A substantial 43 government projects are said to have been abandoned by contractors in the last three years. In a scathing outburst, works and transport minister John Mutorwa lamented the state of affairs, saying “delays, maladministration and corrupt practices are unacceptable, because they are essentially criminal.”
During a recent meeting with stakeholders, Mutorwa highlighted that a trifling 54 capital projects were completed between 2016 and 2019 out of 153 projects awarded between 2012 and 2014 through the now repealed Tender Board of Namibia Act. The report showed that 56 of the projects were not yet complete while 43 were completely abandoned and left incomplete. This is sad.
The poor execution rate of government projects is an issue that has cropped up many times and we know of many contractors who have literally short-changed government and vanished without delivering. These tenderpreneurs in most cases cash in handsomely on these projects just to leave them idle, further costing taxpayers millions to have them completed.
While we recognise that the authorities have come up with measures to address issues of inefficiency and lack of accountability on the part of contractors with a set of new stricter amendments of the procurement process, the challenges, worryingly, still persist. Poor supervision and site management, and a shortage of manpower skills are among a host of factors attributed to the delays in government projects. Interestingly, one hardly sees this happening with contracts in the private sector.
A case in point is the over-hyped aquaculture project at Keetmanshoop, which was supposed to be completed more than three years ago. The Fonteintjie fish farm project was also abandoned by a contractor who is accused by the consultant of not being capable of performing the job. The consultant further claimed the contractor, most of the time, experienced cash-flow problems to continue with the project, but that all payments due to him had been effected up to the time he abandoned the works.
This situation is not only unique to the fish farm project. We have heard the same excuses of non-delivery before, especially when it involves government projects. The state of affairs does not reflect well on government, which is supposed to champion development and see to it that projects are implemented on time and also ensuring that there is adequate planning in order to have a smooth execution rate and have projects delivered on time and within budget.
Those awarded tenders should live up to the confidence entrusted in them and deliver on time instead of using government projects as a springboard to amass personal wealth at the expense of taxpayers who foot an additional cost that runs up to half of the public investment. As custodian of government projects, there is indeed a massive weight of expectation on the part of the works ministry to ensure a smooth implementation of budgeted projects. Government projects, in whatever size, should not be seen as an experiment in self-enrichment. The onus is on the authorities to safeguard against wastage and see to it that contractor performance reflects strong skills and unquestionable site management ability. Shoddy work should not be the order of the day.