Infrastructure, Science and Tech- nology minister Johnie Swartz, has been visiting a China-administered island resort to ask for more such contractors to come to Botswana.
“We have huge possibilities of investment to provide building as well as civil infrastructure through public private partnerships (PPPs), roads, railways, dams, schools, medical facilities, oﬃce and staﬀ accommodation,” Swartz said when addressing the Macao Construction Forum. Citizen contractors are unhappy with the Chinese domination of the construction industry and in 2010 wrote a letter to president Ian Khama, complaining that some P20 billion worth of mega projects were circulating among a cartel of Chinese contractors.
Khama himself would tell a South African newspaper last year that his government has had “bad experiences” with Chinese contractors. “The best way I can put it is that we are very‚ very particular now‚ we are going to be looking very carefully at any company that originates from China in providing construction services of any nature‚” Khama told Business Day. In his speech to Chinese businesspeople in Macau, Swartz mentioned the illfated Morupule B power generation and transmission project among “key projects that we have done as a country with the participation of Chinese contractors.”
When Business Day asked Khama about power shortage in the country, he blamed the Chinese. “Right now‚ as we speak today‚ we should be totally self-suﬃcient if we hadn’t been let down by the Chinese. Tose generation plants at Morupule B should have all been up and running by the end of last year – but only one of the four is operating‚” said the president, adding that his government had “started really tightening up on the way Chinese companies deliver on government contracts.”
While some people here have sought to characterise Chinese contractors as generally incompetent as a group, Swartz watered down this accusation for his Macau audience. “Although we have been impressed more especially with the Chinese work ethic, we were at times unhappy with delayed completion of projects and the quality of some of the completed facilities. I have to however point out that, these challenges were not necessarily peculiar to Chinese contractors only,” he said.
While some Chinese contractors who do business with Botswana clearly don’t make the grade, the reality is that all too oﬅen Tird World nations like Botswana don’t have too much of a choice. Swartz said that some of construction projects here were made possible by funding provided through the Chinese government’s soﬅ loan facility. “Smaller and upcoming economies like Botswana still lack in many respects. We are still building our capacities especially human resources.
We still depend, to a large extent, on financial assistance from friendly countries including soﬅ loans which China, amongst other countries, have been instrumental in making available to us for our developments.”