Do engineers have ‘teeth to bite’ as supervisors of big contracts?

TEMBO Benedict.

A FORTNIGHT ago, President Edgar Lungu made two cardinal observations following his tour of selected roads in Lusaka, which the foreign contractors and the engineering fraternity should take stock of.

The President toured some recently constructed roads in Chilenje township on Friday evening and the ongoing construction of the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway in Lusaka.
He expressed genuine dismay at the condition of some roads constructed under the L-400 and has since tasked the contractor, Avic International, to revisit the works and address the challenge of water seepage.
Mr Lungu observed that most roads under the project are being washed away by heavy rains because of poor drainage.
While the President addressed Avic International, the main contractor of the L-400 roads in Lusaka, we feel that it is also the responsibility of the Road Development Agency (RDA) and the consultants to ensure that the contractor builds roads which give Zambians value for their money.
It is the competent duty of RDA and the consultants to ensure that the contractor is adhering to the specifications as provided for in the contract and production drawings.
“Even where the project has been handed over and defects are spotted later, for as long as the project is within the defect liability period, the contractor is supposed to go back and make good of the defects,” Kumbukilani Phiri, a Lusaka engineer, said.
Mr Phiri, a China-trained engineer, said there is no doubt that Zambia has an adequate pool of engineers to supervise road works.
Mr Phiri said the problem could be that probably our engineers have no ‘teeth to bite’ as a supervisor given the stature of the contracts.
“It is tempting to question whether they also benefit somehow and decide to remain silent even when they are aware of the shortcomings of contractors,” Mr Phiri said.
President Lungu has also cautioned contractors against abrogating the contractual agreement of sub-contracting at least 20 percent works to Zambians in the infrastructure projects.
The President explained that the rationale behind sub-contracting locals in the road works is for successful skills transfer.
I agree with the President that the 20 percent subcontracting was meant for skills transfer. Therefore, the main contractors who are mainly foreign should abide by it.
The President is also very right to point out that Zambians are mainly being given to do less technical parts of the jobs like drainages, clearing and road signage.
Such works will not improve the skills of Zambians to carry out any major projects and, as such, even 50 years from now, Zambia will still depend on foreign contractors to do major infrastructure works. Zambia should learn from what China did during its initial development stage.
Mr Phiri observed that foreigners could only contract works if they partnered with a local company at mostly 50-50 percent.
“Eventually, the Chinese learnt the skills and are now being contracted to do infrastructure works even in Europe for people that taught them the skills.
Subcontracting is also meant to ensure that part of the contract money is retained in Zambia to help build capacity in terms of equipment and training,” he said.
Zambians should not forget that foreign companies, especially the Chinese, employ their own people and pay them salaries in China and not subject to local pay as you earn (PAYE) tax.
So, if this subcontracting policy is not well implemented, we will continue losing on skills transfer, taxes and local empowerment.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.

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