Chinese dominate N$800 million project

More than 30 Chinese nationals are employed as skilled labour on an N$800 million road project in Windhoek, which has angered a local union and China Railway Seventh Group's Namibian partner.

24 August 2018 | Infrastructure

A Chinese site agent sees nothing untoward about Chinese skills dominating local projects, even if they are awarded in conjunction with Namibian partners.

Chile Yang, who says he has worked everywhere on the continent, was responding to growing outrage about the fact that an N$800 million road project, which the media previously reported was to be financed by China, currently has over 30 skilled Chinese employees.

According to Yang, this is the case with most projects the Namibian government undertakes with Chinese firms, citing other developments such as the N$4.2 billion Walvis Bay port expansion.

He added this was also the conduct of Chinese companies elsewhere on the continent.

However, China Railway Seventh Group's Namibian partner on the Hosea Kutako International Airport road project, Onamagongwa Trading Enterprises, has accused it of sidelining them.

In April, the Bank of Namibia (BoN) confirmed that from 2014 to 2017, the total amount repatriated from Namibia to China was estimated at about N$12 billion, while about N$5.6 billion was repatriated from China to Namibia during the same period.

Onamagongwa project manager Stanley Sinokwanyana said yesterday there was absolutely no support from the Namibian government in terms of the Hosea Kutako road project.

China Railway is a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned China Railway Engineering Corporation, while Onamagongwa is owned by local businessman Martin Iipinge.

“The Chinese were supposed to come in and carry us as the local partner, but now they are even fighting us for that little piece (20%). Of course you will find Chinese managers on the site because they are dominating us,” Sinokwanyana said.

He added the Chinese government was backing its companies, while there was little support from the Namibian government for local companies.

Sinokwanyana said the Roads Authority (RA) does monthly inspections of the project and is therefore fully aware of their “cries for help”.

The Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (Manwu) has accused China Railway of a host of health and safety violations and of non-compliance with the Labour Act.

Manwu general secretary Justina Jonas said this week that the road project was dominated by Chinese nationals.

Jonas gave the RA until the end of August to sort out these irregularities, otherwise she would spill even more beans in public.

“We have written so many letters to them. The first letter we wrote was not answered; after the second letter they sent junior staff to meet with us. The only minister that met with us was the finance minister (Calle Schlettwein), who met with us last week,” Jonas said.

“The RA is fully aware of the things we are talking about. We had a meeting with some of their junior staff members on 14 August. Another thing is that they say they have a local partner, but he is nowhere to be found.”

Jonas also alleged that the Chinese management had changed the employment contracts of contract labourers from 12 months to one month and that some of the project vehicles, including trucks and buses, are not roadworthy.

“There are so many problems there, including corruption; the Chinese are also failing to transfer skills to Namibian labourers. We have even tried to reach the Chinese embassy in Namibia since January to raise these issues with them, with no success.”

When contacted for comment on Wednesday, RA CEO Conrad Lutombi said it was the first time he had heard of these allegations.

“These things that you are talking about now were not brought to my attention. I know they (the union) had asked for a meeting and the meeting took place when I was out of the office,” said Lutombi.

He further asked that questions be sent to him in writing.

In a response, RA spokesperson Hileni Fillemon said the RA was not aware of the union's deadline of 31 August.

She also denied the union's allegation that there are 41 Chinese nationals in the project's top management structure.

“Currently, 38 Chinese nationals and not 41 are employed on the project in various positions such as contract managers, bridge engineers and structural and culverts experts. The job titles are self-explanatory,” she said.

Fillemon added the RA is aware of the union's concerns and that a meeting was held on 20 July with all the relevant parties present, and the contractor was given time until 3 September to attend to the union's concerns.

Yang said of the 38 skilled staff, six are Namibian, including the foremen, the HR manager and the safety officer.

According to Yang the semi-skilled labour force, which he said were all Namibians, stands at 362.

He confirmed there were no Namibian engineers on their team, because of the language barrier.

“The software of our computer systems are all in Chinese languages.”

Local engineer and Namibia Society of Engineers (NASE) representative Charles Mukwaso rubbished these justifications, saying there are plenty of Namibian engineers that are employable.

“It is a reality that we have engineers that have studied engineering and graduated in China, who are able to read this software and they are unemployed now,” Mukwaso said.

He appealed to the government to contact them if they need engineers for this kind of project.


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