Leta Mosienyane, president of Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM), was shooting from the hip recently when he lambasted government for ineptitude and failure to ensure that development projects give government value for money in terms of skills transfer and sustenance. Mosienyane said it was disheartening to note that close to 99.9 percent of huge development projects that cost the tax payer billions are not maintained and result in huge losses to government.
Speaking at a media tour organized by Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) last week, Mosienyane related an experience that he had back in 1992, when he was contracted to maintain and repair a school in Letlhakeng. To his surprise, he found that a senior secondary school that had cost government millions was built on dolerite, a powdery stone that is similar in characteristics to writing chalk.
“You can imagine the amount of money that government stood to lose. There was no plan B and the school had to be abandoned. This is the real problem in our development projects,” he said.
Mosienyane called for measures to be put in place at implementation level to ensure that there is skills transfer to locals so that maintenance works can continue even after the developer leaves the country. He said a majority of projects in the country are supervised by unskilled and inexperienced personnel who at times are in the dark about what the objectives were at the planning stage.
“It is important to know what the objectives were during planning. Otherwise we will end up with projects like the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSKIA), where the designer didn’t know what the intention of the planner was. Another example, Morupule B was designed and built by a private sector company after it was planned by somebody else. The problem now is that the objectives of the implementer were different from those of the original planner. That’s why we have high rates of failure in large scale projects,” he said.
He also challenged government to infuse risk management into the planning and implementation of development projects as that would help to ascertain the viability, or lack thereof, of the project.
“Risk management will help us avert the current scenario in which projects that have collapsed, and there are many of them, are swept under the carpet. We must get rid of this culture because it costs the tax payer a lot of money. We don’t need to have a deplorable history of building a string of white elephants,” he said.
Mosienyane said the quality of infrastructure in Botswana is declining even though the bulk of government’s budget goes towards infrastructure development projects. He added that economic, social and political objectives must be considered to ensure project delivery, such that focus must be on all aspects and not on the project in isolation. He said every project that government is involved in should have objectives that consider factors like competitiveness, skills development, service delivery and community development.
“There is a government policy that says 30percent of development projects should directly benefit local communities. That is not happening and currently BOCCIM has intervened in projects in Tsabong and Bobonong where local communities were left out. Developments should leave a legacy and that legacy should be skills development,” he said.
He added that there is a need to build capacity to maintain development projects so that they do not remain white elephants after the developer has left. Mosienyane said some development projects have very low demand because they were poorly packaged as there was no market research to establish their relevance.
“At the end of the day those who were supposed to benefit from such projects reap nothing. We need better conceptualization, planning, design and project management. In this country you will always find a mismatch between the developer and the designer. There is need for more cost analysis for every project being undertaken. There is need for sharper focus on development objectives and outcomes. We must be singularly focused on putting up the project but we must also consider its impact and value addition in the community,” said Mosienyane.