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Gov’t ill-treating citizen contractors

Government has been fingered for its part in bankrupting citizen contractors. Scores of government ministry departments have yet to pay various contractors millions of pula for projects that were long completed, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard this week.

According to the information heard by PAC, various ministries and government departments owe some contractors for projects from as far back as 2011.Government, it has come to light, has made it difficult for the companies to claim their money.   

The standard practice in government procurement dictates that contractors should be paid immediately upon completion of the defects liability period which usually takes six to 12 months depending on the magnitude of the project.

A defects liability period is a set period of time after a construction project has been completed during which a contractor has the right to return to the site to remedy defects.

PAC members Dithapelo Keorapetse and Ignatius Moswaane said they have a number of contractors in their respective constituencies who are owed staggering amounts of money by government without clear reasons to justify delay of payment.

Moswaane said as long as government ministries continue to do so, this is a clear indication that government is not determined to help citizen to achieve economic empowerment.

“What is hurting is the fact that there are no reasons or whatsoever for refusal to pay the money. If contractors have failed to honour the contract, government is entitled to issue a claim against the contractor, which is not the case as we speak,” said Moswaane.

Moswaane also informed PAC that, in his constituency alone he has dealt with over 60 cases in which government is refusing to release the money it owes to citizen contractors.

“I have to write letters time and again to seek explanation and reasons for withholding the money,” he said.

“It is only when I write to request them to pay the contractor that they release the money, which is bad for government to do so.”  

Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Trade and Industry are said to be the main culprits, with the accounting officers of both ministries failing to furnish the committee with valid reasons as to why money owed to citizen contractors was still being withheld.

This notwithstanding, PAC also established that government does not owe any foreign contractors, further reinforcing believes that government is ill-treating citizen contractors.

“In my constituency I have cases where people are owed even up to millions, but they are afraid of pestering government or taking the matter for litigation for fear of blacklisting,” said Keorapetse.   

“They just wait there helplessly hoping that someone in government will do it, but government is holding onto the money for no apparent reasons.”

Reports have it that government is silently deploying measures such as blacklisting companies which take government to court over issues relating to improper award of tenders and failure to pay contractors money due to them, as it is the case currently.

Government has over the years stated that preference to foreign owned companies is mostly influenced by citizen contractors who have created a bad track record of neglecting projects prior to completion.

However, Moswaane said that while government is quick to blame citizen contractors for such, it is surprising that it too has gone on to embark on a practise that makes life difficult for local contractors.

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