Internal maladministration and negligence have been fingered as the main reasons why government keeps on losing millions of pula in cost overruns during the construction of roads by the Department of Roads.
The Department of Roads is said to have lost over 300 million pula in two road projects that were completed recently. The western by-pass Metsimotlhabe project which initially was priced at about P400m ended up costing the ministry about P644 million. While the Gaborone-Tlokweng border gate road was estimated at about P376 million but ended up drawing more than P454 million from the government coffers.
Appearing before Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Communication Goitsemang Morekisi was at pains to explain why the Department of Roads keeps on incurring cost overruns despite clear indications that in most cases they could have been avoided. Morekisi gave in to Tati East’s Member of Parliament Moyo Guma who put the blame of the cost overruns on government in this case the Department of Roads. “Can you confirm that the cost overruns could not have been incurred without the approval of your ministry and that the approval is in a way a confirmation that these problems were rather internal and do not emanate from the contractors?” Guma charged.
Some of the internal maladministration identified by Moyo and other PAC members included the failure by the department to pay contractors on time, which in most cases ends up escalating their expenses, decision by Department of Roads to stomach all cost of relocating other service providers equipment like cables and pipes even when the latter had withheld information citing their presence in the construction area. Moyo questioned why the department did not hold the service providers who do not disclose vital information to them liable whenever extra costs are incurred. “It is not your problem that some service providers do not give such information to the Department of Town Planning, legal actions have to be taken against them,” he said.
When asked why project consultants who in this case were tasked with project designs failed to pick presence of such things and why they were paid even after exposing the project to such, the Permanent secretary said it was difficult as service providers do not give the Department of Town Planning and Maps, sufficient information highlighting where all their services and equipment pass. The department of roads, the PAC was told, more often is forced to deal with extra costs because contractors are usually met with what the Permanent Secretary said were unforeseen developments, which were not included in town maps. In the Western-by pass Metsimotlhabe road project for example , the PAC was told that project consultants’ costs shot up to P21 million from P8.9 million while in the Gaborone Tlokweng boarder gate road consultants costs increased from P9.8 million to P20.1 million after delays.
Morekisi confirmed Guma’s accusations that indeed these problems were internal and that they could have been avoided to cut costs. She however said her ministry has since realised these anomalies and was working on rectifying them through the amendment of the Public Roads Act. In the amended act she says, her ministry has proposed cost sharing among all departments and service providers involved. The department of Roads Assistant Director Lekang Motshwaedi also said the department of roads has since included service providers in the steering committees of projects where they are furnished with project designs and are expected to give constructive input to abate cost overruns. Motshwaedi says unfortunately contractors continue to meet unexpected developments belonging to service providers during excavation.
PAC members were however not satisfied with reasons furnished by the two officials. Francistown West MP Ignatius Moswaane questioned why project consultants had to design and supervise projects even though they were outsourced, this he said exposed projects to illicit behaviour from the consultants. “What if they choose to overlook certain things on purpose so as to cause delay and increase their payments?” he asked.
The Permanent Secretary however assured the committee that as part of measures of redress proposed, consultants will be held accountable for some of the unnecessary delays and will be forced to contain costs.