Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Heads should roll when projects fail

In fairness to Okitanye Gaogane, not once does he mention Morupule B power station but parallels can be drawn from his contemplation of accountability in project management.

He tells the story of a multi-billion-rand project of Medupi, the fourth-largest coal power station in the southern hemisphere and the largest dry-cooled coal power station in the world.

The power station, which is being built in Limpopo Province, South Africa, has very strong Morupule B-esque characteristics. Already four years behind schedule and billions of rand overbudget, Medupi is projected to start operating in 2019. This year the CEO of Eskom, the South African power utility, resigned and was followed a day later by the chairman of the board of directors.

“When a project fails, the CEO and the board should be held accountable. That is the international standard that should be applied locally,” says Gaogane who is Head of Academy at Innolead Botswana, a leading project management company.

Conversely, Morupule B, a P11 billion man-made disaster, is being treated like a natural disaster and to date no one has been held accountable for such disaster. Speaking generally about how projects are bungled in Botswana, Gaogane says that all too often, power and authority over such projects are vested in steering committees that are made up of executives and policy-makers who are completely clueless about project management.

“Steering committees are responsible for most of the project failures because they are unable to provide strategic direction and check the technical integrity of a project,” says Gaogane who, as project manager, was involved in the setting up of the project office of Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaa mines and also played similar role in the transformation of the Botswana Diamond Valuing Company into Diamond Trading Centre, the Botswana Training Authority into the Botswana Qualifications Authority and the Tertiary Education Council into the Human Resource Development Council.

At a seminar held at the Gaborone International Convention Centre earlier this year, he told the audience that some of the civil servants who come to Innolead’s academy to get project management training are sidelined and supplanted by executives without such training when real-life project management work is undertaken.

Gaogane also points to the baleful influence of money as a crucial factor in project mismanagement. Whereas a couple of years ago, P2 million was considered a lot of money for a project, today’s construction costs have jumped as high as P30 billion.

“That has resulted in a drop in engineering standards and professional ethics as well as emergence of sub-standard procurement practices. When there is a lot of money, people will do whatever it takes to get the money and forget about standards,” says Gaogane, adding that whilst in the past contractors were proud of the quality of buildings they put up, today the focus is on amassing stacks of money.

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