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BCGCC worried about Botswana -China construction industry relations

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The Botswana Chinese GeneralChamber of Commerce(BCGCC) welcomes the announcementby President Ian Khamathat construction work at theMorupule B Power Station is almostcomplete and that after three longyears, load shedding will fi nally endon July 31.It is consistently true that in theworld we live in, electrical power isnot a luxury but a necessity and thatis especially true for the businessworld. Where supply of such poweris unreliable, business operationsincur huge losses; so understandably,the load shedding phase hasbeen a harrowing experience for ourmembers – as indeed for all businessesin Botswana. The level ofBotswana Chinese General Chamberof Commerce (BCGCC) consternationabout the power situationprompted the secretariat to write thecompany constructing the MorupuleB power station seeking answers.

 

We were also given assurances thatthe construction was about to completeand, like everybody else, weare hopeful that load shedding willcertainly be a thing of the past. Beyondthe anxiety to have the powersituation return to normal, we havea deep emotional investment in thisproject because the company undertakingit is from China. In an idealsituation where there is recognitionthat generalising about thingsis fundamentally mistaken andunfair, Chinese companies doingbusiness in Botswana should neverhave been treated as a like-mindedmonolith. Unfortunately, that is thecase this time.All Chinese contractors havebeen pigeonholed into one categoryand the result is that the delay ofMorupule B project has been attributedto “Chinese contractors” andnot the Chinese contractor that isactually doing the job.

 

We are thusanxious to see this project successfullycompleted because it refl ectson all of us.Going forward, however, MorupuleB and other troubled projectsshould get us to broader discussionsabout the alleged poor workmanshipof Chinese contractors that persistentlyslide in and out of the newscycle. Unfortunately, this debatehas generated more heat than lightand those unfamiliar with the factswould be inclined to absorb the impressionthat local Chinese contractorsare sculptors who do not knowhow to handle the mason’s tools. Atbest this is fanciful and at worst, alittle too patronising. Morupule Bshould prompt us all to bring a fresheye to problems in the constructionindustry with a view to doing businesstogether in a much more effectivemanner.

 

As a starting point,BCGCC proposes that we shouldstart in earnest, an honest conversationabout the manner in which constructionprojects are undertaken.We would welcome this conversationand would be more than eagerto participate in it, not least becausewe want to set the record straight.It is never pleasant to hear thewildly inaccurate accusations that asa group, Chinese contractors bungleprojects while pocketing billions ofpula. It would be dishonest thoughto deny that some (a few) Chinesecontractors have performed belowpar and so for this group, the chargewould stick. To deal with this particularproblem, the unexpected optionof cutting ties with all Chinesecontractors has been mooted. Thiswould be a critical misstep and wewould have lost sight of the problemif we allow ourselves to be co-optedinto this retributionist mindset.

 

Weneed to engage in rational decision-BCGCC worried about Botswana -China construction industry relationsmaking which recognises that poorperformers should not be tarred withthe same brush with those who havedisplayed an exceptional pattern ofperformance. We should also recognisethat wholesale punishment ofgroups is never fair. We would liketo ask the Government to list thenames of projects they are not happywith so that the contractors might beable to attend to those quality issues.The acknowledgement made notwithstanding,it generally seems tobe unfair when the defaulting contractorsare singled out for blame atthe exclusion all the other parties involvedin the execution of constructionprojects. BCGCC is on recordas saying that when projects arebungled all erring parties should beheld accountable.

 

In the fi nal analysis,this is not a debate between individualsbut between fairness andunfairness. Needless to say, theattitude that our detractors take isembarrassing to any rational notionof fair comment and on a side note,we might just mention that we haveyet to hear anything approaching afull accounting for all mishandledprojects.We are impressed to fi nd that atleast one Member of Parliament,who also happens to be a memberof the parliamentary Public AccountCommittee (PAC), shares this view.According to published accounts,MP Guma Moyo (and we assumethe Mmegi issue of June 5, 2013 reproducedhis words faithfully) saidthe following during a PAC hearing:“Supervision of these projectsis done stage by stage with paymentsbeing made stage by stage inagreement with all parties.

 

Why isit that the majority of the times youblame the contractors and yet youwould have supervised, concurredand paid at every stage? Very littleis said about who made the paymentand what they would have paid for.”These words were directed at thePermanent Secretary in the Ministryof Infrastructure, Science andTechnology, Mr. Kagiso Mokotedi,whom the same paper quotes as admittingthat “supervisory capacity isgovernment’s weakest link in projectimplementation.”It would be a tragedy if we wereto be divided by a problem thatwe can easily solve. At this pointin time, we have, on the whole, arelationship that is both good andimperfect but that is in the order ofhuman relationships. Rather thanthrow up hands in frustration and goour separate ways, we should ironout our problems.Unless your sense of ethics hasbeen dulled, you don’t kick dirt inthe face of someone who treats yougood. Botswana has been good tous and we want to return the favourby ensuring that it gets its money’sworth.

 

The other thing is that ascommercial enterprises, companiesassociated with BCGCC endeavourto do a good job because thatgives them reputational incentives.If we are to accomplish anythingof substance, we should neither applymental shorthand to nor contentourselves with mechanistic explanationsfor what is essentially avery complex issue. There is needto build a robust stakeholder consensusaround this issue. All partiesengaged in the constructionsector should engage the full arrayof resources at their disposal to ensurethat contractors meet explicitperformance benchmarks and thatbuildings are constructed properly,stay comfortably within budget andget a clean bill of structural healthfrom inspectors. Where this doesnot happen, thorough investigationsshould be undertaken and appropriateaction taken against all culprits.

 

BCGCC pledges to fully play itspart in such process.In the near future, the MorupulePower B problem would be in therear-view mirror but our journeytogether continues. Let us defogthe window and ride together intoa future that can only be as brightas only we can make it. More thanjust being a cute metaphor, the latterstatement expresses a fundamentaltruism of our duty to each other aswell as to our respective nations.Engaging in fi re-and-brimstonerhetoric, as has been the case, isdestructive; let us all choose to beproductive.

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