PROJECTS GIVE RURAL AREAS NEW LOOK: BUT TRUANT CONTRACTORS DELAYING DEVELOPMENT

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By SIMON MUNTEMBA

THE creation of new districts by the government is changing the outlook of rural Zambia.

More infrastructure is coming up and bit by bit more social amenities are being introduced in what was hitherto rural areas.

Ever since Government embarked on creating new districts, rural areas are gradually being transformed and taking on a new look.

This has evidently been triggered by the unprecedented infrastructure development projects taking place in these districts in conformity with their enhanced status.

Although critics of Government tend to dismiss the benefits brought about by the creation of new districts, it is certain that once the projects are completed, the rural areas will have a new facelift.

Unless one travels and physically visits the rural areas in question and sees the ongoing development projects, it is difficult to appreciate the progressive changes that are taking place in these areas which have for a long time been neglected, in some cases, from as far back as 1964 when Zambia became an independent state.

Some areas that lagged behind in terms of development for a long time such as Nyimba, Sinda, Vubwi, Chasefu, Chadiza and Luano among others are being transformed. Already, these places are no longer the same as they were five years ago before they were declared districts.

Some of these areas where no one thought would have universities, administration blocks, modern district police stations, district general hospitals, secondary schools and medium cost staff houses have now all these infrastructures in place.

It is important to understand that Zambia is a vast country and taking development to all areas is a mammoth task and one way of solving this problem is through decentralising of government.

Creation of new districts which is part of this process is aimed at easy and better administration of the country and should therefore be appreciated by all Zambians.

As stated, the creation of the new districts meant to foster rural development and benefit the people, has resulted in a number of projects being carried out in various parts of the country.

Among the developmental projects that the government has embarked on at a huge cost are construction of schools, hospitals, police stations, houses for civil servants, district administration blocks, as well as provision of good road and communication networks.

It is undeniable that once completed, these projects will spur development in the areas and change the outlook of the districts.

However, it is disheartening that the government’s determination and roadmap to developing the newly created districts, and its efforts to get closer to its people are being frustrated not only by some truant contractors, but also incompetent government officials.  These projects are meant to ensure that all matters concerning the communities are addressed promptly by having them in place.

It is sad to hear persistent reports of contractors abandoning projects even after they have been paid.

There has been discouraging reports of some contractors abandoning projects immediately after being paid or worse still desert those that were 90 percent complete while others are doing shoddy works.

And this has been attributed to lack of supervision by those responsible at the local level.

It is evident that there is lack of proper supervision of these projects countrywide and for as long as the status quo remains, contractors will continue deserting projects with impunity and the country losing huge sums of money.

For example, during his recent tour of duty to inspect various government projects in Eastern and Muchinga provinces, State House special assistant to the President for project, implementation and monitoring, Andrew Chellah lamented that some projects were abandoned while some were poorly done due to lack of supervision.

Mr Chellah, accompanied by State House chief analyst for policy implementation and monitoring, Joseph Mukupa, who have intensified inspection of government projects countrywide to ensure they were delivered on time and according to specifications were shocked that those responsible for their implementation were not supervising the projects.

Mr Chellah’s tour of duty exposed incompetency among local authorities who seem not to care about the projects in their districts as evidenced by shoddy work and desertion of projects that are paid for.

Speaking after he visited both Mutumbata and Kapoche day secondary schools in Petauke and Katete where the Chinese contractor (Mangoe Tree) deserted the projects upon receiving over K10 million as additional funding a month ago, Mr Chellah attributed the conspicuously missing of a contractor on both sites to lack of supervision by the local authorities.

As if that was not enough, when he toured Muchinga Province later within the same week, Mr Chellah was also shocked to find that another contractor at Kapasa Makasa University in Chinsali had deserted the project which is at 95 percent completion after he was paid K7 million in May this year.

To add salt to an injury, shoddy work was also detected at Michael Chilufya Sata Boarding Secondary School which is being constructed by a Chinese firm, Covec Construction Company at a cost of about K48, 000, 000.

“I am sad to say this is the worst project that I have so far visited and inspected across the country. The workmanship and workers’ conditions are extremely poor, even the general attitude of the contractor is extremely bad. There is even one building block which was poorly done. I have to consult further on the action to be taken against this contractor but from the onset, I would say the building must be brought down and erected again at the contractor’s cost.

“And I think this is all due to lack of supervision by the local authorities. It seems most contractors don’t feel not only the presence but also the weight of DCs and local authorities. They are not supervised and they have been getting away with a lot of wrong things,” he said.

Mr Chellah called on District Commissioners to always find time to inspect construction works in their districts to ensure taxpayers’ money was not spent on substandard buildings.

He noted that Government had a lot of qualified officers to carry out inspection of construction projects but were not doing so at the expense of the Zambian people.

As observed by Mr Chellah, failure by those at local level to monitor projects leads to escalating numbers of truant contractors and sub-standard work.

There is lack of projects’ inspection which is a vital element provided to ensure that the contractor’s work complies with the contract requirements.

Inspection is one of the most important elements of construction and contract administration as project supervisors are expected to verify that proper practices are followed and guard against use of unsatisfactory materials or faulty methods.

Good engineering design and properly prepared plans and specifications are essential for a quality end product. However, ensuring that specifications and drawings are adhered to depends largely on the supervisors doing their work effectively.

This is especially true of larger, more complex projects such as general building construction, which involves field-made products whose quality is dependent on use of satisfactory materials and workmanship.

So, the problem of contractors abandoning projects is a very serious lapse on part of project supervisors which should not be condoned and culprits should be dealt with swiftly and severely regardless of who they are.

Unless the problem is quickly nipped in the bud once and for all, colossal sums of money will continue going down the drain at the expense of development meant to benefit Zambians.

The seemingly communication breakdown or lack of harmonisation over the matter between the central government and the local authorities and perhaps this needs revisiting urgently.

Government and local authorities need to sit down and discuss this matter once and for all if the problem of projects desertion is to be stopped.

Both local and foreign contractors found wanting must not just be warned and cautioned but made to face the wrath of the law over their unscrupulous behavior or have their license revoked to deter would be offenders.

Equally, underperforming, compromised or incompetent officials at the local level must be sacked.

Unless the government takes drastic measures to prevent contractors, both local and foreign, from abandoning projects or doing shoddy works, Zambians will continue losing out on development they deserve better and not a raw deal as in this case.

It is high time Government put its foot down once and for all by making culprits face the wrath of the law or make them accountable to send a strong message to would-be project deserters.

In as much as the decision made by the government to create new districts is commendable as it is meant to foster rural development and benefit the people, the whole idea will be in vain if the initiated projects in these districts are not adequately supervised by those charged on site – district government officials.

If Mr Chellah and his team from State House are not supported by other relevant authorities by carrying out regular inspections to ensure that projects were delivered on time and according to specifications, a lot of money will continue going down the drain at the expense of development meant to benefit poor Zambians.

Team work within any organisation is vital for succeeding in the business world and there is need for the local authorities and the central government to be on the same page so that everyone is aware of what is going with regards to the projects to ensure that deadlines are met and that there’s high quality work.

No doubt, harmonisation between the central government and the local authorities, as well as regular projects’ inspection, is key to stop uncouth contractors and fully realise the dream of having rural areas transformed.

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