Editor's Comment

Empower local contractors

ZAMBIA has in the past five years been described as a construction site by some international observers and citizens due to massive infrastructure projects across the country.
Notwithstanding suspicions of shady deals, it is undisputable that the previous government went out of its way to ensure that the country opened up through road rehabilitation and construction of new ones.
Various sectors of the economy received their fair share of infrastructure development, with notable ones being health and education.
However, these infrastructure projects were not devoid of controversy when it comes to awarding of contracts as most of the jobs were given to foreign contractors on the assumption that many local contractors lack capacity.
A declaration by the previous government that 20 percent of projects should be given to local contractors only exacerbated the imbalance as it was on paper only.
Multinational companies retained a bigger share of construction jobs in the country.
Some of these big contractors have been reluctant to obey the 20 percent local contractor sub-contracting policy.
Of course, we cannot take away the political will then to ensure that a portion of local contractors benefited from government projects across the country.
News that the new dawn administration will come up with a law that will give local contractors an even larger portion of infrastructure projects makes good reading.
We commend Minister of Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development Charles Milupi for coming up with this initiative, which we believe will give credibility to local contractors.
Mr Milupi said he will next year take to Parliament a draft bill that was formulated by the previous regime for consideration.
“It is not in the interest of this country that 90 percent of infrastructure projects are being implemented by foreigners.
My Government will see to it that major projects are being done by our local contractors so that we grow their capacity,” Mr Milupi said.
It is indeed high time that Government took bold steps to give local contractors a fair share of contracts through legal provisions.
There are many locals with expertise in this sector, but sadly they have always played second fiddle to foreign contractors because of lack of strong backing by successive governments.
It may be argued that some local contractors do shoddy works and that they lack capacity, but we feel that a legal framework will equally bind them to strict conditions to deliver good work.
Zambia has over the years produced a lot of engineers, many of whom have been involved with foreign contractors to put up projects in the country.
It is from this same human resource base that the country has seen a proliferation of local contractors whose knowledge remains valuable to the country.
The advantage of using a sizeable number of local contractors in infrastructure developments is that money paid to the contractors by Government will remain in the country as opposed to the majority of foreign companies that transfer the money to their countries.
In spite of this plan, we urge the Government to sensitise local contractors on the need for them to be sincere in their execution of jobs.
Lack of honesty on the part of some local contractors has dented the reputation of this sector in the country as evidenced by many abandoned projects that had been given to local companies.
We implore the engineering bodies in the country to ensure that there is sanity in the sector even as Government seeks a fair deal for local contractors.
Although some foreign contractors are also prone to doing shoddy works, we urge local contractors to desist from defrauding Government by giving a wrong pedigree of themselves to win tenders.
It has been reported in the media before that some local contractors have the habit of selling their contracts to other foreign companies who have the capacity to do the job.
This has for a long time defeated the idea of involving local contractors in capital projects such as roads and construction of hospitals and schools.
We, therefore, welcome plans by Government to come up with a law to protect the interests of local contractors in the country.

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