Military company defends N$255m classroom tender

Martha Kamati-Endjala

Namibian Defence Force (NDF) company August 26 Construction has come out guns blazing to defend being unilaterally handed a N$255 million tender by the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture to construct classrooms and ablution blocks.

This is without involving private sector companies.

This comes after Construction Industries Federation (CIF) chief executive Bärbel Kirchner said the government should not operate where the private sector can be put to use.

She also questions the capacity of August 26 to handle the countrywide project, saying that “their appointment could potentially lead to non-completion and poor workmanship”.

August 26 Construction managing director Martha Endjala says she would prefer to use the Namibian workforce as a means of improving their livelihoods.

“August 26 Construction has successfully completed 500 classrooms in a record time of five months and within budget.

“How can one accomplish this under a cost of N$5 million, using soldiers with no construction skills? August 26 Construction is a fully sustainable company honouring its own liabilities and paying its expenses from the income generated through its own operations,” she says.

Kirchner last week said: “It is understood that August 26 would involve staff from the Ministry of Defence and Veterans Affairs. This would lead to unfair competition,” Kirchner says.

“A fundamental flaw in this is why the government is competing with the private sector.”

Kirchner says according to the records of the CIF, August 26 does not have sufficient capacity to execute the work as the company reportedly has an annual construction turnover of less than N$5 million.

It can be anticipated that August 26 would subcontract most of the work, and in principle no contractors should subcontract more than 50% of the work, she says.

August 26 Holdings chairperson Fillemon Shafashike, however, says: “All of these are just lies. How can a company like August 26 not have the capacity to complete this work?

“This is August 26 we are talking about, with multiple subsidiaries, and therefore our construction turnover can also not be N$5 million annually.

Bärbel Kirchner

“Why should we not be given the work? We are a Namibian company employing Namibians. But utilising staff of the ministry of defence I do not even want to comment on.”

Over the years, the books of August 26 could not be made public as it was said it would compromise state security.

Education minister Anna Nghipondoka earlier this year said the ministry is well aware of the shortage of classrooms across the country.

Nghipondoka said as of the end of last year, the total number of classrooms needed across the country stood at over 4 000.

“Nonetheless, the ministry has secured N$255 million to construct 510 classrooms and 70 ablution blocks through August 26 Construction within a period of three months,” she said.

Executive director of education, arts and culture Sanet Steenkamp in January said the ministry was in talks with August 26 to ensure their partnership to build classrooms is realised without delay, after a directive by president Hage Geingob.

Steenkamp said August 26 is a public entity, and the Procurement Act makes provision for the state to engage public entities.
“In the past, with Covid, we worked with public entities,” she said.

Acting executive director for education Knox Imbuwa says the ministry’s infrastructure development plan revealed a backlog of 4 000 classrooms.

“So we said this year we need at least 1 248 classrooms to be constructed countrywide. For that reason we looked at the short time required and opted to go for execution by public entities, which is a provision of procurement that is provided for in the Public Procurement Act.

“So, for the sake of time, speed and mainly also efficiency we took this approach to use public entities.”

Imbuwa says the education ministry is one of a few which have been procuring through the procurement system, with projects valued at over N$454 million for works, and N$2,2 billion for services.

“If we quantify what we have arranged for emergency reasons it is a fraction. We have secured the relevant exemption from the Ministry of Finance and Public Entreprises in March, and following that exemption engaged August 26 Construction in May, and signed the contract and indicated to them this is an emergency. We gave them three to four months for the completion of classrooms of which 95% have been completed.

“And this is an execution that we cannot get when we go through the normal market approach and open up to everybody else to bid,” he says.

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