By Mike Chimansa
Every time you hear a topic about local contractors then “It is always about a bad local contractor”
Early this morning I was glued to phoenix FM radio station listening to a program called the pulse and the topic today was “Should local contractors be awarded more than 20 percent of all government contracts”. It was a live phone in program and I must be quick to mention that the people who called expressed their opinions over the matter sensationally, freely and willingly although some contributors seemed to have taken the issue personal.
One man even calmly said “If you cannot be trusted over a few things, then you cannot be trusted over many things”. He went on to say the 20 percent is okay. And he even added a speculative comment that even these bridges that are been washed away you’d find that they were done by local contractors.
Another caller was quick to say that for local contractors to perform better. The local construction industry must be depoliticized. And he even reiterated his point in capital letters and repeated his point of view “DEPOLITICISED”. The radio host asked him to clear some bit of air and briefly expand on what he really meant. He said something about the awarding of contracts to people who know people that know people in high places. And he went on to say that corruption in the construction industry has the ability to tarnish the image of local contractors because you will find that people without the technical know-how are winning tenders and delivering shoddy works at the end of the day and in the end painting a bad picture of all local contractors.
Okay someone texted that for one to survive in this construction industry. One has to be aligned to politicians or civil servants in high offices. He also said in the same text that these same people will in turn claim for kickbacks. You know the famous “scratch my back, I scratch yours.” A contractor has to pay the people helping him or her to win tenders. And in most cases, these people demand their kickbacks immediately the contractor receives the first payment of the project moneys. This on most times chokes the contractor as the kickbacks amount to half the project money. Such that by the time a local contractor goes on site, he or she would have to compromise on quality in order to balance up the remaining money with the required works. Which ends up resulting into shoddy works and in other cases, the contractor will completely abandon site, keeping with himself the little remaining project money as his benefit.
There was another caller who expressed his opinion using emotions. He said the 20 percent is too much for the local contractors because most of them are even failing to deliver. He said most of the contracts should just be awarded to foreign companies because giving them to local contractors is wasting tax payer’s money.
But speaking for myself, I’d like to encourage my fellow Zambians to introspect on why local contractors are delivering shoddy works and abandoning works when they are half-way done.
I admit local contractors have a problem. And a very big problem it is. But pointing fingers and shifting blame will not help in anyway. It is not even taking anybody anywhere. Sometimes we Zambians are just good at finger pointing and blaming. We always want to look for a bad picture to point at, laugh at and throw some mud at. There are a lot of local contractors delivering and portraying good and quality workmanship out there and nobody bothers to talk or report about it. And this even includes the media houses too. They are quick to capture and report sub-standard works done by local contractors than they would if the works are done in good faith. There are very few times if not none when you’ll hear we the Zambian people and our biased media houses appreciate local contractors for portraying good and high quality workmanship. It seems we are always waiting for local contractors to fail so that we can raise these issues. Which seems to be turning out well?
I think it is high time we abandoned the pessimist way of looking at issues and attract an opportunist kind of approach. Instead of saying local contractors are bad contractors. Let us say local contractors can do better and become competitive contractors if only you and I can support them. Actually we need to support our local contractors the same way we support football in this country. Have you ever asked yourself how much money this country is losing by awarding construction contracts to foreign firms?
Anyway, I have a lot to say but I’ll leave some matters for another day. I will conclude by urging the media to also report the good works done by our local contractors. Let them not only portray a negative picture when there are way too many local contractors doing great works with quality workmanship out there. It is time they stopped this biased reporting and balance the image of local contractors. It is not good that every time our media report about local contractors, then it must always have something to do with shoddy works or abandoning project sites. Even the few bad eggs among the numerous local contractors should also up their game. How do you even feel to always be the ones bringing down the average scores of local contractors?