Salini Impregilo, the Italian company constructing the multi-billion dollar Neckartal Dam in the south, is demanding an extra N$600 million from government as compensation for what it deems as government-caused delays to the project schedule.
It is also accusing government of failing to fulfil certain contractual obligations, which are pertinent to the project’s timely execution. Government has confirmed that it has received the strange demand for payment from Salini Impregilo and the government attorneys are handling the matter.
Salini Impregilo’s contract manager at Keetmanshoop, Malcolm Manford, yesterday pleaded sheer ignorance on the matter when approached for comment. “What you are talking about has no foundation or truth in it,” said Manford.
However, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Joseph Iita, confirmed Salini Impregilo’s demand of N$600 million but declined to divulge further details to the media “before it is dealt with by government”.
“I am aware of it. As you know our legal system is slow. We asked for legal opinion before we respond to the company, in addition to approaching the Tender Board,” said Iita, adding: “I am only willing to talk about it once it has been formally brought to us and discussed by our attorneys and the Tender Board.”
Nevertheless, New Era has obtained information that Salini Impregilo is behind schedule with the construction of the N$2.9 billion Neckartal Dam, and it has not yet completed a third of its scheduled work in the first year of construction.
In what is seen as an attempted clever manoeuvre to avoid paying penalties for late work, the Italian company is said to be using the 2013 High Court case challenges to the awarding of the tender as the reason for the delay in its work schedule. Salini Impregilo was awarded the tender in 2013 but the commencement of construction was not altered when the challenges were lodged in court. Salini Impregilo is said to be averring that since the court case challenges were against government, it is government who must pay delay penalties.
Interestingly Salini-Impregilo’s project manager Gatti Stefano was last year quoted by the media as saying that the project experienced water challenges that could impact negatively on the construction of the dam. “Water is our biggest challenge. There is no underground water. We have drilled four boreholes about 150 metres deep, but we did not get water,” Stefano was quoted then.
Salini-Impregilo has been embroiled in a number of controversies since the commencement of construction, with allegations of unfair and discriminatory labour practices towards Namibian workers, and employing foreign workers without relevant work papers, which prompted an unscheduled visit from immigration and customs officials to the worksite in August last year.
In June last year Salini-Impregilo admitted to spending millions of dollars on accommodation for its foreign workers in a span of five months, while local workers lived in poor conditions. The Neckartal Dam site is located 70 km west of Keetmanshoop in the Fish River Canyon.
Under construction with roller-compacted concrete and to stand around 80m high, the Neckartal Dam will harness water from the Fish River to produce energy and create a reservoir capable of holding 857 million cubic metres of water, which will be used to irrigate 5 000 hectares of land for the agricultural development of the area. Under phase one, the total water demand is expected to be less than 1 million cubic metres and the Fish River is the planned primary source of water. Salini-Impregilo S.p.A. is an Italy-based construction and civil engineering company headquartered in Milan, Italy. The multinational firm is involved in the construction of dams, hydroelectric power plants, railways, subterranean projects, undergrounds, bridges, viaducts, highways, roads, ports, airports and prestigious residential and office complexes.
By Mathias Haufiku New Era