Corruption depresses our professional and social pride

Professionals take pride in a job well done. When that job is visible to observation, perhaps even available for public use, society also takes pride in the competence of its professionals.

The output of a good job is there for all to see and enjoy.

Consider the GauTrain project in South Africa.

It is an 80km rail construction project that links the OR Tambo Airport, Pretoria, and the business centre of Sandton.

At the time of conception, it was the largest Public-Private Partnership in Africa.

It was premised on convincing empirical research on the cost benefit analysis, along with economic transport implications in terms of reduced traffic congestion, timely workforce access to economic hubs, and other such metrics.

This was a public works and infrastructure project of exhibitable merit.

The appeal of public works projects is that they are the most credible reference of the standard of competence found in an economy. They’re the most complicated level of economic activity.

Consider the different professional stakeholders involved in a project such as the GauTrain network; town planners, surveyors, engineers, construction contractors, skilled labour, and financiers, just to mention a handful.

They must all agree on budgets, execution schedules, material standardisation, and all sorts of technical detail.

The economic benefits of public works and infrastructure projects are huge.

According to Lightstone, a South African risk assessment company, the GauTrain project raised the average commercial value of property within a 2km radius of the rail network by 6 percent.

Economic output in areas within a similar radius to the network rose 5 percent.

All of this growth occurred within the first five years of the rail network’s completion.

While the economic benefits are impressive, the successful execution of public works and infrastructure projects is testament to an efficient, skilled, and diligent professional workforce found in a country.

Moreover, it is testament to the centralized administrative discipline by governance to co-ordinate such ventures.

Thus, I’d like to place a comparative emphasis on the professional confidence and pride that public works and infrastructure projects like GauTrain bring to a nation.

Consider Ethiopia’s recent $475 million commuter railway system in Addis Ababa. Its successful completion has groomed confidence to an extent of a nation now expecting a 5,000km cross country railway system.

Never mind foreign investor sentiment, skilled Ethiopian professionals once known for mass migration from their homeland have begun relocating back to Ethiopia through this new found confidence in the standard of professional competence.

When huge public works and infrastructure projects are done efficiently, up to standard, and in an administratively coherent manner, then the best of professionals compete to be engaged in such ventures.

This is a shared story in many other countries in Africa.

While the Africa Rising narrative was significantly depressed by the fall in commodity prices, increased domestic investment into public works and infrastructure projects across the continent reflects an obstinate confidence in the improving professionalism possessed in these countries.

Social pride emanates from the citizenry who enjoy modern, state of the art infrastructure and public facilities.

Many African cities are developing into 21st century spaces of work and habitat in terms of roads, bridges, public buildings, technology infrastructure, and well-crafted open spaces.

This is the feel good story fermenting confidence and pride in the rising level of professional competence developing a modern Africa.

Perhaps some African countries have reached a level of professionalism and competence comparable to world standards.

In Zimbabwe, however, we have only accumulated an unfortunate reputation of inefficient, mismanaged, and corrupt public works and infrastructure projects.

Immediate evidence is unconcealed in our shoddy, aged, and malfunctioning infrastructure and public facilities.

Deeper introspection can focus on how we have handled the administration of public works and infrastructural projects.

From the initial tendering process and bidding, corruption disqualifies any respectable professionalism and due diligence.

Much so, we have not-so educated individuals winning extremely sophisticated and intricate projects in road, telecoms, power, water and sanitation, and technology.

These are projects that do not warrant such shelf-company or politically-connected representation by any respectable professional standard. Again, the eventual poor execution of these public works and infrastructure projects is unconcealed.

Further along, the costing of these projects is heavily inflated, usually by the centralised administration; often for costs that have no implication on the quality of intended output.

Indeed as there is no professionalism in our project contracting, an inexperienced and hardly exposed team of professionals then tends to be engaged to carry out these projects.

With little empathy owed to these very inadequate professionals, one can lament the substandard equipment and materials offered to them due to insufficient work budgets.

Indeed, the typical public works and infrastructure project in Zimbabwe represents an ecosystem of theft, mismanagement, and very deficient competence.

I would encourage public dissemination of the professionals hired to work on our country’s public works and infrastructure projects.

The standard is deplorable.

Consistent with my chosen narrative of confidence and pride, our best professionals in terms of qualification and conduct have ended up migrating to countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda; dissatisfied by the egregious level of professionalism in public works and infrastructure projects.

On the social front, the general citizenry has been offered very little in terms of modernly attractive and appealing public facilities; let alone fundamental basic public utilities.

The citizenry is deprived of the feel good sensation of having confidence and pride in a competitively professional base leading development into the 21st century.

As a nation, we should not deceive ourselves; the appetite for public works and infrastructure investment in southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, is very high.

Granted, Government can only finance about 10 percent of our infrastructure and public works, but that should not be a worry, there is a lot of private investment interest.

However, until we create a desirable professional environment in our public works and infrastructure, it is our own fault that we continue to miss out.

Last month, I was invited to deliver a speech at the Zimbabwe Institute of Engineers.

I happened to eavesdrop on two highly esteemed civil engineers who were deliberating on the state of public works and infrastructure in Zimbabwe.

Both heavy heartedly conceded that engineers from other African countries were increasingly technically superior to their Zimbabwean counterparts.

These seasoned professionals bemoaned how junior engineers would be better served in their careers if they sort for more engaging experience in other countries on the continent.

After all, even the experienced engineers such as these two gentlemen could only offer so little credible mentorship; it has been years since they were engaged in continentally notable projects over the last decade.

Our public works and infrastructure leave us with a lot to be desired in terms of professional and social pride.

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