Santa arrives early in construction industry

It was indeed welcome news to be informed this week, the Ministry of Finance has started allocating funding tranches to various key ministries so that contractors can be paid before Christmas.

Exactly where the finance ministry raised these funds is not clear since there is no trace of it in the daily bond transactions published by the Namibian Stock Exchange, but I assume it is one of the so-called private placements by the Bank of Namibia. However, I may be wrong. It could just as well be a transfer from the Southern African Customs Union, but until the information is made public, no one outside the immediate circle of these quasi capital market transactions, will know.

For the time being, the source of funding is irrelevant. All the focus is on the positive fact that the finance ministry managed to secure substantial funding somewhere and by putting this money into the appropriate channels where very large sums are overdue, has brought tremendous relief in an industry facing calamity.

Colourful anecdotes were shared with me by several elated contractors but the most inspiring snippet came from a relatively small contractor who contemplated shutting down. “Now I can continue with the project, I do not need to lay off any person, and all the employees can even get full bonuses for Christmas,” he said, very obviously relieved that a year heading for disaster, turned out for the better in the very short time of just one week.

From another source, this time a really big contractor, I learned that very substantial payments have been made by the Ministry of Works and Transport to a host of contractors. And to assist contractors with their financing, the ministry even helped the contractors with letters of credit, to submit to their banks for bridging finance until the next round of big payments to the industry.

This relief in one particular industry is most welcome. I believe at this stage, it is an obsolete exercise to try and finger the government for the current economic malaise. That we can do next year after receiving the new budget. For the time being, it is fantastic to be informed about the dramatic change in the fortunes of so many companies, and what joy this brings, not only to the immediate employees, but to their immediate families, to their extended families, and to their communities.

In another weird twist of events, I learned that Namwater’s plan to install a floating pump at Von Bach produced some of its own hilarious moments, even if it delayed the process by a few days.

In September, Namwater conceived the brilliant idea to tap the last 18% of water left in Von Bach. The outlet has been designed in such a way that it acts as a natural datum to prevent extraction of this last bit of water. The reason, the experts will tell you, is that through decades of reservoir development, it has been found that once the water behind a dam approaches the 18% mark, the remaining water is so contaminated and silted, that it is more expensive to purify than to find water from another source. However, this is Namibia and that other source may be hundreds of kilometres away or even non-existent. Whatever water we have, we have to use when the chips are down, like now.

So Namwater asked around in October, getting designs and cost estimates for installing an emergency pump on a floating platform next to Von Bach’s main extraction point. The one end of a flexible pipe is submerged in the water and the other end fits into the outlet, sort of like raising the water to the datum level of the extraction point. The target date was set for 07 November and the champagne was put on the ice, to celebrate that evening when Namwater upped its supply to the City of Windhoek.

Unfortunately, reality turned out to be a bit more complex and the 07 November target date was not met. In fact, the project has not shown any tangible water results up to now. Nampower first had to install a temporary substation since the pump is a fairly substantial piece of equipment and needs lots of electricity to run 24/7. This in itself created a logistical and procurement problem, but it was solved eventually.

Then Namwater realised the project will be more expensive than estimated, and tried all sorts of tricks to reduce the costs. One was to forego on site safety. But Providence had different plans, and two weeks ago, a boat with a team of workmen on it, capsized, necessitating a rescue operation and a disruption of the work.

Needless to say, any attempt to get Namwater to tell us the story from their point of view failed. All I could confirm is that the project has not been completed, and Von Bach is still the jealous protector of its last 18%.

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