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Parley probes Transport Ministry projects

P320 million cost overruns in audited road works

Two public road works completed recently, have attracted the attention of the Office of the Auditor General after the cost overruns amounted to over P320 million.      

The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament last week, held value for money audits, in the process questioning the cost overruns where The Department of Roads is said to have over expended P300 million in two road projects that were completed recently.

The Western bypass-Metsimotlhabe road project which was initially priced at about P400 million ended up costing the ministry about P644 million. While the Gaborone-Tlokweng border gate road was estimated at about P376 million but ended up drawing more than P454 million from the government coffers.

In both projects, the consultancy fees doubled from initial contract cost to final cost with, Tloweng road consultancy fees raking in P20,1 million from P9,8 million while the Western bypass-Metsimotlhabe road fees reached P21 million from the initial P8,9 million.

PAC members were uncomfortable with the use of consulting engineers who design and then go on to supervise road works.

While the parliamentary committee would have liked to see some segregation of roles in the projects, the accounting officer at the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Permanent Secretary, Goitsemang Morekisi said that: “When the one who designed the road works, does not supervise the project, the new supervisor will in turn, say that they did not design it and will not accept responsibility or they will also want to make changes to the designs; so it is a challenge there. But we are not saying that it is not possible for roads designed by one to be supervised by another.”

In an interview with BusinessPost, Morekisi, said that as a Ministry, they acknowledge that cost overruns of projects have been a concern, but the advice from the Office of the Auditor General, is already helping to define and tighten processes.

“It is about expertise in the design stage,” adding that, “We do not want to crowd out the private sector; what we need to do is that our staff supervises the supervising contractors,”

The PAC (Public Accounts Committee) felt that consulting engineers were in a position to delay projects and stretch their earnings.

“Rather than to have our own people there, we should have only one engineer on site supervising say 30 people at the works,” said Morekisi.

“The engineer recommends to the Roads department, if there is need for a review of contract pricing, that is why we are saying that we as the permanent secretaries will now be involved in approving these reviews; that is where we have been lacking and the audit has advised that we tighten up there,” said Morekisi. She admitted that internal processes often delay projects from the design stage to the implementation stages.

In future, consultants will be held to account for cost overruns, Morekisi affirmed.


 Morekisi said there are other factors that contributed to cost overruns including the raising of value added tax from 10 to 12 percent as well as the intermittent workers strikes in neighbouring South Africa that affect timely procurement of materials.  

“Because of the strikes that happened in South Africa, we had problems in getting bitumen from that side and that also contributed to the escalation of prices,”
Morekisi noted that the parliamentary committee emphasised the need to review cost projections of projects that were on hold, after the global recession hit, as there will be a need to adjust for inflation. This is meant to avoid distortion of project price projections that add to cost overruns.

MOHEMBO AND KAZUNGULA

The long planned Mohembo Bridge on the North Western tip of Botswana, had good social benefits but the economic value was difficult to justify for financiers. “Looking at the social benefits of the Bridge which will connect some villages such as Seronga, with others, we looked at how we can scale down the designs and make it more affordable and now it will be going to tender,” said permanent secretary, Morekisi. The 1162 metre bridge will be the longest in the southern Africa region when completed.


“The Kazungula Bridge project consists of three parts; the bridge, the Botswana side and the Zambian side.”


“While Zambia can get concessionary financing from the likes of African Development Bank, we as a middle income country had to access funding from JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency),” said Morekisi.


“During the opening of tenders, there were three companies that satisfied the tender requirements for the final shortlist, a Korean company, a Chinese company and a Japanese company,” she explained.


“There was a seven month delay, when the Japanese insisted on the disqualification of the other companies, even when they satisfied the criteria.”


Construction of the much anticipated P1.4 billion Kazungula Bridge is also expected to get under after delays due to financing. With the start of National Development Plan 11 next year, the construction will get under, said Morekisi. The project was meant to start early in 2015 after the two hosting countries, Botswana and Zambia, signed a contract agreement with the contractor, Daewoo Engineering and Construction.
 

vmatumo@weekendpost.co.bw

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Free at last: Ian Kirby Speaks Out

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WeekendPost: Why did you move between the Attorney General and the Bench?

Ian Kirby: I was a member of the Attorney General’s Chambers three times- first in 1969 as Assistant State Counsel, then in 1990 as Deputy Attorney General (Civil), and finally in 2004 as Attorney General. I was invited in 2000 by the late Chief Justice Julian Nganunu to join the Bench. I was persuaded by former President Festus Mogae to be his Attorney General in 2004 as, he said, it was my duty to do so to serve the nation. I returned to the Judiciary as soon as I could – in May 2006, when there was a vacancy on the High Court Bench.

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Further, his state of health was also discussed, with Kgamane telling the attendees that all is well with Khama. The main reason for the meeting was to deliberate on the escalating tension between Khama and Masisi — a three-year bloodletting going unabated.

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