Sunday, February 28, 2021

Mabeo seems to confirm allegations made in Sunday Standard story

A little over a year ago, Sunday Standard carried a story about how the business relationship between the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and a South Korean company called Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction which had been parachuted into the bidding process for the refurbishment of Morupule A Power Station had soured.

On the basis of inadequate inspection, Doosan underquoted and when the project started, realised that it was going to make a loss. In the October 2016 story that we ran, we quoted sources as saying that to get around this problem, Doosan relied on the creative genius of a legal eagle sitting in an office at the company’s headquarters in Seoul. The main responsibility of this “contract agreement manager” is to identify loopholes in the BPC-Doosan contract and relay his findings to the team in Morupule.

One loophole that Doosan identified is that is that its contract with BPC (said to be a bulky document) is not specific about the scope of the refurbishment. For example, the contract does not say that doors and windows should be replaced and walls painted. The result has been that Doosan insisted on extra payment for doing essential non-engineering work that is not specified in the contract. A source said that as a result, Doosan has been making “claim after claim after claim” outside the P2.4 billion it agreed upon with BPC.

A statement just made in parliament confirms that Doosan managers exploit loopholes where they exist and the laxity of government officials with a profit motive in mind. Since 2015, the company has entered into one or two months’ contracts with its employees.

“Doosan Company has entered into fixed term contracts of one to two months with the employees. The law is silent as to permissible period for fixed term contracts. Management has however, been advised to align the employees contracts with the project period in the interest of fair labour practice and decent work,” the Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, Tshenolo Mabeo, told parliament.

In contravention of the localization policy and partly as a result of laxity by the local labour office, Doosan has also failed to draw up a training and localisation plan through which it would facilitate transfer of skills to citizen employees.

There is apparently no ethical way to practice capitalism. For decades now, Botswana and other African countries have been losing billions of dollars to mostly western nations through illicit financial flows. In the last couple of years, Botswana has been doing more and more business with Asia which practises capitalism no differently. In private conversation, a former cabinet minister tells the story of a meeting that he and other senior government officials had years ago with a high-powered Chinese delegation that included an interpreter. The understanding was that only English and Mandarin would be used at this meeting.

The meeting went swimmingly at the start but as more contentious cropped up, the interpreting slowed down as the Chinese delegation took a while speaking in Mandarin amongst themselves before the response was relayed to the Botswana team in English. Much later, the minister would discover that all Chinese men actually spoke perfect English but some had pretended not to in order that they could do exactly what they did. Had it been common knowledge that the men spoke English, they would not have been able to use Mandarin to discuss issues among themselves. They would have had to do that after the meeting broke up, using up more time. On the other hand, the Botswana delegation didn’t have such advantage because it couldn’t use Setswana the way the Chinese used Mandarin. 

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