Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse has blamed government for the closure of BCL on not treating it as a parastatal or public enterprise.
In a letter he wrote to President Mokgweetsi Masisi, the MP argues that from the start there was a strong developmental role for BCL identified by government and from the outset, the government has been the custodian of BCL’s financial security. According to Keorapetse BCL was never formally a parastatal or public enterprise.
“But even when there were significant private sector shareholders in the early years, the government structured BCL in such a way to set it up as a recipient of government funds or funds raised by the government indirectly for the entity. The company was never set up as a normal commercial enterprise, with the flexibility necessary to be able to raise other money and determine its own financial fate.
“It was an immensely complicated financial structuring, enshrining BCL as a unique entity, and a bulwark of the country’s economy and the mainstay of the Selibe-Phikwe town’s economy,” reads the letter seen by this publication.
Keorapetse pointed out that in exchange for the implicit and explicit backing of government – the government never showed any intention other than to roll over BCL’s debts to the state.He stated that BCL became dedicated to providing a functioning operation that provided 5000 jobs directly and 10 000 indirectly.
He reveals in the letter that the debts were more akin to grants, thus entrenching the reality in the minds of the company, the government, Selibe-Phikwe residents and Batswana, that BCL occupied a special, protected place in the Botswana economy.
The legislator said from 2002 onwards, government increased its influence to complete control and ownership of the company, which crystallized with 100 percent control in 2008 after the departure of all external funders (they received about 5 percent of the nominal value of the debt owed to them - effectively, a full write-off).
“In the years that metal prices were high BCL managed to build up some cash. In the days when there was more private sector influence at BCL, these proceeds from the good times were used to invest in the company. This practice, built up over almost half a century, changed radically in 2014. It is important to note, that contrary to popular perception, BCL was in fact not given any money by government from 2002 onwards – all the debts dated before then.
The company had not been an active drain on the fiscus for 14 years when it was put into liquidation in 2016. By 2014, after the preceding price boom years, BCL built up its cash reserves.
It should have been allowed to use this money to invest in the business, for the inevitable downturn in prices – like it had before,” he posited Keorapetse pleaded with Masisi to make time to visit Phikwe and engage with fellow countrymen and women. “Please note that this letter will be shared with my constituents as these are their requests,” he said.