His Excellency, Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s recent State Of The Nation Address before Parliament covered a whole range of topics and some key parts of it were dedicated to our Construction Industry in Botswana. This highlight of the industry’s issues came in a timely fashion as the Industry is currently going through undoubtedly one of its most difficult periods.
The speech comes at a time when our local CI, like most across the world, is trying to come out of one of the worst recessions in history. The international markets for the past two years have been in turmoil, forcing some industries especially around the world to come to a halt. In Botswana the government, who also happens to be the biggest employer in the industry, was forced, in this year’s budget to suspend all new construction projects. The President was however silent on what the future holds in regards to how soon the government would be able to start building again. Many local contractors need government to build in order to survive, and as the biggest employer, it’s essential that government start building again to create work that can enable contractors to come out of the slumber. In other countries such as US, governments have invested in building infrastructure to help keep the in industry going sustain employment. The longer our government does not build the more many local contractors will disappear from the industry.
The President’s speech touched particularly on one of the most pertinent problems facing our industry in Botswana today; corruption. He noted that, ‘For a long time our construction industry lacked professionalism and effective regulation. This has led to problems such as corruption, fraud and the premature boarding of Government buildings.’ This frank admission is a welcome first step especially coming from the highest office, that there are problems of corruption in our industry although this much has been openly admitted before by Minister, Mr Swartz, on numerous accounts. The President also continued to point out some of the ways that his government is doing to deal with the problems; these included a restructuring of DBES; he mentioned that a Stakeholder Reference Group has been set up for quality auditing, and that Quality Audit Teams would make unannounced visits to sites for inspections. Claims Audit Teams, he said, have already unearthed that initially up to P 1 million in unwarranted amounts were uncovered every week at the embattled DBES.
The President’s assertion of the situation at DBES, however, ought to go further than this in my opinion. The untold public inconvenience, large sums of public funds lost in incomplete schools and effects on education, unused stadiums and those falling apart, hospitals, roads and others warrant more that just the above named audit measures. The problems at DEBS, I feel, need a full overview of the whole essence of DEBS through an Independent Public Inquiry as I have argued here before. The depth of its problems cannot be curtailed by the above corrective measures alone. The problems of government procurement structures also extend beyond DEBS to almost all its parastatals. Viewed from this capacity, an inquiry will give a clearer picture of just how much damage and effects this issues have been to the country’s efforts to build its infrastructure and diversify its economy.
The President also touched on the creation of regulatory bodies for professionals in the industry and the conception of the industry contractor’s super regulatory body. This is indeed a step in the right direction, although I would still be curious to see the nature and scope of this ‘super regulator’ and how it will live side by side with the current government’s PPADB. Professional regulatory bodies are long overdue and the formulation of the architect’s registration body (ARB) is taking far too long to come to fruition. We hope this will not continue with no end in sight. The President further talked extensively about plans on housing (housing agency), acquisition of new lands and other new initiatives aimed at this sector of the industry. The housing and land issues warrant an extend essay which we will look at in next week’s edition.
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