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Friday, November 26, 2021

Open Letter to the Minister of Infrastructure And Urban Development.

Columns Open Letter to the Minister of Infrastructure And Urban Development.

By Eng. Michael Kopulande
(BEng, MSc (Struct. Eng.), MSc (Infra. Eng.), REng. MEIZ)

I would like to begin by wishing you my heartfelt congratulations on your appointment as Minister of Infrastructure and Urban Development. Just as well, it is very much in order for me to congratulate H.E Hakainde Hichilema and the UPND party for their election to office during the August 12th 2021 election. I must state here that the whole country wishes you well and indeed we vouch for you to succeed as you lead the citizens of this country.

From the onset, I wish to mention to you Hon. Minister that the wider stakeholders in the infrastructure drive are happy with your appointment more so that you indeed are a member of the Engineering Institute of Zambia, and as such, we have one of our own driving the infrastructure development and growth agenda. Not to take anything away from the distinguished gentlemen who have held your office before, we now feel more than ever before that we have someone in office who understands our language and to some extent serves as our mentor – owing to the vast knowledge and experience you have in this field.

Notwithstanding the above however, the Ministry you have inherited is full of challenges that need your immediate attention and direction. To put it into perspective, much of the highly discussed debt crisis that this country is going through is as a result of your Ministry. As well, the economic growth agenda that the new government has embarked on will only be realized if your ministry responds fast to the challenges and immediately innovates to fulfil the infrastructure needs necessary for economic growth. Simply put, if the livelihoods of the Zambian citizenry were to improve, then your Ministry Sir will have to rise to the occasion and deliver much needed infrastructure on behalf of the Zambian people.
If you allow me Sir, I would want to itemize some of the teething challenges that need your urgent attention;

1. Unfinished construction projects across the width and breadth of the nation: Sir, we do acknowledge that the PF government embarked on massive infrastructure spend over the last 10yrs that they were in power. Unfortunately, of the many projects that they embarked on, with the exception of bilateral and multilateral funded projects, most of these projects remain unfinished across the whole country. In mind I have the Safwa-Chinsali-Mulilansolo road, the bottom road, the Sikongo – Kalabo road, Kafue Hook bridge rehabilitation, Pedicle Road, Chama – Matumbo road, Chipata – Lundazi- Chama – Mafinga road. Mbesuma Bridge construction, Monze – Niko Road, Mbesuma – Isoka road, Kazungula – Sesheke road, Kaoma – Kasempa road, township roads in Solwezi, Kasempa, Mufumbwe, Sesheke, Kabompo, etc. Public universities student accommodation at the University of Zambia, Mulungushi University, Mukuba University, Kapasa Makasa University, etc. Public Universities like Palabana University, Lewanika University and FTJ University. (The full list can be obtained from the relevant departments and government agencies.

2. Sky rocketing interest rates from contractors; Hon. Minister all the projects mentioned above came to a standstill because payment of IPC’s to both contractors and consultants became erratic especially towards the end of 2015 and the situation has hardly improved since then. As a result, works were suspended and equipment was withdrawn from the affected sites. However, interest claims are still being claimed by the various contractors on the unpaid IPC’s. As a result, the government arrears (domestic debt) keep rising every month on the backdrop of interest claims as opposed to unpaid-for measured works. Hon. Minister, you will agree with me that this is a real problem and just as serious (maybe even more serious) as the topical foreign debt crisis. I would want to put it to you sir that as long as the projects mentioned above are not brought to a close, the issue of interest claims will continue being a real challenge to the growth of our industry and ultimately to the growth of the wider economy.

3. Dismal Involvement of the local business houses in the infrastructure growth value chain; Sir, I am sure you are very much aware that most of the construction projects are awarded to foreign firms (both as consultants and works contractors). As if that is not enough, most of the raw materials and plant have to be imported from abroad and thereby leaving our local business houses with only a thumb in the mouth. You may wish to know Sir that I did a full article on this back in 2018 and was published by Lusaka times whose link I have added below for your reference. Hon. Minister we need to resolve this with all the urgency it deserves.

Economically Empowering Zambians through Infrastructure Investment

4. Uncoordinated manner in which infrastructure investment is conducted: Sir in my article published by Lusaka times shared below, I belabored to explain how our infrastructure investment should always be tied to the economic development agenda of our country. What we have witnessed in the previous years is an investment that is made without worrying much about its returns. I remember your party Sir whilst in opposition would always mock the government that they are building roads to nowhere. Indeed, as much as this could be referred to as mere politicking, there is some level of truth in this. I would propose to you Sir that going forward, we need to carry out both financial and economic appraisals on all infrastructure projects of a certain threshold (say above ZMW100,000,000) that we intend to construct. This will ensure that all our financial investments on infrastructure are tied to the economic growth of the country.

Management of our Nation’s Public Infrastructure Assets – A call for Action

5. Unsustainable high cost of our Infrastructure Projects; Hon. Minister, at various fora, you have been quoted saying our infrastructure projects are too expensive – more especially in the road sector. As much as I would wish to agree with you, but I would say it in a different way; we need to look at our infrastructure spend with analytical eyes and see if we could achieve more for less. Sir, the answer in this lies in science and technology (and I am happy your government seems to attach seriousness to this sector). Being an Engineer yourself, am very confident that you are aware that efficiency in the use of materials and resources, as well as the discovery of new materials and methods does lead to cost effective ways of doing things. Sir this can only be achieved through sponsoring R&D activities that are well coordinated with a clear objective of achieving certain goals. I am afraid to say therefore Sir that real cost effectiveness will not come through pronouncements but through hard work and the involvement of think tanks around the country or indeed establishing such think tanks with clear objectives.

6. Deteriorating key pieces of Infrastructure around the country; Sir, it is ironic that so much has been spent on Infrastructure development and here I am telling you that our key infrastructure has deteriorated beyond normal service levels. Unfortunately, Hon. Minister this is a reality. In mind I have the Kafue Hook Bridge, The Lusaka Mongu Road, the Great North Road – from Chibombo to Chinsali (bearing in mind that the Chinsali – Nakonde stretch is being rehabilitated). Kazungula – Sesheke road, Kapiri to Ndola road, Mutanda to Mwinilunga road, Indeni Oil refinery, the Zambia Railways track – just to name a few. Sir these pieces of infrastructure needed serious interventions like yesterday. Sir, please find means of intervening in these as soon as possible as the economic wheels of this nation basically depend on these pieces of infrastructure that I have mentioned.

7. Lack of innovation in the way we finance our infrastructure spend; in essence, all of the above challenges that I have mentioned are as a result of our lack of innovation to find solutions to how best infrastructure development can be financed. It may surprise you Sir that from where I stand, there is no method superior than the other. In fact, it is up to your Ministry Sir together with your counterpart at Finance to devise innovative and sustainable ways of spending on our infrastructure growth. The good news to you sir is that such minds do exist in this country and when called upon to advise will be more than willing to devise such methods. To this effect Sir, I wrote an article on this platform that sort of gave a road map to this quagmire.

Infrastructure Development – What Next Under the UPND Government?

In conclusion Sir, I must mention that though the challenges at your Ministry are many and may seem insurmountable, their solutions lie within the minds of the many Zambians within this country. I should state here that you stand advantaged in that you are surrounded with staff that is mostly well educated, and the last I checked are some of the best engineers we have in this country. Hon. Minister Sir, colleagues at the RDA, Ministry of Infrastructure, the NRFA, NCC and indeed Ministry of Local government are some of the best and well-trained individuals I have known in my professional life. It is my prayer that you shall fully utilize them to the best of their abilities and of course in conjunction with the private sector, the EIZ and indeed the public universities to come up with the solutions to some of the challenges I have mentioned above. Hon. Minister Sir, I wish you and your team success and I am very confident that you shall achieve even much more than any of your predecessors.

I wish you well.

The author is a Chevening Scholar-UK, Civil/Structural Engineer and Infrastructure Planning Expert.

23 COMMENTS

  1. Great write up Michael, I do wonder if these open letters make any difference or if they are even read by the relevant authorities.
    Piece of advice Mr. Kopulande, there is no such title as Engineer Chirwa, Eng Chirwa.
    It is simply Mr. Chirwa.

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  2. Good article LT. We need more of these constructive articles. Not Given Lubinda and his gay rights that are very important to him all of the sudden. We need self-reliance in this sector. We cannot allow the Chinese specifically to take advantage of infrastructure projects where it’s Chinese workers, Chinese products, Chinese debt all of which are 100% beneficial to China. This must end. It’s a huge part of the problem in addition to everything else mentioned

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  3. True, the upnd inherited all these vital projects and it is our wish that they complete all of them. We will pray and keep them in check.
    I don’t know how they will do it but these plus a mountain of promises fulfillment is on my list for they can’t have a beautiful name and fail to deliver. Running about and talking about how cheap the cost of a kilometer of road alone will not fix things.
    Let’s just say PF set the tone for national development, like it or not.
    Indeed this Ministry should be spending sleepless nights. I hope Milupi is equal to the task.

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  4. Well thought article. Very timely.
    Indeed, which is better?. Honoring your obligation of paying IPCs on time while maintaining the contract cost or abrogating and paying interest on unpaid IPCs which inflates contract price

  5. The title Eng for engineers is some kind of clamour for professional and social recognition by engineers on the lines of medical doctors.

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  6. Spot on Michael and well articulated. They should have listened to you in 2018 before they embarked on some of those economically unstrategic infrastructure. One small thing Mike, no need for all those titles. We simply need facts here. Most of us in Zambia get our qualifications through opportunity and life chances which the majority are never afforded.

  7. Well written article apart from the s.tupidity of calling yourself Eng….,,
    I would be ashamed to call my self Eng .., even when I am one

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  8. Great write up Eng. Michael Kopulande. I hope this reaches the Honourable Minister In good time. We need serious infrastructure planning and investment in this country. I’m saddened by the fact that we continue to accrue debt in terms of interest claims for projects that have become white elephants.

    Very insightful write up!

  9. Zambia is the only place where I see Engineers putting Eng in front of their name…this is totally unnecessary and frankly embarrassing you want your name on paper write a book or report ….and I am a member of the construction industry I too have titles.
    I think what we should be appealing to the minister is to create a Task force to carry out a forensic research into the Zambian construction with an aim of reducing the cost of construction through this report will they move forward. The President simply saying we want projects to be delivered on time, at a competitive price and of value is all good but put that into policy and use the report by Technocrats to guide you like the UK’s John Egan report – Rethinking Construction back in 1998.

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  10. The construction industry does not operate on just political will you need to implement your ideas into policy…a typical example is Tanzania were you had John Magufuli who had the same desire to deliver govt projects on time with value at competitive price, this was possible only because there was political will whist he was alive and at the top but after he passed I can assure you that it was back to normal.
    You need policies to revolutionise the construction manufacturing sector where standardisation is enforced, there should be no need for 10 labourers to load 500 bricks on and off lorry when 5 x 100 bricks can be shrink wrapped on pallets and off loaded with a fork lift truck that is attached to the lorry.
    You want projects to be deliver at value on time …make it rule that…

  11. ..make it rule that projects over $100 million should be only be initiated with along side value management, Value Engineering and cost management techniques this way you are maximising and achieving ‘value for money’ (VfM).

  12. TheEngineer – That’s ironic given that you use it as an alias…really laughable …maybe you should take your own medication before you prescribe to someone else!!

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  13. I am sure Honourable Eng Charles Milupi is aware of these problems, but there is no harm in reminding him. With me, I think that these issues call for people with qualifications in Logistics and Project management. It is too late now to do feasibility studies. The problems started with President Sata who while campaigning around the country, if he had to be carried across a stream, he marked it for a bridge. His successor who had no vision of his own just carried on from there. Zambia needs two new main roads and high speed railway lines and they should connect to Lobito in Angola and Nacala in Mozambique. Mfuwe, Mbala, Solwezi, Mongu and Mansa should become international airports. Why has everything got to go through Lusaka?

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  14. I like the intelligence of the writer of this article, this article has all the details that the minister must be familiar with and it depends on him to follow up all that has been revealed by this engineer.
    One thing I may not be aware of is if indeed all politicians are so focused on their duties to see them succeed. I happen to know Charles Milupi I knew him as someone heading the engineering department in ZCCM in mufulira.
    Charles you have an insurmountable tusk at your hands, you will be judged by what you do, don’t ignore any of the points stated in article.

  15. Excelent article Sir, provides much insight to plausable soutions the ministry and country may consider for infratracture development to lead to economic growth. Credit to you for this arictle.

  16. Well written article but point no 4 REALLY PAINS ME WHENEVER I HEAR IT . I quote ‘ I remember your party Sir whilst in opposition would always mock the government that they are building roads to nowhere.’End of quote.
    When our dear President was in opposition in 2016 he said’ THEY ARE BORROWING MONEY TO MAKE ROADS THAT LEAD TO EVERY WHERE, EVEN COMPOUNDS. I CAN ONLY BORROW MONEY TO MAKE ROADS THAT LEAD TO INDUSTRY BECAUSE INDUSTRY ADD VALUE TO THE GROWTH OF THIS COUNTRY’ The Engineer echoes the same sentiments here. But let me school you, roads, especially tarred roads act as a multiplier both emotional, physically, economically and you can name all. Once you begin to make tarred roads in YOUR SO CALLED COMPOUNDS, you begin to change the life styles of the young people in these…

  17. QUOTE ‘ In conclusion Sir, I must mention that though the challenges at your Ministry are many and may seem insurmountable, their solutions lie within the minds of the many Zambians within this country. I should state here that you stand advantaged in that you are surrounded with staff that is mostly well educated, and the last I checked are some of the best engineers we have in this country. Hon. Minister Sir, colleagues at the RDA, Ministry of Infrastructure, the NRFA, NCC and indeed Ministry of Local government are some of the best and well-trained individuals I have known in my professional life..END OF QUOTE. THANK YOU. THERE ARE SOME BRAINLESS PEOPLE CALLING FOR THE REMOVAL OF EVERY PERSON THAT WORKED IN THE PREVIOUS GOVT, YET YOU CALL FOR THEIR PROTECTION. THIS IS HOW A NORMAL…

  18. Misplaced priorities. HE HH said only build roads that leads to Factories & industries first that way the Roads will pay for themselves. The first Priority the Mr of Infrastructure should focus on is by building Factories across the country that actually bring in money, that way Roads will be able to pay for themselves & any surplus can be directed to consumption spending of building Roads to nowhere. Minister your first priority should be to build FACTORIES 1ST and any unfinished projects later. Why borrow money and build something that doesn’t generate income. Factories will generate income even for these other projects and most importantly create the much needed jobs for our Youths.

  19. This Eng guy seems to be a cadre who just wants to see consumption projects completed which where left by his relatives in PF at inflated prices. Minister don’t listen to him, Sir BUILD FACTORIES FIRST & ROADS LEADING TO THEM FIRST. CONSUMPTION ROADS & PROJECTS LATER

  20. It’s like you get a loan from Zanaco & you buy a suit and a Porsche car, yes you need them, but first buy something like a tractor that you’ll use for farming & employ Youths then the money you generate you will be able to buy a suit & a Porsche car for your consumption. Common sense. PF where just building Roads just to dinda, it’s like borrowing money to just buy a suit pathetic.

  21. @20. And who comes to ran the same factories in the future? The generation from the so called compounds with a low set mindset because their backgrounds or upbringing where not taken care of. The result? Low performance for these same industries. This is why they also need to be taken care of from a young age. Do you expect a child from misisi compound ,shangombo or Mapanza to come and ran the industry correctly after growing up in such squalid areas? Your guess is as good as mine. But if they live in good areas they begin to look at life differently and will positively contribute to the growth of this nation. Lets not be selfish and forget that this country belongs to the future generations.

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