Thursday, October 28, 2021

Construction expert slam ESP

Details are beginning to emerge on how President Ian Khama’s administration ignored expert advice on the bungled rollout of the controversial Economic Stimulus Package (ESP).

A new report compiled by Business Botswana suggests that ESP was doomed to fail from the outset because government did not heed advice from various industry experts.

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

Business Botswana’s Engineering Sector Chairperson Shadrack Kobole says 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 states 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.”  

Kobole says the sector requests government to be more vigilant in addressing the implementation of ESP projects so that work is distributed fairly and equitably.

For his part, Chairperson of the Construction Sector, Martin Mogomela states 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.”

He also took a swipe at government for failing to engage local contractors to do work on mega projects.

“It is worrisome that the government continues to engage foreign contractors on mega projects like Kazungula and Mohembo Bridges at the expense of local contractors. Even the basic widening of roads in the southern part of the country has seen local suppliers of aggregate being overlooked,” said Magomela.

The report adds to earlier complaints that the P2, 2 billion Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) was a slight of hand by government to legitimise corruption and give lucrative tenders to friends. Minutes of a closed door meeting between the Botswana Corruption Curbing Task Force and leaders of the country’s construction industry of June 15th 2017 chaired by Business Botswana President, Lekwalo Mosienyane revealed perceptions inside the Botswana’s construction industry that the ESP was designed to institutionalise and legitimise corruption. “Several members concurred that awarding of tenders was very dubious and highly suspicious”, state the minutes of the meeting.

The ESP was fashioned to parcel out government tenders to favoured contractors and to close out competition. Although the DCEC was engaged to investigate the multi-billion pula initiative it could not probe preferential treatment because ESP policy had legitimised it.

“It was further stated that the requirements of ESP projects were not favourable to all business as according to government, most projects were awarded tenders after selective tendering, and thus questioning the legitimacy of engaged contractors and award processing. Members decried the ineffectiveness of the ESP committee overseen by the Office of the President, whom are not aware of issues pertinent to the programme”, states the record of proceedings.

The meeting came a few days before the former Director General (DG) of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), Rose Seretse told the media that that they had not recorded any corruption cases pertaining to awarding of Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) projects tenders.

She was responding to journalists’ queries on whether the institution ever unveiled any misdemeanours in multimillion Pula projects awarded for ESP.

The question was triggered by the DG’s earlier presentation that: “In an effort to mitigate the corruption risks that would normally come with initiatives such as ESP, the DCEC set up an anti-corruption task force to monitor ESP projects. To date, spot checks have been conducted on different projects across the country in the Central, North West, Ghanzi, Southern Districts and Francistown.”

This was during the DCEC Pitso the institution hosted at Tlotlo Hotel and Conference Centre recently. “I wish to state that the task force was formed to curb corruption, also to enhance the quality of the procurement process and award decisions as well as implementation of the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP). The task force observed that, in some instances procurement procedures as set out by Public Procurement and Disposal Board (PPAD) and LAPAD acts were violated,” explained Nlayidzi Gambule, DCEC spokesperson.

He further highlighted that the Task Force recommended that procurement personnel follows the rules and procedures of procurement as laid down.

It has emerged that a lot of contractors who were not on the favoured list of the government enclave found themselves without contracts because all government projects were put under the ESP. “Tendering for government projects was almost impossible now since all projects qualified as ESP projects” states the record of the closed door meeting.

The record further states that, “with regard to the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP), it was reported that it had brought a lot of stress to most companies, especially in the construction sector. Introduction of ESP had brought hope to many businesses. Further, it was reported that when ESP was introduced to the public there was so much hype about it and all of a sudden everything went quiet. The sector with other industry players alike tried to engage and advice government and/or try to get answers from government to no avail.”

The meeting also recorded complaints that all ESP “hose building jobs have been awarded to the Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) whom does not engage services of consultancy-architects and quantity surveyors, only a select few in the engineering field are enjoying business with BHC. And this attests to corruption as it is not competitive business or bidding.”

In 2015, President Ian Khama announced the ESP at a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Special Congress saying for the first time the country will deep into the Foreign Reserves in a huge spending that would spur the sluggish economy.

President Khama said:”The time has come for us to make bold decisions and implement these new projects that will boost our economy. But that doesn’t mean we are going to be reckless.”

On the current procurement method of tendering, Kobole observed that the government has adopted “the Design and Build” method of procuring service providers for the construction industry which now literally puts consulting engineering companies out of business.

“This also puts consulting engineering firms at the mercy of contractors. Government should be very clear about her intentions going forward because this situation has created an unfavourable business environment for the consulting engineers. The only reason coming from government enclave is that they are trying to deliver projects to the people but this is implausible and needs to be revisited,” he said.

Magomela also expressed concern at the manner in which government is treating the construction industry.

“The biggest problem has been government’s indifferent treatment of the construction industry as a marginal industry and the reluctance to re-embark on the development program (that ordinarily should have followed National Development Plans and Budgets),” he said.

Although the economy recovered from recession, many years ago, he said, government has not prioritised maintenance and refurbishment, as if the two (building and maintenance) are incompatible.  

“What has followed has been the limited implementation of government’s building program projects shelved midway, some new ones being introduced, yet others pulled out of the shelves and then re-shelved,” said Magomela.

The Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Eric Molale early this year told Parliament a considerable number of ESP projects were behind schedule.

Responding to a question Gaborone North legislator Haskins Nkaigwa, Molale also could not ascertain the total number of permanent jobs created.

Among other things, Nkaigwa had asked for infrastructural projects funded and completed on time, total amount utilised as well as employment creation to date.

Molale explained the budget for the ESP projects planned for the financial year 2016/17 is P2.2 billion and by the end of January 2017 the contract amounts for awarded projects stood at P1.9 billion. He said there are a total of 3,652 projects implemented across 10 ministries.

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