Masisi halts Khama’s gravy train

30 Jul 2018

President Mokgweetsi Masisi has stopped former President Lt Gen Ian Khama’s controversial Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) after it emerged that the multi-million Pula programme was a waste of tax payers’ money.

The Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Vincent Seretse confirmed in an interview that the programme has been stopped explaining that there were a number of botched deals across the country with huge cost implications.

Seretse revealed that following the discovery of delayed projects and millions of Pula in waste there will be no new projects under ESP “because of the nature of what happened with ESP projects.”

It  has emerged that government threw a lot of money into the programme before developing capacity among department to monitor a programme of that magnitude. It is understood that scores of projects consultants, developers and constructors drew ESP money and left behind a trail of botched deals, incomplete and failed projects in every corner of the country.  

Seretse conceded that the program did not bring the desired results as it was riddled with serious challenges which were not anticipated when it was launched. “When ESP started it was clear that it was to reboot the economy. That was the first course. The second was that it would benefit Batswana involved in construction,” he said.

 He added that the “plan we have did not anticipate the level of maturity found in our companies as far as the tendering process and what is expected of them after winning the tenders,” he said.

The minister said some companies which won the tenders did not have experience in handling projects. He said some were struggling to handle the projects resulting in employees not being paid for months. He said  the unbundling of ESP funded project to benefit many contractors also created a crisis.  “For instance after a company specializing in construction had built a house another company that was anticipated to install electricity would find providing that service uneconomic and abandon it,” he said.

“As a result we said let us pause and evaluate the ESP,” he said adding that it was not only a decision taken by his ministry but a collective decision by government.

Asked to what extent this was likely to bleed national coffers, Seretse said he was not in position to quantify the financial implication but conceded that it does not come cheap.

“Naturally it means if projects are not finished, this will have financial implications. I have a spreadsheet about projects funded under ESP; we are studying and analyzing it to see the extent of the cost of the problem and how much it has cost us as a government,” said Seretse.

In a telling sign of challenges rocking ESP, one of the companies funded under the program involved in the construction project at Matlala CJSS in Tlokweng, Rapula Plant Hire has lodged a complaint with ESP coordinating Unit at the Office of the President alleging that it was underpaid.

In his letter addressed to one Goitsemang Morekise at the Office of the President, the company’s managing Director Rapula Moetlo states that “on 25 January 25 January, we delivered to Third Dimension Consulting (the quantity surveyor) a valuation certification no.3 in the sum of BWP 1,552,581.27 being a request for payment recommendation based on the work carried out at the site and the material on site in respect of the above referenced project. To our surprise, the Quantity Surveyor has made a terrible unreasonable recommendation that we should be paid the sum of BWP 487,038.90.  The recommended amount does not even cover the cost of building materials used to carry out the works to the stage at which the works were the time of valuation.”

He said as a result, “we have not been paid for the month of January 2018. This has resulted in us failing to pay our suppliers and employees salaries. On 15 February 2018, we also delivered another valuation payment of this amount P1, 534,581.90.”  

Morekise added that “If we do not receive payment of this amount urgently, our employees will soon go on industrial strike or report our company to the Police for the criminal offence of withholding wages.” He appealed to the ESP coordinator to intervene and direct Third Dimension Consulting to authorize payment.

Contacted for comment this week, Moetlo said their standoff with Third Dimension Consulting remains unresolved adding that he intends to lodge another complaint. For his part, Third Dimension Consulting Managing Director Koziba Palalani confirmed receipt of the letter. While he said he was not authorized to comment on the matter, he added that “this being a government project, I would suggest you contact the department of technical services at the Ministry of Basic Education.”

“I can confirm that I know what you are talking about. The department forwarded the letter to us, under cover of their own letter, asking us to assist them to respond,” he said.

In 2017, Sunday Standard reported that a report by Business Botswana accused Khama’s administration of ignoring expert advice on the bungled rollout of the controversial ESP.

The report suggested that ESP was doomed to fail from the outset because government did not heed advice from various industry experts.

The report highlighted a series of efforts by Business Botswana to advise government on how the ESP should be implemented but to no avail.

At the time, Business Botswana’s Engineering Sector Chairperson Shadrack Kobole said instead of bringing the desired results the ESP has proved to be a disastrous initiative for engineers psychologically.   “The high hopes generated by the announcement of the ESP have been shattered and consulting engineers confidence is depressed,” he said.

Kobole stated in the report that “The Sector and other industry players such the Association of Consulting Engineers Botswana (ACEM) tried very hard to advise government on the implementation of ESP but to no avail.”  

He added that “As a result, the award of tenders has been dubious. Moreover, the tendering for government projects is confusing as all projects now qualify as ESP projects.”  

For his part, Chairperson of the Construction Sector, Martin Mogomela stated that the “The ESP that was launched with much fanfare in 2015 has not lived to expectations with too little given out and too slowly.”