Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Kazungula Bridge Project: Gov’t leaves Batswana contractors in the lurch

Some of the Batswana companies that were contracted to carry out works under the Kazungula Bridge Project have been left stranded without full payment for completed projects.

The Ministry of Transport and Public Works has especially been accused of failing local companies by refusing to liaise with their Zambian counterparts to ensure the Zambian government pays their part of the deal.

This failure to pay has reportedly affected service delivery as affected contractors refuse to carry out routine maintenance services, turning equipment into white elephants.

“Some of us are drowning in debt because we cannot afford to pay bank loans,” one contractor said. They also accuse Kazungula Bridge Project Office (KBPO) of failing to carry out its mandate. There were 11 lots for supply and service provision contracts awarded to Botswana and Zambian companies. “We have contacted the Office of the President for intervention without any luck,” the contractors have said.

According to the contracts signed with the contractors both countries are to share the costs of the work on a 50/50 basis with Botswana paying 25 percent and the other 25 percent paid by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) which co-financed the overall project.  But the Zambian government’s Road Development Agency has so far failed to pay their part for some of the projects. Now local contractors are up in arms after being sent from pillar to post by KBPO and the Ministry of Transport.  The Botswana government has refused to assist the contractors, sending them back to KBPO for answers.

In one of their letters to a contractor, the Ministry of Transport and Public Works makes it clear that Botswana has carried out its share of the deal and the contractor should contact the Zambians for the balance. However, nowhere in the works contract does it indicate part payment by either country.

Part of the contract (Terms of Payment) indicates : “The Supplier’s request for payment shall be made to the Purchaser in writing, accompanied by invoices describing, as appropriate, the goods and Related Services delivered , and by the documents submitted pursuant to… and upon fulfillment of all other obligations stipulated in the Contract.  Payments shall be made promptly by the Purchaser [The Ministry of Transport and Public Works and Road Development Agency Zambia], but in no case later than sixty (60) days after submission of an invoice or request for payment by the Supplier, and after the Purchaser has accepted it.” There is no mention of split payments between the two governments.

In a letter written to one local contractor Bareng Malatsi, Acting Permanent Secretary of Transport Ministry, tells the contractor the government of Botswana has settled its part of the contract and is therefore no longer indebted to the company.

“The Employer in the contract is both Botswana and Zambia liable for 50% of the funding and payments. On the basis of the foregoing, we advise that you contact KBPO in Kazungula to facilitate settling the outstanding payment from Zambia,” the Acting Permanent Secretary wrote. In response to the letter one of the contractors argues that the Conditions of Payment Section of the contract explicitly state that 100 percent of the contract price shall be paid within Sixty (60) days after delivery and acceptance of goods by the Purchaser. That nowhere in the provisions or any documents made pursuant to the contract does it state payment arrangements in portions.

“The obligation of service delivery was fulfilled in terms of the contract and a practical completion certificate issued by the client as a form of acceptance,” the contractor wrote.

“A commitment by the Ministry on behalf of the Government of Botswana to support, protect and facilitate welfare of local companies in all fairness more so that such contracts are of bilateral ties…We strongly feel the contents of the letter from the Ministry is unsatisfactory and fails to address our displeasure as a joint signatory to the contract head of executing authority. You ought to have engaged through your internal mechanisms with your counterparts.

The Kazungula Bridge Project (KBP) is a multi-national initiative built to enhance infrastructure along the North-South Corridor (NSC). The project involved building a bridge over the Zambezi River, connecting Botswana and Zambia, and replacing the old ferry system. Additionally, it includes a one-stop border facilities at Kazungula.

The Kazungula Bridge Project was officially inaugurated on Monday, 10 May 2021, by President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his the Zambian counterpart Edgar Lungu. Spanning 923 meters and featuring two border facilities on either side, the bridge not only benefits Botswana and Zambia but also fosters integration within the southern Africa region. It facilitates trade and transportation along the North-South Corridor, as well as the Trans-African Highway on the Cape to Cairo route. It also contributes to the newly launched African Continental Free Trade Area.

The African Development Bank Group supported the project by providing a $76.5 million loan from the African Development Fund to the Government of Zambia. Additionally, the project received funding from the two governments, as well as co-financing from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency and the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund. The total cost of the project amounted to $259.3 million. It was approved in December 2011 and completed in December 2020. The Ministry of Transport and Public Works has failed to address questions posed by Sunday Standard.

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