The Construction Industries Federation of Namibia (CIF) yesterday said it was with great dismay that it read the article in a local newspaper, titled “Unfinished classrooms, hostels a seven-year eyesore”. The Federation stated that irrespective of who is at fault that the structures are not being used for their intended purpose- either the client or the contractor – the fundamental issue is that the construction sector still remains unregulated, despite the CIF’s persistent and relentless efforts to ensure a National Construction Council would be established since 2006.
As one of the stakeholders, the CIF has been lobbying senior minister, including the prime minister, to convey the utmost urgency that the industry would be regulated. A national council would ensure that every contractor operating in the construction sector would be vetted and registered.
Registered businesses would then be categorised based on criteria determined by the council – for example, technical and financial capacity. This, said the CIF, would ensure the size of the contractor would be aligned with the size of the project, which not only will increase the probability of quality workmanship but also the effective completion of projects. “First attempts to raise the awareness that the construction sector would need to be regulated were made in 2006. Once, in 2010, the related bill had been tabled in parliament, which at the time had been thrown out, as there had been fears that regulation through a council would hinder the development of an inclusive industry. This was, however, clarified and further discussed in subsequent stakeholder engagement meetings. One of the major roles of the proposed construction council is also the effective coordination of technical training and capacity building in the industry so that SME’s and emerging contractors can also participate in increasingly larger tenders,” a statement from the CIF. The federation continued that the regulation of the construction sector, through a construction council, is so crucial that government had committed itself at the Investment Summit, organised by the High Level Panel of the Economy in 2019, that the National Construction Council would be legislated by 31 March 2020. Nico Badenhorst, president of the CIF said: “If we want to improve the quality of construction work, our industry must be regulated. Currently, anyone can operate a business in this sector without any qualification and experience, and anyone, without any sort of building and construction capacity, can bid for government tenders”.
The construction council bill was submitted to Cabinet in March 2021 – and it is envisaged that it will be submitted to the Cabinet Committee for Legislation in September 2021.
“Not only will the registration and categorisation of businesses ensure good quality in the industry but it would also directly address the problem of tenderpreneurs in the construction sector. These middlepersons rarely add value – as most of the time, they do not have a construction business or capacity per se. Instead, once the contract has been awarded, it is often sold to other contractors, many of which are foreign contractors. This limits the value a building or civil project can add to the local economy during the construction phase,” the CIF warned.
It added that a construction council also has the mandate to monitor and can ensure and enforce compliance to technical standards, safety standards and relevant guidelines and statutory requirements in the construction industry.
In fact, all contractors in contravention of the act, rules or regulations would be subjected to a code of conduct and disciplinary process, where, if found guilty, the penalties may include the removal from the register. Membership with the CIF is voluntary, and the CIF’s 280 members must adhere to its Code of Conduct to ensure their continued membership. However, the federation does not have the statutory mandate to monitor and police businesses in the sector – and there are many businesses out there that are not members of our federation.
“If we want to ensure consistent quality workmanship in our industry at large, it needs to be regulated. If we want to make effective use of our financial resources and ensure that capital projects eventually will fulfil effectively their purpose, we must have a construction council. Registration and categorisation of contractors will also further objectify and facilitate the evaluation and adjudication of bids in response to advertised government tenders, and minimise the scope for subjectivity and corruption in the sector,” said Badenhorst.
“The very first step to revive our sector is to have a construction council in place. It will practically address all problems and obstacles we are currently facing in our sector – displacement of Namibian-owned contractors, exclusion of contractors due to unrealistically high financial criteria on major – often loan or donor-funded – projects as well as the question of tenderpreneurs. Over the years, our industry has suffered due to lack of regulation. Government development budgets could have been used to optimally engage the local industry. If we do not act now, soon all local capacity will be lost,” Badenhorst concluded.