ZIMBABWE is losing millions of dollars to the Chinese in untendered government projects like the US$98 million National Defence College (NDC) and Long Cheng Plaza in Belvedere whose workmanship is of substandard quality, local engineers say.
Report by Paidamoyo Muzulu
The cash-strapped Government of National Unity has contracted nearly US$500 million in debt to China in the past four years through construction projects mainly funded by mortgaging the country’s mineral wealth, particularly diamonds.
The construction projects include roads, airports, dams, hydro-electric power stations, the NDC and Long Cheng Plaza.
The Plaza has reportedly developed cracks due to poor workmanship and failure to adhere to local building laws, while the NDC is structurally unsound, according to the engineers.
The Plaza along Bulawayo Road adjacent to the National Sports Stadium — another Chinese project whose quality of work has been condemned — is being constructed on a wetland against the advice of environmentalists, in violation of environmental laws and despite council objections.
A senior local engineer who requested anonymity for professional reasons said the costs of Chinese projects are inflated and generally not up to the required standard.
“Projects that are not procured via a transparent, public and open tender system are usually over-priced and of poor quality,” said the engineer. “Competitive bidding through tendering is a function that has to be performed correctly in order to maximise effectiveness and minimise costs.”
Chinese projects have not been subjected to local council by-laws as they are given preferential treatment by their influential government connections. In most cases, local authorities have been prevented from supervising the structures at necessary stages.
Another engineer said such unlawful practices should automatically make the se projects illegal.
“Any construction that goes on without adhering to council by-laws is an illegal structure. The building codes and construction standards laid out by the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (Saz) must be adhered to. Any violation should meet the full wrath of the law.”
In terms of the agreements, most of the projects are erected using Chinese labour and products, irrespective of the fact that some of these Chinese professionals may not be qualified to work in Zimbabwe, particularly in specialised fields such as engineering.
Engineer and construction expert Clever Bere said: “In these bilateral Zimbabwe-China projects, the entire professional team is Chinese and most of the building material is imported from China, except manual labour which would be Zimbabwean.”
Engineers say Chinese developers should be compelled to form consortiums with locally-qualified architects, engineers and other professionals to safeguard standards of the finished products.
The Chinese constructed the National Sports Stadium and worked on the dualisation of the Harare-Norton Road, which took more than 10 years to complete.
Both projects have experienced structural problems.
The stadium developed cracks and had to undergo a two-year refurbishment recently but still has problems with the drainage system, while the Harare-Norton road had its surface peeling off before the project was completed.
Chinese companies, among them Anjin and Sino-Hydro, continue to bag Zimbabwean construction contracts at the expense of local companies.