Infrastructure projects must build capacity of locals – Robert Austin

The National Coordinator with the Labour-Intensive Public Works (LIPW) under Ghana Social Opportunities Project (GSOP), Robert Austin, has highlighted government’s failings in building the capacity of Ghanaians to benefit from infrastructure projects.

Speaking on the Citi Breakfast Show, Mr. Austin said the government could kill two birds with one stone by incorporating capacity building into infrastructure development projects.

“To immediately tackle unemployment, infrastructure is the easiest route for every government and in Ghana, we will say a well-designed Labour Intensive Public Works programme is the key.”

He described programmes like LIPW as “very flexible interventions that can be used in the interim to create employment.”

Mr. Austin recalled that in 2011, in the early days of LIPW, it was noted that technical capacity was lacking in the local labour pool for construction work.

“It is a careful technical skill so we have spent huge amounts of money using the Koforidua Training Centre and I can tell you, from the contractor to the District Assembly engineer, we took each one of them through training and these are the little things that governments are not doing.”

LIPW ended up training over 300 technicians in labour intensive techniques and now, Mr. Austin said they have “a cadre of contractors who are able to carry out this work.”

Protest on Eastern Corridor road
His comments on capacity building followed concerns projects with massive funding were leaving little impact on related communities.

The concerns stemmed from protests on the Yendi-Bimbilla section of the Eastern Corridor roads where youth claiming affiliation to the New Patriotic Party (NPP) stopped construction work demanding immediate employment.

The youth seized construction equipment belonging to the contractors, Andre Quadrez Construction Company and vowed that they would not release the equipment till they were employed the company.

The Northern Regional Minister, Salifu Saeed eventually intervened and ordered the closure of the private construction company to buy him some time to enable him to convince the company to employ some of the aggrieved youth.

Projects should factor in capacity building
Mr. Austin highlighted an instance where locals were left on the sidelines, recounting that an organization had a contract to develop 5,000 hectares of land in the Afram Plains but they awarded the contract to a foreign firm.

“…I was asking, why when they were preparing the agreement, they didn’t say take 20 Ghanaians with you, train them and let them participate in this. That way, we leave within our system the capacity to do it the next time. Unfortunately, because of the cycle of elections, people want ready-made projects to implement so we are missing out on this major opportunity to training Ghanaians capacity to do things by ourselves.”

The LIPW programme was designed to provide beneficiaries with employment and income-generating opportunities, particularly during periods when there is a shortage of labour demand

The programme spread its net nationwide, with a special focus on the northern regions of the country; with 29 out of the 49 targeted districts are located in these zones.

According to Mr. Austin, for every investment in projects, over 50 percent of the investment ends up in the pocket of the rural poor.

The project has so far seen GHc 85 billion invested into feeder roads, dugouts and climate change interventions and this has resulted in 1.7 million person bases of employment for 160,000 beneficiaries across the country.

“For each year, when we invest something like GHc40 or 50 million, we engage between 25,000 and the 30,000 over that dry season. For me, it is a project that the government is excited about and it is a project that the new administration has asked the World Bank to do a follow up project and in September, the World Bank team will be coming into the country so that together we work on the second phase where we would extend LIPW to 120 districts instead of the 60 we are currently in.”


By: Delali Adogla-Bessa/citifmonline.com/Ghana

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