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Same old same old

16 January 2014
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The New Year has started pretty much the same way as the old year ended with Namibian companies fighting like cats and dogs over lucrative tenders, accompanied by the usual threats of vicious and drawn out court battles.

Here we specifically refer to the award of the Roads Authority’s N$219 million tender for the construction of its new headquarters to Namibia Construction.

Majority Chinese-owned construction company New Era Investments now threatens to challenge the award of the tender and has armed itself to the teeth with what is perhaps the best connected and priciest law firm in the country.

It would have been nice if for a change, they had surprised us with a tender award where everything went smoothly and all parties warmly congratulated each other on a transparent and fair tender process.

The public procurement system in this country is by no means perfect – something we all know is a major understatement.

The system is riddled by a lack of transparency, conflict of interest, widespread insider dealing and what often amounts to flagrant corruption.

The new Public Procurement Bill tabled by Minister of Finance Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila last year will hopefully go some way towards eliminating some of the uglier aspects of procurement in this country.

However, even the new Bill has become snarled up in parliament and the subject of a bitter wrangle – proving that nothing concerning tenders in this country ever ends up without a vicious fight.

Some would say that this is hardly surprising given the mind-boggling amounts of money involved in public tenders, with the Neckartal Dam construction tender alone estimated at N$3 billion.

Even this tender, pales in comparison to the overall value of NamPort’s Walvis Bay port expansion project, estimated at somewhere around N$30 billion.

China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) last year won a N$2.9 billion chunk of the massive project and now appears the favourite to win another juicy N$3.7 billion piece of the action.

For many people in this country it has become patently clear that starting up your own business, building it up through entrepreneurship, hard work, innovation and quality service is a mugs game only fit for suckers.

The quick path to unimaginable wealth is through public tenders, and the only qualification required here is influence peddling and the ability to bootlick politicians and public officials (We limit ourselves to the boots for the sake of politeness!).

Well-meant as the Public Procurement Bill might be, no society can legislate against everything – however good that legislation might be.

You cannot legislate against people’s mentality. You cannot legislate against unbridled greed and the lust for a quick buck.

When every second tender seems to end up in a bitter court battle, clearly there must be something seriously wrong with the system.

The major impact it has, is that it brings the entire public procurement system and all those involved in it into disrepute, as well as cast a stain on the country’s reputation.

Good legislation can go a long way towards improving transparency and eliminating corruption.

However, what this country needs more than good legislation is a public consensus that public procurement exists to serve the public good.

Public procurement should not serve as a means for self-enrichment for those too dumb, unimaginative or lazy to start their own businesses, or get an honest job like the rest of us.

The New Era Investments/Namibia Construction saga and all the other unseemly, never-ending court battles over tenders have another important negative consequence.

They inevitably delay, and significantly inflate the cost, of badly needed infrastructure that the Namibian taxpayer has to pay for.

Furthermore, without going into the merits of New Era Investment’s legal case against the Roads Authority it seems a damn cheek for this particular company to take the RA to court.

Namibia has proved a land of milk and honey for New Era and other Chinese construction companies.

They have won billions of dollars in tenders at the expense of local companies – often by using underhand means and playing fast and loose with the country’s laws.

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WINDHOEK OBSERVER

The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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