Zim Firms Hope to Benefit From U.S Embassy Project (allAfrica.com)

ZIMBABWE’S construction and building materials suppliers are hoping to benefit from a US$200 million project to construct the USA’s new high security embassy complex in Harare.

Although the tender for the project was awarded to an American firm, Zimbabwean companies are still expected to benefit from sub-contracts and supply jobs.

Last week out-going US ambassador to Zimbabwe, Bruce Wharton, led a groundbreaking ceremony for the project.

The tender to design and build the complex was awarded to a US firm, BL Harbert International.

Due to security reasons, American government rules make local contractors ineligible to be prime contractors for high-security projects, but it is still possible that local contractors and suppliers could still be engaged as sub-contractors provided they meet the required standards.

In a statement posted on its website on July 16, Mike Veal, senior vice president of BL Harbert’s International Group, said: “BL Harbert International is pleased to have been awarded the contract for the new US embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe, and our organisation looks forward to working again with the US Department of State to design and construct another important diplomatic facility.”

The firm said the US$199,2 million project involved providing design-build services for an office building and associated support facilities on a 16,5-acre site in Harare’s Bluffhill area.

“The design architect is AECOM of Washington, DC, PAGE of Washington, DC will be the architect of record. Construction is scheduled to commence in summer of 2015 and is slated for completion in 2018,” the Alabama-based firm said.

BL Harbert International, LLC is a privately-owned construction company with US and International operations.

“BL Harbert is currently building across the US and in 15 countries around the world. The company is nationally ranked 78th in the US according to Engineering News-Record, based on 2014 annual revenues of US$813,5 million.”

To put the value of the project into perspective, in monetary terms, the new American embassy complex will cost more than seven folds the estimated US$27 million it took to build Harare’s iconic Joina City complex.

“Although it would have been good had we been given a chance to prove our mettle on this state-of-the-art international project, we are still hopeful that the main contractor will consider our services on this massive project which would give a much-needed boost to the local industry,” an official with a Zimbabwean construction company told The Financial Gazette’s Companies & Markets last week.

US embassy spokesperson, Sizani Weza, said the decision on engaging of local contractors and suppliers lied with the main contractor, who would decide whether available local resources met or exceeded performance requirements, standards, codes and specifications.

During the ground-breaking ceremony, Wharton indicated that Arup Zimbabwe, a local firm of planners, designers and environmental specialists which offers a range of profession and technical services, had been involved on the project.

BL Harbert is winding up operations in Swaziland where it has just completed the construction of another US embassy complex in Ezulwini, which it started in 2013, at a cost of US$109 million.

When Swazi contractors demanded to know why they had not been granted the project, Molly Sanchez Crowe, Public Affairs Officer of the US Embassy to Swaziland explained: “Because of security requirements, only US contractors with security clearance are eligible to serve as the prime contractor for this project.

“The tender was awarded to the contractor who provided the US Government with the overall best value to the project.

“The successful contractor offered the right mix of construction expertise, design capability and security clearance.”

Weza said the same was true for the Harare embassy project.

For the past decade and a half, Zimbabwe’s construction industry has been in the doldrums due to the country’s protracted economic crisis. At its peak in the mid 1990s, the industry used to employ more than 35 000 people the figure plummeted to a mere 3000 in 2009 and continues dwindling.

When the British government decided to construct its new Harare embassy complex in Mount Pleasant, the multi-million pound tender was awarded to Mace International Limited, which in turn sub-contracted, Murray & Roberts Zimbabwe (now Masimba Holdings).

The local contractor pocketed US$21 million.

When China, said to be Zimbabwe’s all-weather friend, decided to build a new multi-million dollar embassy complex in Mount Pleasant in 2010, the work was done by Chinese contractors and virtually all material came from China.

Local contractors complain bitterly that all projects funded by Chinese loans are exclusively reserved for Chinese contractors.