Workers turn up the heat

Organised labour and Namibia's private sector are in agreement for once – capital projects should be awarded to local companies employing local workers.

06 March 2019 | Labour

Swapo-affiliated unions and the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) have thrown down the gauntlet over billion-dollar tenders being awarded to foreign companies while Namibians continue to lose jobs on a daily basis.

The Swapo Party Youth League, however, withdrew from yesterday's protest and petition handovers, claiming they had received several concessions from State House during a meeting on Monday.

Hundreds of Namibian construction workers yesterday embarked on a demonstration against the awarding of tenders to foreign, and specifically Chinese-owned, companies.

They demanded that suitable local companies be prioritised when it comes to the awarding of government tenders, as these provided permanent jobs as opposed to short-term employment by foreigners.

The Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (Manwu) has given the government a week to meet its demands, or face the consequences at the ballot box.

“Failure to respond positively to our demands will mean that you should face the same retrenchments that construction workers face come election time,” said Manwu.

The union yesterday demanded that the Roads Authority, the works ministry and the finance ministry immediately stop the bidding process for the Hosea Kutako dual-carriageway project and instead upgrade the railway at Walvis Bay.

“Such projects must be awarded to local contractors to support our own construction industry,” said the union. It also said that all pre-qualification conditions for public tenders must be redesigned to accommodate Namibian contractors.

“We demand that Namibian companies be continuously provided with all big capital projects, either individually, through consortiums or joint ventures to continue creating more local sustainable jobs.”

Manwu said they also wanted a workers' representative on the Public Procurement Board and all its committees to ensure a fair and transparent procurement process.





“We further demand that all loan conditions entered into between the government and lenders, or any development partners, be revised and re-aligned to favour Namibian companies in terms of actual implementation.

“All future negotiations or agreements to be entered between the government and lenders, or any development partners, should favour Namibians and the national development agenda,” Manwu said.

The union said any foreign company that wanted to be considered for a public project must be forced to procure local materials, comply with all national laws and pay taxes.

It said workers must be treated with dignity and their rights must be respected at all times.

“Should foreign companies fail to comply with these demands, the licences of such foreign companies must be revoked and the tender must be cancelled.”

The Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) announced its withdrawal from the protest action following a last-minute meeting at State House on Monday.

According to a statement issued by Gerson Dumeni, the SPYL secretary for information, publicity and mobilisation, the youth league's national executive committee demanded an audience to discuss the issues it had raised last week when it condemned the awarding of construction contracts to foreign companies.

According to Dumeni it was agreed during the meeting that all road and rail project subcontracts, inclusive of plant hire and basic services, would be awarded to Namibian-owned companies.

This arrangement would pertain to the road projects between Windhoek and Hosea Kutako, Windhoek and Okahandja, Walvis Bay and Kamanjab via Swakopmund, Henties Bay and Uis, and the Walvis Bay-Kranzberg railway project.

“No importation of skills that are locally available,” said the SPYL.

It was further agreed that all future government capital projects would subcontract fully Namibian-owned companies and Namibian joint ventures.

Dumeni said it was also agreed that the Public Procurement Act must be amended.

Meanwhile, the works ministry says the main question is whether domestic and regional bidders have the capacity to carry out such large projects.

Deputy works minister James Sankwasa explained that the government had approached the African Development Bank (AfDB) for the funding of the ongoing Transport Infrastructure Improvement Project (TIIP).

The TIIP includes the upgrading of the Walvis Bay-Kranzberg railway (210 km) and the upgrading of section 2A (23.8 km) of the highway from Windhoek to Hosea Kutako International Airport.

According to Sankwasa a loan agreement was signed for more than N$5.5 billion.

He said while the works ministry was the executing agency for the project's rail component, the Roads Authority was the executing agency for the road component.

“The agreement specifies that the procurement of goods, works and services must be done according to the AfDB procurement methods and procedures.”

It also specifies the procurement packages. He said to comply with national laws the ministry of finance therefore granted the TIIP an exemption from the provisions of the Public Procurement Act and its regulations.

With regard to the prequalification for road works, the ministry through the RA proceeded to issue a Specific Procurement Notice.

According to Sankwasa the Roads Authority then received complaints from the construction industry regarding the criteria for pre-qualification for the Windhoek-Hosea Kutako road project.

It wrote to the AfBD to convey the industry's concerns and requested the bank to relax some of the stringent requirements. It requested that certain works items be ring-fenced and exclusively reserved for local contractors.

“In total 32 applicants submitted bids by the closing date. Among the submitted bids, 69% were received from outside SADC, 10 from SADC and the remaining 21% comprised a mixture of joint ventures with domestic, regional and non-regional contractors.”

After conducting the evaluation in strict compliance with the AfDB's rules and procedures it was concluded that 14 applicants qualified to bid for phase two of the airport road. All of them were foreign.

The spokesperson of the Chinese embassy in Namibia, Feng Deheng, yesterday expressed concern about the public condemnation of tenders awarded to foreigners, specifically Chinese companies.

He stressed that all Chinese companies had followed transparent and lawful bidding procedures and said Chinese companies had made a great contribution to Namibia's economy.

According to him Chinese companies have created more than 11 000 jobs and generated N$250 million in tax revenue since 2016.

“I also urge Manwu and NCCI to act in a more reasonable and responsible way towards foreign companies so as to create a better investment environment, which is of great importance for the national economy,” he said.

ELLANIE SMIT

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