20 January 2012

Namibia: N$2 Billion Dam Tenderers Lobby in Karas Region

THE fight for the N$2 billion construction tender for the Neckertal Dam has not been confined to the Tender Board of Namibia - the two favoured companies have been involved in intense lobbying in the Karas Region.

Henan International Corporation, a Chinese construction firm, and the Italian outfit Impregilo are in the running for the lucrative contract, which has been a subject of controversy at the Tender Board level. The Tender Board will be meeting today to discuss the tender, which according to media reports is very close to the heart of President Hifikepunye Pohamba.

The Namibian reported yesterday that no complete Environmental Impact Assessment study had been done on the project and that it would be unsustainable economically, environmentally and socially.

It has been reported that the Tender Board is divided over who should be awarded the tender. It would appear that the Tender Board is not likely to consider the environmental impact of the dam on the flow of the river and the effect it would have on people living downstream from the intended dam.

Initially the tender was awarded to Henan at a December 16 meeting, but withdrawn again on December 21 and given to Impregilo.

Henan had quoted N$1,9 billion, while Impregilo quoted N$2,8 billion.

It is believed that Henan was given the tender despite the fact that it had lost out in the pre-qualification round because it reportedly overstated its technical capacity.

Impregilo is allegedly preferred by the Agriculture Permanent Secretary Andrew Ndishishi, while Henan is said to have the backing of a group led by National Planning Commission Permanent Secretary Andries Leevi Hungamo.

Hungamo's camp feels that Impregilo's price is too high, but others argue that they cannot risk cheap labour on a huge project which will also provide around 1 500 jobs against the 200 projected by Henan.

Meanwhile, the two companies have taken the fight to the Karas Region, where the multibillion-dollar dam is to be built.

The two have sent emissaries to the region to lobby with political office bearers, such as regional councillors and influential businesspeople linked to the Swapo Party, to secure the work.

Impregilo, it is believed, has teamed up with business mogul Aaron Mushimba, while the names of John Walenga and Alec Boois of the Swapo Party Youth League are mentioned in the same breath as the Henan group.

A community grouping in the Karas Region, under the leadership of Ernst Jahs, at a recent meeting sided with Impregilo when they said they did not want a Chinese company to develop the dam. They argued the Italians have promised more job opportunities.

They fear that Henan will import cheap Chinese labour, something which Chinese contractors often have been accused of.

It is not known what influence, if any, the community group's sentiment will have on the outcome of the tender.

Some local partners of Henan reportedly visited Keetmanshoop recently and held meetings with, among others, former Karas governor David Boois, who has now allegedly embarked on a campaign to take over the chairmanship of the local community committee in a bid to swing support in the Chinese company's favour.

Boois, in whose constituency the Neckartal Dam will be built, told The Namibian that he was not part of the community committee., which he accused of being in the pockets of Impregilo.

Boois said it seems there are politicians who are urging the members of the committee to support the Italian company.

"I am supporting neither of the companies because as a politician I am not allowed to intervene in tender issues. I have never been contacted by any of the two companies, it is totally a lie. I have people coming to my offices asking which company I support. But this very same committee had never involved me despite the fact that I represent the government in the constituency," Boois said.

Mushimba has denied any links to Impregilo but said he is aware of the talk associating him with the company.

"Our things are always in the open and on paper. We don't have any documentation with them. We have interest in this project because we are mining there and we welcome the development." he said.

Sources speculated that the recent visit by a Chinese ministerial delegation to Namibia could also be linked to efforts to lobby for the tender.

They have promised to invest around N$200 million in the Karas Region's economy in addition to upgrading the Keetmanshoop hospital.

Locals believe that even though Impregilo's tender is N$800 million more than Henan's, some of the funds will be reinvested through jobs and projects that will benefit locals, whereas the Chinese-owned company had not stated how benefits, if any, will filter through to the local community until they were reportedly tipped off about Impregilo's visit and meetings with key community members.

John Walenga, who is said to be Henan's point man, laughed off the suggestion that he was in the Karas Region to lobby influential members of the community to sway support in favour of the Chinese company.

"I don't know how do you lobby for something that is far from you. I am equally interested to know what is happening. The last time I was in the Karas Region was maybe two or three years ago," Walenga said.

Alec Boois also rubbished suggestions linking him to Henan.

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