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Cabinet dispatches high-powered delegation to BCL

RYDER GABATHUSE
BCL Mine
FRANCISTOWN: In an endeavour to appreciate troubles bedevilling the cash-strapped BCL Mine, government dispatched a high-powered delegation led by Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi this week.

The delegation has been tasked with investigating the copper/nickel mine operations in Selebi-Phikwe, which have left safety standards there questionable after BCL hit an all-time high number of 11 fatalities between 2014 and 2015.  The incessantly falling metal prices are another daunting negative on the delegation’s agenda.

Addressing the Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) congress in Tlokweng last year, union president Jack Tlhagale blasted the BCL for recording the highest casualties out of the 17 miners that died in the line of duty.

Just this year in May, four miners perished at the mine when a rope on a cage transporting workers at the end of a shift snapped.

In an attempt to correct its already tarnished safety record, the BCL Mine management recently invited safety managers from the Debswana mines to learn the best practices from their diamond counterparts.

The BMWU on the other hand recently petitioned the office of the Vice President to act on their concerns, especially on the issue of safety at the BCL Mine.

It is probably time for Masisi and his government to act, as they have sat on the concerns of miners through their union for a very long time.

Government took a bold step this week by sending Masisi and four other cabinet ministers including Kitso Mokaila of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Kenneth Matambo of Finance and Development Planning, Tshekedi Khama of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, and Investment, Trade and Industry minister, Vincent Seretse.

“The cabinet sub-committee is also accompanied by permanent secretaries from different ministries and other government department heads,” read in part the communique from the BCL public relations and communications department authored yesterday.

It seems the government ‘think tank’ has been given a very short period of time as Mmegi learnt that, “the sub-committee will submit recommendations to Parliament on September 21, 2016”.

By yesterday, the government delegation was expected to meet different BCL operations in an endeavour to put together information that could help them determine the future of the mine.

Meanwhile, BCL Mine managing director, Dan Mahupela wrote to his managers recently informing them about the challenges they are facing with the smelter, which was recently refurbished at a whopping P700 million plus and could see it closing if the emerging challenges are not managed expeditiously.

“Please be informed that recently we have been experiencing disruptions and

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stoppage of the flash smelter furnace due to low concentrate stocks.

“Production from our underground mines has been below budget as a result of supply chain challenges emanating from financial constraints,” read Mahupela’s brief in part, which is likely to be shared with the visiting cabinet sub-committee, as the situation has not changed much so far.

Mahupela’s brief further explained that the supply of concentrates from both Tati Nickel and Nkomati mines has also been below budget during the month of August.

 “The start/stop operation of the flash smelting furnace and the low feed rates have resulted in build-up inside the furnace, which continues to grow. 

This build-up increased significantly last month due to a combination of factors. These included, and are not limited to, shortage of consumables as a result of our current financial position, below budget ore production and the low utilisation of the smelter.”

Mahupela declared that the situation was highly undesirable and posed a severe challenge for the business to remain afloat during the current harsh trading conditions.

“It also has far reaching implications that could lead to a disastrous stoppage of the smelter, leading to undesirable consequences,” stated a worried Mahupela to his management staff.

Mahupela promised his staff in the brief that management was doing everything in its powers to address the causal factors of the situation.

One thing for certain, Masisi and his delegation are most likely to be briefed about BCL’s troubles as part of their information gathering.

Government spokesperson, Jeff Ramsay confirmed yesterday that Masisi and some members of the cabinet were at BCL mine to look at the mine’s situation in the wake of what it has been going through and  could not elaborate further.

BMWU president, Tlhagale yesterday appreciated the visit by the VP as a welcome development and hoped the government was finally paying attention to their call for action to resolve BCL Mine woes.

“We need a turnaround strategy, which will make BCL more profitable and we hope change is coming,” Tlhagale said, indicating that as  BMWU they want recapitalisation of BCL under a different executive committee.

He added: “We appreciate that the government has involved us in the consultation process and we expect our contribution to be considered.  We oppose views seeking to close BCL Mine and do not expect the government to do so”.



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