The Mammoth Task of Reorganization of the Tanzanian Construction Industry, A Call for Reform and Professionalism

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One thing that stands out in the construction industry is shoddy work at exorbitant prices. No country in the world has developed when the construction industry is as pathetic as in Tanzania. When poor artistry is combined with costs well above the market rates, it is akin to chasing winds that get nobody anywhere.

So, the construction industry’s reorganization is urgent and inescapable unless everybody is contented with endemic poverty. We deserve better than what we are getting, and we should rise to the challenges of fixing what is wrong with our construction industry.

While many areas in the construction industry cry out for meaningful reforms, we shall constrain ourselves in one area that her modus operandi abundantly shows they hardly know why they were created in the first place.

This area is rarely mentioned but can potentially transform the construction industry in a manner that will add value to our economy. This institution is called the National Construction Industry (NCC).

The analysis of the construction industry in Tanzania will be incomplete unless it addresses how the NCC came about and the main reason it was created. Contrary to what we see today, the originators of the NCC who were an African American construction management professor, Neville. A. Parker and a local Professor, Awadhi Mawenya, were the ones whose papers led to the formation of the NCC while they were still teaching together at the University of Dar-es-Salaam in between the late 1970s to the late 1980s.

According to that paper they wrote, the NCC was to play a pivotal role in the organization and coordination of the construction industry. If appropriately handled, the construction industry would provide a cutting edge in harnessing the sector’s contribution to beefing up our measly GDP.

While that paper may be unfairly criticized for being long in loftier goals but short in details, it was up to those working in the NCC to develop those ideas meaningfully. We see now that NCC has been reduced into a construction costs tabulator and an institution of continuous learning that has no chance of resolving many problems facing the industry!

We need to know cost estimates, but the NCC prices are way off the market, leaving many wondering aloud: who is cooking these data and for whose interest? We see that construction prices keep rising and rising, and almost all Quantity surveyors point an accusing finger at the NCC.

Almost collectively, they defend themselves by using the NCC pricing guidelines to calculate the costs of construction projects. But that weak excuse is neither here nor there, knowing Quantity Surveyors did not go and endure the rigours of higher learning to be the NCC’s copycats. We know too well copycats never learn.

The NCC regularly promotes her continuous learning syllabuses, which she shouldn’t do because it is not her job. Other institutions of learning can do better than her. The NCC has been proposing a legal framework that will guide the management of the construction industry. Still, we glare at half-baked ideas that have zero chance of addressing a myriad of construction niggling glitches.

For a start, a lack of professionalism is hurting this industry. The way the industry is organized places business aspects above professionalism! If you go to the contractor’s registration board, the emphasis is on hardware facilitation at the expense of software capability. Business-oriented people rule the industry without a background because they have the money and properties.

No sweat is made to ensure only registered professionals can own construction companies with their signatures on the banking accounts. Thinking of a law company being run by non-lawyers is untenable, but the construction industry is in the hands of non-professionals whose sole purpose is to make money. They care nothing about the sustainability of the sector.

It is time we legislate that only registered practitioners in the construction industry can own construction companies and criminalize non-professionals who steal professional identities or parade bogus professionals to dip their dirty fingers in the construction industry.

We must also outlaw all construction companies suing the government from bidding on construction works. It is unfathomable to see companies in a legal fight with the government still winning lucrative construction contracts. It looks more and more like there is a conspiracy between those contractors and civil servants making decisions on the tender boards.

We need to limit the number of jobs one company can get, and national software should be in place that will empower those on tender boards to void bidding winners who have already won construction contracts in other areas. We suggest no construction company can hold more than five jobs at any given time to ensure competitiveness and fairness to other bidders.

One company we know had more than 50 road construction jobs with TANROADS during the Mkapa reign, while many road construction companies had no jobs. Political patronage was often proffered to absolve that kind of oddity. We need to add economic saboteur crimes to those who oversubscribe contractors. Both awardees of construction contracts and their recipients should be regarded as economic saboteurs.

Public servants must not be allowed to own companies or shares or be directors in construction companies that seek government jobs. It should be a criminal offence for public servants to compete with their employers because they are shouldering a conflict of interest.

Most contractors that win many government construction jobs carry significant political clout, dimming the competition in the bidding process. When such companies end up with shoddy work, it becomes politically impossible to rein in those companies out of fear of reprisals. While these politically connected companies tend to bid with attractively low prices through insidious variations of works, the final price is exaggerated, rendering the initial bidding exercise a vanity.

The actual cost of an apparent project, regrettably, is not known during tendering but after the award of the contract. In this situation, construction costs tend to rise and keep on rising while the quality doddering and the quantity of actual work remain constant or amply reduced.

We need a law that says “BOQ variations” under any circumstances should not exceed 15% of the original costs, or the whole contract will be rescinded, and automatic fresh bidding will be ordered for all contractors.

Another area that needs lots of plugging is the overpayment of projects. If the CAG report is of any guidance here, REA (Rural Energy Agency) had at one time overpaid over 70% of the money to contractors who had done too little work. We need to criminalize overpayment of contractors to ease our burden on ourselves.

Most of these overpaid contractors do not finish their jobs, costing the government a fortune in re-tendering those jobs with almost no significant sanctions to the culprits. We need criminal laws amounting to economic saboteurs to all who mess up the construction industry for personal gains.

Promoting construction equipment hiring services is vital to free contractors from being hassled with capitalization demands. What is the point of each contractor owning a machine that is barely used, while companies that solely deal with equipment hire can sort that issue.

Instead of squandering billions in agricultural loans that snake their way out of the country, the Tanzania Investment Bank (TIB) ought to be allotted this unenviable onus of issuing loans in the form of equipment, not cash, to registered companies dealing only with construction equipment hiring services.

We say so because without creating highly competitive construction equipment hiring services, we stand at a disadvantage to arraign poor artistry and runaway construction costs bedevilling the construction industry today. Let us start now and see that this is within the realm of possibilities.

Last is how we get the politicians and business tycoons off the back of the construction industry, which could be where the difficulties are. For example, we may begin paying councillors real wages and deprive them of an argument since they are not receiving wages; having their companies do government jobs is the best way to compensate them.

We all should ask ourselves: what is the reason for paying an MP Tshs 16 Mill per month and a Councillor a paltry monthly allowance? Who is doing more, the councillor or an MP? Unless we treat our Councillors with the dignity they deserve, we may be oblivious perpetrators of the rot in our construction industry.

Can the NCC stand up and be counted? Time is ticking.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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