The forest or the trees?

14 February 2020
Author   Jackie Wilson Asheeke
I don’t mind paying .60 cents per litre at the petrol station as a levy to repay the loans taken to build the fuel storage facility at Walvis Bay. But, I mind the N$7 billion price tag for the entire venture.
Most ratepayers don’t mind investing in the country’s infrastructure via increased taxes (within reason). It is the stupidity and stealing that make us use curse words.
The public has the right to know if what we have paid for is delivering income-generating benefits to the country. We demand not just job creation (anyone can dig a ditch) but SKILLS-TRANSFER. Those capable must be prepared and utilized as our home-grown talent the next time these mega-projects happen.
People want to see collateral development in the communities surrounding these huge building projects. The local businesses, workers and their families must permanently benefit in a substantial way. No caps, t-shirts, Valentine’s Day parties, but renovated schools, clinics, toilets, and subsidized electricity and water.
Also, Namibians must hold technical, decision-making positions in these billion-dollar projects. If there are none qualified to do so now, then those winning the bid must be compelled to employ qualified shadows/apprentices and pass the knowledge on.
Reality check - I cannot believe that this fuel storage facility will deliver as promised. Why? Fishrot; conveniently placed employees inserting fake payment accounts into the system; people appointed or hired for highly technical posts who have been taught to DO and not to THINK, foreign consultants and subcontractors from the black bourgeoisie and the previously advantaged group who bleed the budget by inflating their invoices; and a hit parade of potential train smashes that always seem to happen.
The biggest inevitable black hole is that ‘regular maintenance’ are curse words in Namibia. A world-class fuel storage facility is not a simple thing; it is a major, technical, dangerous installation. Typically, things are shiny and new in the first couple of years and then, things begin to fall apart. Ignorantly, the little cracks and creaks are left unattended. Decision-makers cut corners to earn more profits or meet budget cuts. In the blink of an eye, those small cracks become production threatening collapses. Then, everyone cries about no money for replacements when un-maintained systems crash.
I hope I am wrong in my view.
My dismal outlook for this N$7 billion public investment is also fuelled by the controversy around the fuel storage facility. There were accusations of unfair tender processes from the start. Then came the escalating price tag. The ‘Einsteins’ on the technical committee evaluating the tender proposals, accepted a bid in US dollars and not in Namibia dollars. The exchange rate fluctuations slammed Namibia.
Mickey, Minnie and Goofy were on the team negotiating this multi-billion dollar contract. This made the expected price of N$3 billion for the storage facility, skyrocket to N$5.5 billion. The country had to borrow the funds to complete the project, so the interest payable is N$2.7 billion on top of that! Did anyone at least try to negotiate that down?
Was the final N$5.5 billion price tag inflated? Who did cost checks? And what will happen when things like this occur? Nothing. People are so selfishly concerned about dodging blame that they fail to learn from mistakes. They do not put safeguards and institutional memory in place to protect the government in the future.  So, the same nonsense repeats itself. And, the public falls back to sleep until the next headline-grabbing catastrophe wakes them up.
FYI – this would not be the first time government has signed insufficiently vetted, bloated contracts. I tend to think those involved on our side of the deal, timidly nod ‘yes’ whenever the sharks on the other side of the negotiating table snarl their demands.  And of course, the Fishrot ‘lesson’ is that deals could be absurdly inflated on purpose.
Recall that there was bureaucratic blood on the floor when the price tag for the storage facility came to light. Ericah Shafudah, the finance ministry PS and chair of the tender committee, was rapped over the knuckles.  She did not attend some meetings where key decisions were made. National Planning Commission permanent secretary Leevi Hungamo and Chris Nghaamwa from the attorney general's office were also smacked upside the head over this deal for various reasons. In Namibia, we tend to close the barn door AFTER the horse has run out.
That facility exists; it is now a done deal. We must focus on the forest, not the trees.

The under-the-table money is already paid out. The inflated price tag is already committed. Let us stop grousing about Chinese construction companies or politically connected businessmen winning tender bids. Those are trees.
For the lifetime of that facility, let us attempt to be diligent.  The construction companies must be held legally liable for any poor quality parts installed.  Those in charge could hold multiple quarterly unscheduled security, technical and safety inspections; send in auditors at random; and place cameras everywhere. For N$7 billion, let them do whatever it takes to ensure that the installation is run strictly to specifications – NO CUTTING CORNERS! Anyone dropping the ball due to stupidity or corruption should be fired, fined heavily and/or convicted of something in the criminal code.
Part of that N$7 billion must be invested in Namibians. There must be significant and life-changing community development projects and skills transfer programs. This is the forest we must pursue.

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