Transport minister John Mutorwa’s statement that there’s nothing political about the issue of shortlisting exclusively Chinese companies for a road construction contract is troubling.
Mutorwa could merely have been trying to fend off media inquiries by telling The Namibian’s journalists to approach the chief executive of the Roads Authority (RA) for comment.
But his response points to either a careless approach by politicians when it comes to their role in major public works, or he was pleading ignorance to hide political motives benefiting a clique of companies and individuals.
Everything about road construction is political.
All seven companies selected as the only ones qualified to rebuild the 30km stretch between Karibib and Usakos are Chinese-owned.
The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has complained that the RA, the government-owned institution that oversees the building and maintenance of roads, set unusually steep requirements.
The implication is that the requirements were meant to rule out as many Namibian and regional (read South African) companies as possible.
“We all know,” CIF chief executive Bärbel Kirchner said, “no effort was made to effectively and deliberately create work for Namibian-owned contractors and their companies.”
That no Namibian contractor qualified to undertake the 30km road project is ultimately a political indictment, minister Mutorwa.
Either our political leaders have failed after 33 years of independence to create Namibian expertise and business muscle capable of undertaking major projects, or they have engineered an environment that suits mainly Chinese companies – or both, actually.
That is a political issue, minister Mutorwa.
We may be stretching it, but it’s interesting that among the seven “pre-qualified main contractors” is Unik Construction Engineering, the Chinese company Swapo chose to build its N$730 million dollar head office.
Besides, Swapo has received money from the Chinese funding, and we are not referring to rumours that the loan to build the headquarters came from the communist regime.
Strangely, four of the companies share the same contact details.
Mutorwa and his fellow government politicians should, therefore, excuse the public for being sceptical about the RA decision to pre-qualify only Chinese companies.
It is not as if Namibian companies have not done major work before.
Besides, Chinese companies too can do questionable work as the RA officials have themselves learnt the hard way when their new office was found to have serious structural defects.
While Swapo and its government leaders insist on making laws to enforce Namibian (and specifically black) economic empowerment, such policies have been proven to advance cliques of those connected to politicians and bureaucrats.
Broad-based empowerment aimed at thriving economic activity for the majority of Namibians and to keep money within the country is being sidestepped.
So, minister Mutorwa and fellow government leaders need to appreciate that many of the woes Namibia faces are very much “political”.