It’s critical to set our terms

In infrastructural projects carried out by Chinese firms, employment is created for the Chinese at the expense of Zimbabweans

In infrastructural projects carried out by Chinese firms, employment is created for the Chinese at the expense of Zimbabweans

Lloyd Gumbo Mr Speaker Sir

It does not help the country to have so many infrastructural projects that are exclusively carried out by foreign companies with no local component at all.

China has stood with Zimbabwe through thick and thin to the extent of risking its own bilateral relations with countries that were against the latter as together with Russia they vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution seeking sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2008.

Mr Speaker Sir, it has been said on several occasions that Harare and Beijing are all-weather friends and this is evidenced by China’ support to Zimbabwe when it faced Western onslaught.

Over the years, China has availed about 20-year loans to Zimbabwe at concessionary rates of about two percent per annum, a development that further cemented relations between the two countries, considering that no other financial institution is ready to disburse such cheap money.

Critics of Brettonwood institutions cite political interference and conditional aid from countries that contribute a lot to the institutions as one of the financial institutions’ greatest undoing.

Yet not with China, because that country’s foreign policy has been that of quiet diplomacy and non-interference on internal political processes, the loans have come through with no conditions as compared to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund terms.

The Asian giant with the fastest growing economy has been hailed as a permanent friend of the African continent.

Over the last few years, China has invested billions of United States dollars’ worth of projects throughout the continent from power, transportation and other infrastructural projects with President Xi Jinping last month pledging a further $60 billion towards developmental projects for the next three years.

But as for Zimbabwe, Mr Speaker Sir, the devil is in the detail where there are also conditions attached to the loans that the country gets for infrastructural projects.

For instance, for the majority of mega projects that are signed between Harare and Beijing, there is an implementation framework called Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC), which means all these three activities are carried out by Chinese firms, a development that fulfils the idiom; “he who pays the piper, dictates the tune”.

But the issue is not really about Chinese firms doing everything, but it is about them not trusting us with their money.

They have their own fears, whether real or imagined because they think we may divert the money to other duties, possibly recurrent expenditure, hence their insistence on EPC.

What this means is that everything from engineering, procurement of equipment and labour is imported from China at the expense of Zimbabweans.

Mr Speaker Sir, at the end of the day, nothing comes from Zimbabwe except the site of the construction project.

However, that is not the formula that Zimbabwe needs at the moment because it desperately needs capital injection into the economy at large through purchasing locally available machinery or equipment for any such mega projects.

What is happening under the current system is that the winning bidders, particularly Chinese firms will buy the majority of the equipment from China and ship them here at the expense of local companies that can produce the same type of equipment, probably at a cheaper price.

It means local companies or suppliers will continue to struggle regardless of infrastructural projects on the ground.

This also means employment will be created in China at the expense of locals.

What needs to be done is to ensure that at least local companies are enlisted in the supply of equipment that is readily available in Zimbabwe.

China should treat us in the same manner they treat other countries such as Venezuela, where they have availed billions of dollars to resuscitate its economy.

They do not necessarily have to give us cash but Government should insist that a certain percentage of all the equipment must be bought from local suppliers instead of importing everything including wheelbarrows and shovels.

Yes, the winning bidder may still be in charge of procurement but must be obligated to ensure that some of the significant equipment is bought locally because we have engineers in Zimbabwe who are able to manufacture some of the equipment that is needed.

Mr Speaker Sir, indigenisation should not end with having 51 percent stake in a foreign-owned company but must go to procurement as well so that local companies can remain afloat.

Under this framework, it means there will be a cash injection into the economy, which would enable downstream industry to feel the investment.

This will also create employment for the majority of Zimbabweans who are qualified but are unemployed at the moment.

While some people may want to believe in the idiom that “beggars can’t be choosers”, this has no place in international trade where competition calls the shots.

What we should accept is that besides our economic, social and political challenges, Zimbabwe still remains a geopolitical prize worth competing for.

Zimbabwe should be able to set its terms even if it does not have money for the good of the country and preservation of its sovereignty.

It does not help the country to have so many infrastructural projects that are exclusively carried out by foreign companies with no local component at all.

Mr Speaker Sir, Government must endeavour to ensure local companies have a role to play in any infrastructural project that is done here.

This also makes it easy for the Government to have a point of reference whenever it is realised that the contractor has done a shoddy job.

When a project is carried out by a foreigner with no locals, there are less chances of accountability on their part, as such they will just rush to complete the job without taking into account quality of the job.

Besides, it is a given that Government must be responsible for infrastructural projects as a way of creating employment for its people.

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