31 March 2008 – BHP Billiton has decided to terminate its relationship with Standard Bank after a top executive suggested that Billiton’s Hillside aluminium smelter be shut down to save electricity.

Vincent Maphai

Billiton SA chairman
Vincent Maphai

Billiton SA chairman Vincent Maphai said the remarks were "reckless, provocative and irresponsible".

The remark was made by the unnamed banker who believed that Hillside did not add to the economic value of the country and was consuming a lot of electricity.

"This attitude is completely misplaced," Maphai said in a letter to staff last week. "The fact that several years ago BHP Billiton initiated highly capital intensive aluminium projects in the region to use capacity for which Eskom did not have immediate use now seems to be ignored, even by those who ought to know better. The smelters have become the backbone of the KwaZulu-Natal economy, especially the Richards Bay area."

Billiton’s decision and reasons for termination have been conveyed to Standard Bank and the bank acknowledged in a statement that it had received "correspondence from Billiton about the national electricity challenge."

"Standard Bank has a valued relationship with BHP Billiton, having provided it with a range of banking services for many years, and we will engage with BHP Billiton on this particular matter as a part of this relationship," it said.

The relationship with Standard Bank will be phased on, starting with foreign exchange, money market accounts and guarantees, Maphai said.