Corruption in the construction industry (whether building or road) has been there for ages. The government and other responsible officers know it. But the problem is that they just talk about it. They do not come up with any concrete solutions to curb it. And so, people do not take them seriously when they talk about ending corruption. It’s like complaining about something, but doing nothing about it. This is the sad story about corruption in Malawi. People do not care anymore because they know government is just good at talking. Worse still, institutions are also full of corrupt individuals who connive with contractors to swindle government of development funds.
Opening a three-day international construction industry conference last week, Vice President Salous Chilima deplored corruption in the construction sector. He attributed the delays in completing government projects to corrupt individuals who benefit from inflated costs. Government has been losing money through these contractors. The VP echoed what people already know and the gimmick these companies use to ‘skin’ government. Let us face facts. Many contractors have very little capacity to do quality work. They lack requisite skills, proper equipment and mostly use unskilled labour.
How many projects have been abandonedor completed beyond their original time frame? Or how many projects have been delayed on flimsy reasons? Worse still, pricing for many of these projects are inflated. Some contractors have the temerity to sue to the government when the contract is terminated because they failto abide by the terms and conditions of the contract.
While the idea of naming and shaming corrupt individuals as suggested by the VP seems a good one, it is unlikely to be affective to reduce or end corruption. Corruption is a very complex and subtle issue because it has many facets. For example, conflict of interest is one of them. It is difficult for many employees to declare conflict of interest in an issue they will benefit.
Secondly, some construction companies are owned by relatives or friends of people who work for the National Construction Industry Council (NCIC) and Road Authority (RA). One cannot rule out the possibility of the employees of NCIC and RA owning a company and using their relatives as a front while they stay in the background to avoid being known.
Malawi adopted a poor construction delivery model when the Ministry of Public Works was split in the 1990’s. As part of civil service reform under the influenceby the IMF and World Bank, government created NCIC and RA to oversee the building and road construction respectively. While there was nothing wrong in creating the two parastatals, it was the delegation of construction work to the private sector that was wrong. The role of the two institutions was relegated to advertising and approving tenders and consultancy work. This effectively bred corruption as the private sector competed to win contracts.Government has become a victim of its own legislation.
Unfortunately, the same arrangement was reproduced at local government level where city and local assemblies (although they have an engineer’s department) do not do actual construction work, but contract out to the private sector.
Government should review the legislation that created the two institutions toallow them to be involved in actual construction. This would reduce corruption and enable government to focus on implementing projects smoothly without involving the private sector. The ball is in government’s court!