For a long time now Zambian contractors have complained of being sidelined from major contracts on account of their inability to raise requisite bonds, equipment and human capital that is often required for major projects such as roads, dams and institutional buildings.
It is true that most Zambians are in the lower categories of registered contractors because they lack experience and do not have appropriate equipment.
But not all Zambians suffer from this malaise. Others have managed to develop in collaboration with foreign partnerships.
Unfortunately, however, the characterization of Zambian contractors as being negligent will persist for as long as the few who abandon projects after receiving down payments, and those who undertake shortcuts by using inferior products, continue to win contracts and in the process besmirch the reputation of other indigenous contractors.
There is no denying that many projects by Zambians are poorly executed not so much as a result of capital difficulties but mainly because most contractors, like many Zambian professionals, lack the discipline and inclination to dedicate time and effort to ensuring that whatever they produce is of the richest and highest possible level of performance.
More often than not mediocrity and in some cases downright theft have become synonymous with local contractors who most often complain that those awarding contracts have become very greedy demanding an ever growing percentage of proceeds from the contracts. As a result they are unable to perform and fulfill contractual obligations.
This raises both the moral, ethical and contractual commitment of both those who award contracts and the contractors.
The proliferation of backhanders has come to blight most contracts especially those in Government and the public sector.
There is no denying that private individuals can construct houses at a fraction of the cost charged to the Government. In fact there is a common belief that a cartel in price fixing is ever present and operative in Government tenders. This is achieved by a manipulation of the bills of quantities which often belie a regular costing.
Without integrity and commitment to duty it is unlikely that Government as an institution will overcome the issue of over-pricing, meaning that the small contractor is even more disadvantaged when big contractors connive to manipulate prices in an environment where the lowest price is not always an advantage.
This means that the low prices offered by Zambian contractors combined with the record of poor performance will always put indigenous entrepreneurs at a disadvantage and in many respects making them totally irrelevant unless they are roped in as sub-contractors to larger, usually foreign contractors.
This situation cannot be allowed to continue.
The problem must be tackled from both the supply and demand areas. Zambians must be encouraged to venture into large scale contracts and funding must be provided to attain this goal. At the same time special supervision measures must be put in place to ensure quality performance and timeliness.
Unless these two aspects are dealt with Zambians will continue to play second fiddle in their own country.