jack Tlhagale has confirmed.
Following the closure of the embattled copper mine two years ago, which saw over 5000 employees laid off, government committed itself to prioritizing employment for former miners in all job opportunities that may arise. The commitment was aimed at redressing unemployment within the sector and to ensure that miners remain financially independent as well to revitalize the economy.
Government took the decision to shut down copper nickel mines, which included BCL in Selibe-Phikwe and Tati-Nickel Mine, due to lack of funds and the inability to pay the P7.6 billion that was needed to keep the state-owned entity running. A decline in the quality of copper from BCL and the decline of the commodity prices contributed to government’s decision to close the mines.
In order to avoid the already ailing Selibe-Phikwe Township becoming a ghost town, government undertook various initiatives that included the SPEDU Region, as a special economic zone. At the time of its creation SPEDU was projected to yield 6856 jobs from agricultural production and processing, tourism related services as well as manufacturing.
Government in addition established the Selibe-Phikwe Economic Revitalization Programme led by the Former Central Bank Governor Linah Mohohlo. “Debswana is currently reviewing profiles of some of the companies which did business with BCL for job placements. The appointment of Mohohlo’s committee is not a duplication of efforts like many people are saying. Her mandate is to ensure that all involved stakeholders in the revitalization strategy do deliver,” Member of Parliament Nonofo Molefhi said when speaking during the Africa Industrialization Day and Business Forum.
At the time of the closure the then Assistant Minister of Investment Trade and Industry Vincent Seretse, pointed out that the revitalization of the area will be anchored on three sectors, agriculture, tourism and manufacturing. “The Programme is already underway and key players like CEDA, BITC and others have moved in to help get the strategy rolling. Since the closure of BCL the economic development of SPEDU region has become top of the priority for the government. We commit ourselves in giving the ex-miners priority in the opportunities that come with all this,” Seretse promised.
President Mokgweetsi, at the time Vice President, promised that Former BCL employees would be given priority in all job opportunities that may arise, especially within the Selibe-Phikwe region. Masisi made the promise when addressing the public over the closure of BCL.
However almost three years later, the BMWU says the promise by government was empty. BMWU President Tlhagale told The Botswana Gazette that there has been no implementation, despite subsequent undertakings. Tlhagale says that at the moment there is no evidence that the government will fulfil its promise of assisting the former BCL miners in finding employment or giving them priority in the opportunities that arise. “Recently upon realization that it has failed to implement the promise we confronted the new Minister of Minerals Green Technology and Energy Eric Molale about the issue, but we are still awaiting his response.”
Selibe-Phikwe West Member of Parliament Dithapelo Keorapetse who has been a vocal critic of government’s handling of the closure has supported Tlhagale’s statement, “There is nothing like giving former BCL employees priorities. These were just empty promises,” Keorapetse said in an interview.
Since BCL was placed under provisional liquidation two years ago, government has advanced the sum of P1.1 billion for care and maintenance according to revelations in parliament.
“From the 9th October 2016 up to 30th April 2018 the period of reporting for second creditors meetings the liquidator has been paid monthly average of P2.2 million. For the months of May and June 2018 he has been paid a total of P2,708 665. The total costs of legal fees paid out to date stand at P9 million,” the Minister of Minerals Resources Green Technology and Energy Security indicated when responding a question from former Minister Sadique Kebonang.
Parliament was informed that the duration of the legal proceedings is unknown, nor would it be possible to estimate when the liquidation would be concluded. “Discussions are currently going on between the government and the liquidator regarding the liquidation process and the outcome of the discussion will inform the length of time but the government will continue to fund the care and maintenance of BCL mine. We are informed by the liquidator that since BCL limited was placed under provisional liquidation a number of parties have expressed interest to buy the assets but to date no firm offer has been made,” the Minister concluded.