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Locals decry Chinese ‘preference’ in road projects

2023-05-11  Edgar Brandt

Locals decry Chinese ‘preference’ in road projects

Construction workers, their union representatives as well as the Construction Industries Federation of Namibia (CIF) are livid at the fact that Namibian companies continue to be sidelined in lucrative construction projects, particularly those involving national infrastructure.

This precarious state of affairs came to the fore again this week when it was revealed that seven entities shortlisted by the Roads Authority (RA) for the upgrading of the Karibib to Usakos road are all Chinese companies.

Namibian-owned contractors have been sidelined on the road project under the auspices of the RA. In December 2022, the RA had received bids for the prequalification to rehabilitate the 32 km stretch of road. The project is financed by a loan from the German government through their development bank, the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW).

In a statement issued late yesterday, RA CEO Conrad Lutombi said it must be noted that the RA is committed to the empowerment and promotion of the participation of local contractors in all road construction projects, in line with Section 2 of the Procurement Act.

“Therefore, it has been agreed with KfW to create four separate bills for works to be executed by local Namibian-owned contractors and SME contractors. It is a project specification/requirement that the seven Pre-Qualified Bidders must submit their bids in partnership with four Local Bidders. The value of works reserved for Bidders is set at 25% of the Total Contract Amount,” Lutombi stated.

The RA estimates that a total of 500 employment opportunities for Namibians will be created during the construction phase.

Said Lutombi: “The RA takes pride in being one of the leading organisations in Namibia in the development of local contractors. The appointment of contractors in all road construction and maintenance projects is done in a fair and transparent manner, and we strictly adhere to the Public Procurement Act. We will continue to empower local contractors in building local capacity and contributing to the efforts of our government’s commitment to create local capacity, employment opportunities and alleviate poverty”.

Responding to media queries from earlier this week, Lutombi explained that while 17 companies participated in a pre-qualification tender, only the seven Chinese companies qualified. Out of the entire project, Namibian companies will only be able to contribute through the construction of bridges, culverts, paving and surfacing.

The RA further justified the one-sided shortlisting by stating that only three Namibian-owned contractors had submitted a bid, one of which tendered through a joint venture with a Chinese company. 

“The fact that only three Namibian-owned companies had participated in the tender process should have been expected by the RA and the KfW.  At least a month before the tender submission date, the CIF had approached the authority and requested a meeting so that the prequalification requirements would be reviewed. The RA only entertained the request for a meeting less than one week before the submission date,” stated chief executive officer of the CIF, Bärbel Kirchner.

She noted that whilst some of the requirements for the contentious tender had been altered, these alterations were insignificant in the bigger picture.

Kirchner maintained that the requirement implications were well-known by the RA, and that through them, the Namibian-owned contractors would still be restricted to participate. She said financial prequalification requirements were too steep, as well as the technical requirements, which included certain volumes of work and certain material, such as the use of 60 000 cubic metres of stabilised recycled subbase. 

“There is not a single Namibian contractor that has covered the prescribed amount of square metres/cubic metres per year. This is a very unrealistic demand because there has never been a demand of this magnitude in Namibia, not even from the Roads Authority as client. This was effectively the reason why Namibian-owned contractors did not participate,” Kirchner asserted.

The CIF further claims that both the KfW conditions and local realities could have been taken into consideration, maintaining that all that was required was to change the size of the project by breaking it into smaller lots. In this way,  local-owned contractors would have been able to participate. 

“What is there left to say? We have engaged the authorities. Both the KfW and the RA – and for that matter, the senior executives of the authority – were exactly aware of the implications. But they chose not to make any significant changes to the requirements. It is a sad state of affairs. We all know that no effort was made to effectively and deliberately create work for Namibian-owned contractors and their Namibian employees. As we speak, our businesses are busy with retrenchments again. Anyone who states 25% of the work will be sub-contracted to local contractors and sells this as an achievement is holding us for fools, not only the contractors, but everyone who has a genuine interest in Namibia’s progress,” said Kirchner.

“Our own contractors are being undermined and ridiculed by our own government, the Roads Authority. The question is how our own authorities can let our people down, who desperately need to be engaged and create jobs. We are talking about the eradication of poverty and the creation of employment. This action is in direct contradiction with these policies. Our authorities know full-well what is going on, and it is an insult to every truthful Namibian. To say that these were the conditions of the financiers is like washing one’s hands and effectively shifting the blame.  That makes our senior decision-makers victims, and not leaders. As this really does not make any sense, one ought to have a serious investigation into these procurement practices”.  

Secretary general of the Metal and Allied Workers Union Justina Jonas challenged Namibian construction companies to speak out, stating that the union is fighting for localisation, but to no avail. “We do not get surprised anymore. As a union, we have hammered on the issue of localisation. We are fighting, but nobody is listening,” she was quoted as saying.


2023-05-11  Edgar Brandt

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