Monday, May 17, 2021

Botswana white elephants ÔÇô how money and talent are put to waste

For some time now, the government has been enrolling its employees at Innolead Consulting which has a premier academy that teaches project management, team building, business management, maintenance and asset management, cost engineering, technical report writing and time management. At a morning seminar organised by Innolead Consulting and Oracle Primavera last Thursday at the Gaborone International Convention Centre, a speaker from the floor sought to know whether the project management training was bearing any fruit. In response, Oabona Kgengwenyane, the Group Managing Director of Innolead Consulting said that the outcome is not always what is desirable.

“The current situation doesn’t allow people to use skills they have learnt,” Kgengwenyane said.

By his account, some of the engineers who receive project management training from his company are not given responsibilities in line with this training but resume their normal duties when they get back to the office. All too often that would be a result of there being no project management positions within the structure of an organisation. However, Kgengwenyane revealed that his company is working with some government departments to solve this problem and he expressed hope that in the future those with such training would be appointed as project managers.

As described by one too many speakers at the seminar, the project management situation in Botswana is desperate. A Botswana Power Corporation representative said it often happens that projects “go into construction phase with no planning having taken place.” Kgengwenyane’s own example was of an engineer with only three years work experience being put in charge of a P3 billion project. In reference to such scenario, he recalled a conversation during which he told a senior government official: “Madam PS, you are setting up these poor souls for failure.” “PS” is short for permanent secretary, the highest-ranking official in a ministry. In addition to being under-resourced, the “poor soul” would be clueless on project management skills like cost engineering and time-management.

The head of the Innolead Consulting academy (i-Academy as it is called), Okitanye Gaogane, deployed more robust language when he gave a vote of thanks. He personally conducts some of the training. Gaogane said that some people come for the training just because their supervisors don’t want to see them around the office. After the training, these people go back to the office and their normal work without ever being required to put their training to use.

Tragically though, against a situation where the educational productivity of project management training in the public service has been called into question, the nation is also losing a lot of money in other respects. The nature of Kgengwenyane’s work is such that he interacts with senior government officials like permanent secretaries and directors. He recalled another conversation with a permanent secretary who hazarded the guess that the government loses billions of pula due to cost overruns.

The other point he made was that “a lot of parastatals don’t have project management methodologies” and that such weakness makes them vulnerable to the methodologies of the different service providers. As panacea to this problem, Kgengwenyane stated that Innolead Consulting is working with some ministries on project management issues like cost and time management. With regard to the latter, he asserted that it is desirable for a government department to have its own cost controller when undertaking a project.

Basing at least on what was said during the question-and-answer session, some parastatal organisations are taking project management a bit more seriously. From Botswana Oil Limited, Meshack Tshekedi, who is the General Manager (Corporate Policy, Strategy and Business Planning), said that his organisation is training staff in project management whose principles will guide execution of work programmes. Word has been relayed to staff, he added, that those who can’t familiarise themselves with this science would be jeopardising their job security.

Themed “How to create a public infrastructure development, monitoring and project execution solution”, the seminar was attended by senior officials from both the public and private sector. An Oracle Primavera representative, Werner Maritz, told the seminar about heard how the South African government was applying such solution and how Botswana’s could do the same thing. He didn’t say this but here at home, a minister surrounds him/herself with a phalanx of senior government officials when s/he goes out to address public meetings. The purpose of the officials’ attendance is to supply information that the minister may require to answer questions from the floor.

Through a range of project management tools that Oracle Primavera offers, Maritz told an anecdotal story of how former South African Public Enterprises Minister, Malutsi Gigaba, could easily call up information about projects from his i-Phone when out on field trips. In addition to easing communication flow, in the Botswana case that would also free up the time of the minister’s entourage to attend to other more pressing duties. Another speaker, Tumi Kgomo from South Africa, also cited lack of information as a serious impediment to project management. A former chief director (projects) in the Department of Public Enterprises, Kgomo said that often ministers take too long to make decisions because they don’t have information they need to do so.

The seminar came a week before the 2014/15 budget speech which finance minister, Kenneth Matambo, will deliver to parliament tomorrow. As the rest of the African continent, Botswana continues to spend billions of pula on infrastructure and project management is crucial to the delivery of such projects.

According to the Senior Vice President and General Manager of Oracle Primavera, Mike Sicilia, who also made a presentation at the seminar, some US$1 trillion invested in infrastructure development across the world goes to waste as a result of improper project management. Given how badly projects have been implemented locally, Botswana would be making a significant contribution to that sum.

Oracle Primavera has extensive international experience in project management, having provided its expertise in the construction of Medupi Power Station in South Africa which is eight times the size of Morupule B Power; the Three Gorges Dam in China which is the world’s largest hydropower project; and ├ÿresund Bridge, a double-track railway and motorway bridge across the ├ÿresund strait between Sweden and Denmark.

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