The Association of Botswana Building and Civil Engineering Contractors has warned that a dark cloud looms over the country’s multi-billion Pula construction industry if government does not address the maladies confronting the sector.
ABCON Executive Director, Nick Janse Van Rensburg, said in an interview that if the inconsistent procurement policy and persistent flouting of permit applications go unchecked will take the industry to its knees.
He added that to add salt to the injury is the creeping up of a plethora of teething problems, before the industry has gained full independence from government, characterised by the freezing of projects, which will have adverse effects.
“The construction sector remained almost flat in the third quarter (Q3) of 2012, increased marginally to P1, 722 billion, a marginal growth of P198 million when compared to Q3 2011 figures when the sector had led a sterling recovery, increasing by a convincing P302 million to sit at P1, 524 billion from P1, 222 billion in the same period in 2010,” revealed Van Rensburg.
“The inconsistent procurement policy creates swings between famine and feast in the economy and especially in the construction industry and this is also a contributing factor to the growth of the industry,” he added.
Van Rensburg called upon government to acknowledge that it cannot drive procurement to suit the prevailing political or social desires. “It should plan properly for projects to supply consistent work to the industry and should acknowledge the fact that cheapest is not the best. This will allow construction companies to be able to get proper financing for projects,” he said.
He bemoaned the inconsistent application of permit system as resulting in experienced people closing their businesses leaving a vacuum that cannot be filled by Batswana currently.
“This is local experience that was acquired over the past 45 years that has now gone elsewhere and is lost for the future of the industry. All the lessons learned over the past years will have to be learned by new entrants to the industry with a resultant cost implication for mistakes and inexperience,” Van Rensburg said.
He added that unrealistic expectations are placed on the industry that has already lost a large portion of its hard won experience over the past 45 years; mistakes will occur more readily as a result of inexperience.
In 2013 there were very few public tenders in the construction industry. “Most building and civil contractors have only 1 contract they are working on and it is mostly private sector,” he said.
“Government through the Ministry of Education and Skills Development did put out two secondary schools as turnkey projects during October 2013 to be finished by February 2014 and we objected to the unobtainable timeline. The Ministry of Infrastructure agreed and the projects were halted. We have not heard about the contracts after that,” he added.
Van Rensburg said the effect is more pronounced in the citizen sector of the construction industry where few of the members of Tshipidi Badiri Builders Association are still active.
He dismissed the allegations that the industry is foreign dominated and don’t contribute to the banking sector growth. “No we cannot say that foreign owned companies have over the years built Botswana to where it is now. They have provided training and experience and that allowed Batswana to start their own construction companies,” he said.