Architects Association of Botswana’s Responds to Minister Jonnie Swartz Corruption Charge
Boidus Media, the on-line media hub for designers in Botswana, asked the Architects Association of Botswana (AAB) to comment on the article ‘Construction industry corruption bleeds government of Millions of Pula’, which was published in the 27.3.2011 issue of Sunday Standard, as the article focuses on corruption within our construction sector.
The above article reported on the Ministry of Information, Science and Technology’s budget speech, given to parliament by Minister Jonnie Swartz. Minister Swartz was reported to have advised that government construction projects face delays, cost overruns and poor quality as a result of corrupt practices as well as poor work quality and professionalism within the industry. The article reported Mr Swartz offering examples of recently completed projects (police stations, stadia, senior secondary schools and airports) as indicative of these problems.
The AAB shares the minister’s concerns regarding both corruption and poor professionalism and work quality in our industry. It is sad – albeit not surprising
-to realise that also Botswana suffers the cancer of such corruption. Transparency International, a non-governmental organisation that is committed to fighting corruption globally, reports that the construction industry is one of the most corrupt sectors of the global economy. The complexity of any construction project, which essentially is a collection of an enormous number of parts that are designed and specified by a multitude of people and that are then assembled by yet another multitude of people, provides a lucrative environment for theft. And let’s be honest – theft is what corruption in this industry is.
What can we do about this corruption? Minister Swartz’s speech highlighted some of the medicine that our government is taking to treat this cancer. We in the Architects Association of Botswana are pleased to read that Minister Swartz and his colleagues have introduced a formal ‘post-occupation’ project audit, as this is something that we have requested for some time.
The AAB has also tried to respond to corruption in the building industry. Our members are expected to abide by our Code of Ethics, which is intended to help them inculcate fairness, honesty and respect. Any reported breaches of that Code are reviewed by our disciplinary subcommittee, and a member found to be in breach faces censure and possible eviction from the AAB; her or his actions may even be referred to the public prosecutor should that breach be seen to be criminal. There is more that we can do as architects, and our Executive Committee is currently reviewing ‘best practices’ followed by other institutes with a view to adopting such practices in Botswana.
Part of the AAB’s purpose as an organisation is to work to improve the professionalism of Botswana’s architects. We do this in a variety of ways, such as by working with our industry to hold workshops (one will be held on specification writing early in May) and product seminars. Several of our members provide voluntary support within various committees of the Botswana Bureau of Standards. The AAB nominates four members to the national Architects Registration Council. And our Executive Committee works tirelessly with government and other industry players to try to help improve the delivery of building projects.
Our goal is to have a community of architects that understands its obligations to our society, and that has the knowledge and skills required to deliver architectural designs in today’s world. That knowledge and those skills help the architect overcome a variety of pitfalls in her or his work – pitfalls like poor supervision, poor resolution of architectural detailing, and corruption.
Fundamentally, however, whether our society is corrupt or not depends upon the actions of all of us as individuals. If I refuse to buy an absurdly cheap cell phone from a vendor whom I don’t know, I may well help fight common theft and housebreaking. Similarly, if I refuse to compromise my professional values when inspecting work on a building site by insisting that substandard work be demolished and rebuilt to an acceptable quality, I am helping ensure that my client’s investment achieves value commensurate to its cost. And if I insist that the specified product – rather than a substandard and less expensive alternate – be used in a project, I help the fight against corruption in our industry.
As Minister Swartz highlighted, corruption is many things in the building industry. It ranges from accepting money or any other consideration for allowing substandard or incorrect work to be done, to wilfully failing to provide complete designs – whether those be architectural or engineering designs, or fabrication designs carried out by a subcontractor – in order to increase corporate profit margins. But the very complexity of the construction industry’s product highlighted earlier should also give us pause when we wish to point our finger at the responsible party, as that very complexity requires time and careful study to determine who is responsible. We are pleased that Minister Swartz’ ministry has appointed a professional team to audit some recent projects to bring to light why those buildings are falling apart before their time.
We in the AAB have no doubt that some architects do not provide the service that their clients pay for – this is reprehensible, and we hope that members of the public will send their complaints to us so that we can try to address those problems. However some clients insist that architects and engineers produce their work within an impracticable time frame, with the result that their projects are not fully resolved before construction starts.
Our industry needs to fight corruption, and the AAB believes that this can best be achieved by engaging all actors in that process. You, the reader of this article, are hereby engaged – do your part to fight corruption. Inform yourself before you hire an architect of what to expect, and of how much those expectations are likely to cost you. Ensure that those whom you wish to submit tenders for your construction project are known and have a proven track record of acceptable work. And demand that your consultants – who, after all and in law, are acting on your behalf – keep you well informed of progress on your building site. Demand by all means the services that you are paying for; and pay willingly and fairly for work done well.
* Jode Anderson is President, Architects Association of Botswana
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