The substandard quality of work characterizing most infrastructure development projects is both disheartening and alarming.
Roads that should have been built to last decades deteriorate and break up within a few months without any discernible punitive measures being taken by the rightful authorities.
It is unheard of for contractors to be recalled on site to rectify, let alone demolish and rebuild structures that are obviously below standard and a danger to the longevity of occupants and the structure itself.
This is true of Zambian as well as Chinese contractors. Some roads have been built without adequate drainage and yet the supervising engineers have passed the bills for payments. In some cases bills have been paid without the requisite inspection.
Stories abound where contractors have been paid for various stages of work which have not been undertaken. One airport in Northern Province is notorious for this scandal.
There is a general attitude against quality performance when it comes to public works and Government projects in particular. This can be attributed to poor supervision and in some cases bad design which does not take account of the realities on the ground, or indeed bad design intended to earn escalation costs in rectifying such errors.
There is a building in Lusaka that has been under construction for the last 20 years and has undoubtedly escalated in cost to several times more than the original value. The consolation for the contractor, architect and ancillary professionals is that Government will never abandon the project. It is instead the treasury that will suffer the cost overrun and ultimately the people of Zambia who are final victims, through the denial of services.
The money that should have been expended on other causes will be spent on escalation while the service to which the infrastructure should have been put will be long delayed.
The answer to this problem lies in creating a comprehensive, independent and professional supervisory authority.
It is a very well known fact that Government contracts cost many times more than similar contracts undertaken by the private sector. This is true in spite of the fact that it is the same engineers, experts and contractors who operate in both sectors.
Our view is that apart from the perfunctory supervision provided by the Director of Works, there must be an additional independent regulatory body that must examine and value the very expensive projects that Government undertakes. This should not be left to civil servants who are very easily compromised.
There are, we believe, many honourable professional men and women in all the fields involved with construction who will readily serve on a Government supervisory body whose aim will be to ensure value for money services.
It is becoming very clear that most projects are inadequately supervised either because acumen is lacking or indeed through corrupt or underhand influence.
These are malpractices that must be brought to an end so that every Kwacha expended from public coffers achieves the purpose for which it was intended.
It is in this regard that we strongly urge for the establishment of an independent project supervisory authority preferably under the Special Assistant in Charge of Projects at State House. This body will offer quality supervision which only professional are capable of.
The intention to supervise projects is noble but this intention must now be concretized with professional support. The sooner this is done the better.