Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine


Contract Award Procedures Criticised

From Akwasi Atta Amoah

There are many uncompleted projects in West African countries because the local contractors have failed to deliver. Awarding contracts to foreign firms is also unpopular with the local contractors
Many governments in Third World Countries would love to have efficient and reliable local construction firms to undertake the numerous development projects on hand - schools, roads, markets, health centres, etc etc.

Since many African countries achieved independence there has been a strong nationalistic drive to give maximum encouragement to local entrepreneurs. But though a few indigenous business concerns have made it to the top and excelled in their various fields of endeavour, the general results have been one big disappointment.

Dotted over West African Countries are numerous developmental projects for which the contract sums have been fully disbursed. But regrettably, the construction have either been shoddily carried out or are stopped midway through. There are often allegations that officials collude with the contractors and share the monies to enrich themselves at the expense of their nations.

A classic one is the Ghanaian example of the vital Kaneshie-Mallam Motorway in the capital, Accra which was awarded to a local firm - Carrefuor or Okere Contractors. After over six years dilly-dallying on the four-mile six-lane stretch the same contract was re-awarded to an expatriate firm, Construction Pioneers (formerly Carl Plotnes) based on their efficient execution of the Yamoransa- Takoradi Highway in the Central Western regions of that country. Nothing was said about the colossal sum of over C50 million which had been spent on the first contractor.

Such corrupt practices have been so deeply woven into the normal bureaucratic systems of many ECOWAS countries that until recently, in many states, it became an accepted and normal way of life for uncompleted jobs to be passed as excellently executed. The exchequer is then pressurized to pay out huge sums of monies which go to enrich well- placed individuals in society.

But some governments are now making great efforts to break these economy-wrecking practices. These governments want things properly done and in their militant zeal do not want to strictly go by the cumbersome practices of opening tenders. Un- wittingly they are also fanning corruption in another form.

"We are not bound to tender all projects," a senior government official explained.

"We award contracts based on past creditable performances... We want a job done. That's all. There is no discrimination whatsoever".

With this new thinking in government, bigger multi-million dollar projects such as the building of Universities, hospitals, asphalt roads and bridges in Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, among other nations are going into the hands of foreign firms. "The foreign firms are back and grabbing all the major government contracts" peeved indigenous a contractor complained to me.

In fairness however, the poor performances of the large band of inefficient indigenous firms should not be allowed to becloud the high output of some local businessmen. Laid down procedures for the award of contracts must be religiously kept and followed by both sides in the name of fair play. This was the concern expressed by the Liberian Businessmen caucus recently.

The foreign firms are back and grabbing all the major government contracts

At a press conference at the Ducor Palace Hotel in Monrovia, the Caucus, more a 12-man business-oriented association expressed misgivings about the awards of government construction contracts to non-Liberians, ignoring well qualified Liberian enterprises and described the manner in which the contracts have been awarded as "irregular".

In a statement read by the association's chairman Mr Jim Holder, the Caucus described the procedure as a violation of the National Bidding Procedure and the Liberianization Policy, which, in the view of the association, has "reduced Liberians to mere spectators in the economy of their own country".

Mr Holder, said it is the patriotic duty of every Liberian to ensure that laws, guidelines and procedures that were established to ensure the imple- mentation and enforcement of the Liberianization Policy are adhered to.

The Caucus referred to nearly 50 million dollars in projects to foreign contractors as a "direct contravention of national established bidding procedures, the Liberianization Policy and a solemn promise of the Head of State".

He cited projects like the Polytechnic University in Grand Cape Mount County, Police Headquarters, and Barracks, the Archives Centre, the J. F. Kennedy Hospital, Capitol Building, Hotel Africa renovations and the construction of the new Justice Ministry, all in Monrovia as those which have been awarded and can be traced to not more than three foreign contractors.

Mr Holder recalled that last April, Head of State CiC Samuel Doe, had acknowledged that there is "a pool of Liberians in the private sector who are capable of providing goods and services as any other groups".

Consequently, he said, the Head of State reaffirmed a long-standing economically sound and patriotic national policy and promised that the government of Liberia would begin to give greater consideration to awarding contracts to Liberian-owned enterprises".

Yet sadly, the Caucus lamented; barely three days after the Head of State's speech, the building procedures were short-circuited for Barracks estimated at $3 million following the same modus operandi in a Police the award of the archives which was completed at an estimated cost of $5 million. Both were irregularly awarded without concern for “the competency of contractors" the Caucus charged. According to the association, they were alarmed, when in a period of acute lack of liquidity and frightening insolvency, contracts are being awarded with impunity in violation of bidding procedures and pronouncements by the Head of State.

Members of the Businessmen's Caucus are Mike Quist BRDC; Nathaniel Richardson, Geo Services Inc; Yao Kudaya & Associates; J. Tousant Inc; T. Richardson Inc; James K. Holder, Liberia Steel Products Corp; M. V. Sackor Sireleaf; and Rocheforte L. Weeks, Jnr, Liberia United Corp.

Others are Fred Bass Em Corp; Wendy Addy, Carpet House; Harry Greaves & Co, Eric L. Clarke, Old Road Fish Depot and Percy Williams Industrial Chemical Company.

Also elected were Mr Shafic Obeid, first vice-president and Mr David Jallah, second Vice-president. The Chamber also elected a 14-member executive to oversee its activities for the year 1985.

Commerce Minister Mcleod Darpoh, who supervised the elections congratulated the officers and urged them to build a vibrant Chamber.

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