Guptas’ Optimum mining rights at risk over R4.2m clinic bill

Optimum Coal Mine has failed to pay the final tranche to finish building this clinic in Hendrina, Mpumalanga. Picture: Supplied
Optimum Coal Mine has failed to pay the final tranche to finish building this clinic in Hendrina, Mpumalanga. Picture: Supplied

Optimum Coal Mine’s failure to pay a R4.2 million invoice to a company contracted to build a new state-of-the-art public health clinic could result in it losing its mining rights.

The Gupta family-owned Optimum is the company at the centre of the Public Protector’s State of Capture report.

In her special report, 4 Days in December, Ferial Haffajee reported that Mining Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, at whose appointment ANC members raised concerns about his links to the Gupta family, helped facilitate big coal deals for the family, even jetting with them to Switzerland to meet Glencore officials to buy Optimum.

READ: Special Report on what happened last December

Non-governmental organisation GroundUp reported that the mining rights of Optimum coal mine in Hendrina, Mpumalanga, are dependent on fulfilling its social and labour commitments in terms of the Mining Charter. By failing to pay for the new clinic Optimum was at risk of losing its mining rights.

And, following litigation launched in the Gauteng High Court, Optimum was also at risk of being liquidated.

History of the deal

In December 2015, Optimum hired Re-Action Consulting to manage the construction of a new 24-hour clinic for Kwazamokuhle in Hendrina. The cost of the contract was R17.2 million, to be paid in three tranches.

At the time Optimum, a supplier of coal to Eskom, was owned by Glencore, and the first two tranches of the contract were paid on time. Then in April, Tegeta, a company owned by Oakbay — a holding company owned by the Gupta family — purchased Optimum. The third and final tranche of R4 204 206 for the clinic, due in August, wasn’t paid.

Re-Action Consulting’s attorneys, Craig Assheton-Smith Inc, sent a letter of demand to Optimum on November 7. The deadline for Optimum to pay passed on December 7, and an application has since been lodged in the Gauteng High Court by Re-Action, asking the court to wind up Optimum.

“It is apparent that [Optimum] continues to trade in insolvent circumstances and presently owes creditors … many millions of rands,” states the founding affidavit.

The court battle begins

In correspondence viewed by GroundUp, Optimum asked Re-Action to supply documents before paying, including “site meeting schedules, signed payment certificates and minutes of site meetings”.

In a letter, Optimum’s lawyer states: “You will be aware of the fact that a new acting chief executive has been appointed for Oakbay Investments and it is in light hereof that strict compliance is required on all projects.”

In response, Re-Action’s lawyers wrote: “In light of the information provided to you, which included photographs of the site, the only explanation for your client’s failure to effect payment to our client is because it is unable to effect payment, and the request for more documents is simply a ruse to delay effecting payment.”

And the clinic?

In the meanwhile, the clinic is almost ready to be opened and handed over to the health department.

Re-Action’s director, Sharon White, told GroundUp that officials from the mineral resources department had visited the clinic and told her that they found the construction to be in order and that they could not find any fault in the construction.

The clinic “allows for a community to have access to services like maternity, emergency, primary health care within walking or a short drive distance … We have continued to complete the construction of this clinic under great difficulty and strain to us,” she explained.

Optimum referred GroundUp to Oakbay for comment.

Asked if the company was having cash flow problems, a spokesperson responded: “Since Oakbay Investments acquired the Optimum Coal Mine in April our programme to turn around the mine has seen it discharged from business rescue. We have not made any retrenchments and are expanding operations at Optimum.”

When will Optimum pay?

As to why Optimum has not paid Re-Action: “When the project has been successfully completed, Re-Action Consulting will be paid like any other contractor. However work has not been completed yet. We do not anticipate any problems operationally or financially with Re-Action Consulting’s contract to construct the clinic.”

But this position is in violation of Optimum’s contract with Re-Action which explicitly states that the completion date for the project is March 31 2017 and that the final payment to Re-Action was due in August.

In reply to whether Optimum risked losing its mining rights if it failed to pay for the clinic, the mineral resources department said it would “follow the relevant processes if the company is found to be non-compliant, in line with the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.” – GroundUp

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