Botched job on NDF HQ

19 March 2014 Author  

front ndf 20 marTHE Government has again put the construction of the new N$600 million National Defence Force (NDF) Headquarters on hold following several previous delays. The latest spanner in the works of the six-year long process to erect the new facility apparently arose because of the poor quality work done by a North Korean contracting company called Mansudae Overseas Projects. A source from the ministry, who preferred to remain anonymous, explained this week that work came to a halt at the beginning of the year after officials discovered that the contractor had not met certain standards.

The North Koreans have acquired a reputation in the region as the preferred choice for the construction of high-security institutions.

However, they have previously faced accusations of sub-standard work in Namibia relating to the construction of Heroes’ Acre.

In an interview on Tuesday, Minister of Defence Nahas Angula said that the most recent delay in the completion of the construction of their new headquarters resulted from budgetary constraints.

“From what I know, the money ran out and we are now just waiting for the approval of the new budget in order for things to continue. It has nothing to do with what you are saying,” Angula said.

However, sources said that problems arose because the North Korean contractors went ahead with construction without any supervision over quality control by local engineers during the one-month builder’s holidays in December of 2013.

Angula refuted this and insisted that local engineers had carried out inspections throughout the builder’s holiday.

He further defended his ministry’s decision to work with the North Koreans despite issues surrounding the quality of their work, and claimed that baboons had ruined Heroes’ Acre.

“I personally went to go and see what had happened at Heroes’ Acre. Those marble tiles that were falling off were ripped off the walls by the baboons and it was not an issue of poor quality work,” he said.

Not only has sub-standard work even further delayed the N$600 million project, but local engineers have also complained about the language barrier that makes it almost impossible for them to communicate with the contractors.

The initial bill of quantities prepared for the NDF relating to the construction of the building allegedly amounted to approximately N$400 million but it had now ballooned to N$600 million.

Defence Minister Angula responded that the prices of materials and goods had risen and that a few years down the line the overall cost for construction of the HQ had increased.

Local consulting engineers assigned to ensure that the North Koreans uphold Namibian quality standards have faced problems in communicating with the construction company.

“These people speak no English whatsoever and at times we’ve had to resort to using body language in a desperate attempt to get a message across.

“At one point translators were brought from North Korea to assist with communication between locals and themselves.

“However, these interpreters were people with no technical knowledge or experience in the engineering field, and so much information was lost in translation,” the source explained.

Even though Angula acknowledged this challenge, he could not suggest a possible solution to this problem.

Another major complaint people in the industry have is that the North Korean company does not employ any Namibian construction workers or casual labourers on site, and has in fact allegedly turned away those who have come looking for work.

Angula however, said that this was no longer the case and that he had seen some locals working for the company with his own eyes the last time he visited the site.

“Although this is not true, we have also seen that it is often challenging for the North Koreans or the Chinese people to work together with Namibians, because they have different patterns and styles of work,” Angula said.

He noted that the Chinese and North Koreans work at night and over the weekends, which locals are not prepared to do and this makes it difficult for them to work together.

Angula remained rather tight-lipped about the reasons for selecting the North Korean company to construct the NDF Headquarters, and very vaguely stated that they had good reasons for selecting the company.
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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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