SELEBI-PHIKWE: The former mining community has called for the review of the SPEDU mandate, as they believe it is not serving its purpose now that the mine has closed down.
At a kgotla meeting addressed by MP for Selebi-Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse this week, residents said the current mandate and strategy of Selebi Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU) is not relevant to the current Selebi-Phikwe economic situation because it was designed when the mine was operational to diversify away from its reliance. They said it is imperative to align with the current economic needs of the town.
Keorapetse concurred that it is a necessary request to reevaluate what SPEDU seeks to address. “Now that there is no mine there is need to review and align it with the economy revival strategies so that it changes the way it has been doing things to address the challenging economic situation because there is no mine who SPEDU sought to diversify the economy away from,” he said.
Former mine employees also appealed to their MP to do all he could for the AON Pension Fund to pay them all their outstanding monies because they can no longer afford to pay the premiums. They explained that the pension fund was only five-years-old when the mine closed down hence they had not accumulated any significant amounts that could be withheld until retirement age.
The ex-miners received their first encashment of 33% only two months after the mine closed and are due for a further 25% taxable encashment after which they would only access the remaining balances upon reaching retirement age.
“We would then remain with a very small amount that would have lost its value and buying power by the time we reach the retirement age. How can government intervene so that we can be assisted to be able to get all our monies now?” Western Ebepile asked.
Ex-miners also appealed for government intervention so that they can be able to get their tax earnings from Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS). Those who had monies with the BURS were to get paid back, but only a few have received such while a majority say they are being sent from pillar to post when they want o collect their cheques. They also say that they are at a point of giving up because they cannot afford to travel from Selebi-Phikwe to Gaborone with nothing to show for it.
They also wanted to know how government could choose to pay school fees for children of ex-mine employees in private schools and sideline those in government who are equally affected and stated that they have now resorted to staying away from their houses to avoid bank sheriffs who demand repayment of loans.
They said that as much as Selebi-Phikwe has been declared a priority area for government there is need for government to tap into its foreign reserves and finance the reopening of the mine to save the local economy.
The MP in his response said the issue of AON pension fund must be seriously looked into and agreed with the ex-miners’ sentiments that there is no point in encashing one-third out of somebody who earned P1,500 a month for five years.
Keorapetse said he suspects that government never meant to pay school fees, but the move was to improve the prospects of attracting investors with availability of English medium schools as one of the incentives. He said, otherwise, the assistance could have been equally extended to government schools.
He added that government must negotiate with Bank of Botswana as the regulator of all banks and financial institutions such as NBFIRA to explain and negotiate with them on behalf of the ex-employees concerning unpaid loans. He added that he is engaging with consultants for a Fair Entitlement Guarantee Scheme to avoid exploitation of employees by companies upon closure.
The MP added that he will approach President Mokgweetsi Masisi to establish ideas he has for Selebi-Phikwe and whether he has a political will to pay impoverished ex-mine employees.