Editor's Comment

Construction sector needs closer watch

GOVERNMENT and its development partners should take a keen interest in a research conducted by the University of Zambia (UNZA) which has revealed that corruption is very high in Zambia’s construction sector.During the inaugural conference on ethics in construction held at UNZA yesterday, the institution’s deputy vice-chancellor, Enala Mwase, said the research revealed that the vice is rampant in the sector, especially during the procurement phase, citing lack of laws and failure to enforce disciplinary measures as some of the factors that have worsened the situation.
‘Corruption’ generally refers to a form of dishonesty in which a person with a position of authority engages, often to acquire personal benefit (Wikipedia). So, as shady dealings take place in the country’s construction industry, like in other sectors, it means that project implementation suffers and, in turn, intended beneficiaries, ordinary citizens, are denied access to quality services.
In fact, the sector is vital for the country’s infrastructural development and job creation. Effective implementation of projects in all areas of the economy will lead to more employment opportunities. When people are financially empowered, Government will have expanded the tax base for its treasury, which should further finance different sectors to accelerate development.
Wherever corruption occurs there is lack of integrity, which is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. And, as a nation, we want to uphold high standards of morality and ethics, patriotism, human dignity, good governance and sustainable development.
Therefore, all players in the construction industry, whether individuals or organisations (both local and foreign), will contribute towards fulfilling our national values and principles if only they stand firm, use public money and discharge their duties in accordance with their work ethics.
Minister of Local Government Vincent Mwale’s remarks at the conference yesterday should help contractors to seriously reflect on their role as stakeholders and Government’s partners who should be trusted as they implement various projects in the country.
“The price of projects in the country is too high compared to other countries. Is it that they have formed cartels and they will not accept a particular price unit, or are they collaborating with staff in the ministry to fix prices?” Mr Mwale said.
Citizens would like to see increased construction in all sectors of the economy so that they benefit through employment, improved services and standard of living. But the high prices that construction companies charge Government and other stakeholders for construction projects are actually ‘killing’ the industry.
Recently, concerns bordering on failure to uphold ethics and integrity included cases of some Zambian contractors who were awarded contracts but they resorted to selling the tenders to their foreign counterparts. Others simply abandoned projects after being paid.
There have also been complaints about foreign firms abrogating the law by not awarding the minimum mandatory 20 percent of their contracts to locals, besides shoddy works and misapplication of funds.
However, for some construction works that have stalled, it is understandable that sometimes after the advance 20 percent payment has been used, a contractor may have to wait until funders, for example Government, release more money.
But stakeholders in the sector should be encouraged by the news that Mercury Asset Partners, an American firm, plans to establish a construction bank in Zambia. This will enable contractors to access low-cost credit facilities which will help them to effectively deal with challenges they encounter.
The development will transform the construction sector and create employment for citizens, especially that the firm will also engage in building 5,000 low-cost houses and building a geyser manufacturing plant in Lusaka.
Contractors and other stakeholders should see this as an opportunity to enhance the growth of the construction sector. This will only be realised if everyone is actively involved in the fight against corruption with the aim of upholding ethics and integrity in all areas.

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