Botswana’s construction industry which is set to be among the biggest beneficiaries of the recently announced President Ian Khama’s Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) has welcomed the programme with reservation.
The package was unveiled at the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Special Congress held in Gaborone this past Saturday. Khama has indicated that the programme will commence during the current financial year and would be carried forward. The aim of the project according to him is to accelerate job creation, economy stimulation and economic diversification. Khama told delegates at the special congress that areas of focus will be building construction, roads construction, tourism development, increase agricultural production and manufacturing. He said the country will also tap on its foreign reserves. Currently Botswana has P87, 8 billion in foreign reserves.
Citizen Contractors Association, which represents 100 or so citizen-owned construction companies from Grade OC to Grade C, has expressed concern over the programme especially its implementation and monitoring. Under the revised procurement rules that effected on 12 December 2014, citizen contractors enjoy reservation to tender exclusively under Grades OC whose threshold is P1, 5 million; Grade A at P3 million and Grade B at P7, 2 million. Grade C attracts P12 million. Citizen contractors can also try their luck under Grade D which has a threshold minimum of P30 million and a maximum of P85 million. The Association’s Chairman, Michael Moji told Botswana Guardian that government has poor implementation mechanism adding that what Khama said on Saturday is pleasing but the problem is implementation. Moji bemoaned that government has a tendency of making promises it never fulfils. “If it could be implemented and be monitored properly then Batswana may be taken out of poverty, especially if you look at the construction industry, which will be among the major beneficiaries.
Our industry does not only benefit contractors and their employees but even other sectors. But our problem is how government deals with this industry which is even prone to corruption”, explained Moji. He expressed disappointment at Khama’s failure to touch on the wages of construction employees which he said are low and that the welfare of employees in the industry is always ignored. “The government should say something about the wages for our people as the reviewer and implementer of this sector’s wages. Another thing there should be a plan of how these jobs will be sustainable because everyone knows for a fact that construction jobs are not sustainable. You hire people for the duration of a project and part ways if you do not have anything lined up. So they should not talk about this as if they will be creating permanent jobs,” he noted, further adding, “It will only be short lived because there are also elements of corruption and some people might win projects just once, so where will your employees go afterwards?” queried Moji.
Khama on the other hand said building construction is an engine of growth for many economies the world over. The focus, he said, would not be building big projects. “We will be spreading construction projects around the country. There will be construction in every district”, he said adding that Batswana construction companies will benefit in the building of classrooms and teachers’ quarters as well as clinics upgrading and nurses’ quarters. The president said there will be additional funds for maintenance because “We do not want to just build and not maintain old buildings. There will be major construction in all corners of the country. This will boost the construction industry in the country. As for roads construction I do not have to dwell much on it because it is straight forward. We will however not be constructing long stretching roads but rather alternative roads with the aim of reducing construction”, Khama said.
Moji however feels that Batswana companies should be equipped on financial management so that they could create sustainable jobs. He challenged government to come up with programmes that will empower Batswana contractors on financial sustainability so that they can create sustainable jobs. “But I am afraid because this government is the one that just talks and not execute. The other fear that we have is the platform where this worthwhile programme was announced. We challenge the president to do such things in public places like in Parliament where we can hold him and his government accountable. This might not be binding on him because he did not say it at a place where we could hold him accountable at a later stage if he fails to fulfil the promises”.