Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chinese Aid and Luanda General Hospital in Angola: Still Falling Down?

Angolan Cartoon: Crumbling Hospital
Last year we learned that Luanda General Hospital, built by Chinese company COVEC under China's aid program (not under China's multi-billion dollar line of oil-backed credit) had developed severe cracks and was closed, with patients living in tents on the grounds. A critical op-ed on Chinese engagement in Angola published recently in al-Jazeera by Angolan human rights activist and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, led with this story, arguing that many Chinese projects in Angola had problems with quality.

It is not surprising that some of the hundreds of projects constructed between 2004 and the present under what has now become a $10 billion infrastructure program have problems. As Marques de Morais notes, Angola has weak monitoring and enforcement capacities and a lot of corruption: "After all, Brazilian and Portuguese construction companies have expertly exploited this environment for decades, leading Angolans to create a specific lexicon for the resulting public works: disposable roads, Styrofoam bridges, facade works, etc." China also has a lot of corruption in infrastructure at home, and infrastructure is known worldwide as a sector rife with corruption.

As we know, a Hong Kong based company, China International Fund, is also involved in infrastructure in Angola, although the Chinese government has officially distanced itself from CIF, telling Marques de Morais: “CIF is a company that has no construction record or credentials.” I wouldn't be surprised to find problems with infrastructure built under CIF.

But I was surprised about the hospital. As I noted in The Dragon's Gift, the Chinese have a long-term sense of responsibility for projects financed under their aid program (but not export credits) because aid is an important tool of diplomacy. Because of this, the quality of projects financed under the official aid program is usually very good, and these projects often seem to have life-time guarantees. I looked into what happened in the case of Angola's Luanda General Hospital. Here's what I found.

The decision to build the 100-bed $8 million Luanda General Hospital was made in 2002, and after tenders in China, COVEC won the bid and constructed the building between July 2004 and February 2006, " using 90 percent local labor."  On his visit to Angola in 2006, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited the hospital to officially open it. In June 2010 serious cracks developed in the walls. The patients were evacuated, the hospital was closed, and the Chinese government dispatched a team to investigate.

Their conclusion was that the problem was (the Chinese official claimed) partly Chinese and partly Angolan. According to the contract, apparently, the Angolans were supposed to provide geological survey data for the location, but this data was not accurate, and therefore the design by the Chinese architects was flawed. (Seems to me that given weak state capacity in Angola, this basic task should not have been left up to the Angolans.)

A Chinese official told me: "After several rounds of discussion both sides have reached consensus on how to address the problems. The Chinese side will build some temporary wards and sewage systems for patients to ensure the operation of the hospital. Then the maintenance work and expansion of the hospital will begin." The Chinese government will finance the new construction.

Will COVEC be given the job, or will another Chinese company do the work? That's not clear, but what is clear is that one messed-up hospital project has cast a particularly large shadow over hundreds of other less visible Chinese construction projects in Angola that do not seem -- so far -- to have had such dramatic flaws. Yet what is also clear is that the environment for construction in Angola, as Brazilian and Portuguese companies have found, tends to produce infrastructure with lives that are "nasty, brutish, and short". Perhaps it's time for a new international NGO to focus on monitoring transparency and accountability in public infrastructure projects. "Engineers (and Architects) without Borders"?

20 comments:

  1. Done:

    http://www.ewb-uk.org/

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  2. Wow, ask and ye shall receive. Thanks Tom: I had no idea there really was an Engineers Without Borders ... seems they mainly (and quite rightly) respond to disasters.

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  3. Anyway, if China agreed to build the Loanda General Hospital, it ought to bear the responsibility for the quality, safety and reliability of the facility. To put the blame on the Angolan workers for the cracks that appeared on the walls of the hospital is unacceptable.

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  4. I think the Chinese government is accepting responsibility. Who knows what else went on: substandard concrete? inadequately reinforced girders? Using an independent third party engineering company to monitor and check construction is always a good idea. Seems not to have been done in this case.

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  5. Thank you Deborah for your kind reply. It should be stressed that China's involvement in facility constructions in Africa or anywhere else in the world is not something quite new. So it should not behave like an ignorant newcomer. Or else, it should bear full responsibility for the doubts arising from the bad quality of its constructions. You know that too many Chinese are wont to behave in a ''mama huhu, luanqi bazao, huntou hunnao, wuli wudu'' manner [= a thoroughly ''I couldn't-give-a-damn attitude''], provided ''they present me with some bribes!'' The result for China's reputation is desastrous! Then what is the use to tender for international biddings if once the international tender is won, they triffle away their stakes?

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  6. All the construction of Chinese projects in Africa are 'third party monitored'. every phase of the construction should have three signatures to approve for the next (the funder, the monitoring agency, and the construction manager).

    Also, if you know china well, as Prof. Brautigam noticed, all China's exports are actually better quality than the demostic goods. I honestly don't believe this problem is caused by the chinese construction company. otherwise, whoever is in charge of this project will definitely be locked up forever.

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  7. Remember that during the construction of the Three Gorges Dam (I have forgotten whether it was the Gezhouba Dam), there were also serious concerns caused by cracks that appeared on the walls. I thought they were caused by too quick or hasty drying processes of the concrete, to break world records, at the expense of security, safety and reliability. It might be the same hastiness that caused the cracks in the Loanda General Hospital, especially when taking into consideration the very high temperatures in the Angolan capital in summer time.

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  8. A reply to Fan Shaoye Xiansheng : If three signatures prove unsufficient, then please add one or two more!!!

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  9. COVEC should be barred from the list of potential winners of the bid. Once they have proved their incompetence, it's amply sufficient to sentence them to hell.

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  10. The cause of cracks in a dam quite different from that in a building. One is usually caused by the high temperature in large volume of concrete pouring, the other mostly by foundation.

    wei

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  11. I fully agree with Wei's comments regarding the risks of cracks when the volumes of concrete involved are big, the ambient temperatures high and the evaporation process quick. There may be other factors among the parameters to be taken into account to avoid these cracks. But these are problems that ought to have been dealt with by the engineers, if there were any on the building site. As to the foundation, one of the worst conditions may be the inadequate pounding of the ground prior to the laying of the foundations. Anyway, cracks are cracks and must be properly dealt with to avoid them.

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  12. Apr 20th Economist published an article referring to this project and found another shoddy work by Chinese companies:

    "A hospital in Luanda, the capital of Angola, was opened with great fanfare but cracks appeared in the walls within a few months and it soon closed. The Chinese-built road from Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, to Chirundu, 130km (81 miles) to the south-east, was quickly swept away by rains.“

    http://www.economist.com/node/18586448

    It would be helpful to have more information on these two projects.

    wei

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  13. The poor construction of this hospital is representative of the kind of corruption that is as common inside China as in Africa. This kind of corruption, currently endemic, should gradually decline as China itself develops. Poor construction was common to South Korea up until about 15 years ago.

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  14. @kurt9,

    If the geological survey data is flawed, even there is no corruption in the project, the building is still bound to be cracked. It's about science, not politics.

    wei

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  15. "All the construction of Chinese projects in Africa are 'third party monitored'." - absolute tosh and nonsense.

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  16. It is not uncommon in Angola to find Chinese construction projects that are being build without...a project. I took heard the Chinese commenting here that the reason the buidling collapsed was the shoddy workmanship of the angolan workers they had to use. The reality is that the quality and safety standards of the Chinese are not comparable with those of the West, and apparently their capacity to supervise the work of the angolans is also less than that of the Portuguese construction companies. The latter probably work with an even larger percentage of angolan labour but are capable of erecting buildings that I am confident will remain standing for many decades to come.
    As regards the "third party monitoring": most often this is merely an oportunity for someone big to make some more money on a construction job he is involved in anyway. I have yet to encounter a real proper audit of a project that actually points out the usual deficiencies.
    As regards involving 'Engineers without borders' in Angolan building projects: good luck; they probably wouldn't even get a visa..

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  17. Mein Bruder war als Projektleiter bei dr Fa. Gauff aus Nürnberg in Angola.Am 18 April 2010 wurde er von Auftragsmördern der chin. ausführenden Baufiram Crsc(staatl. chin. Baufirma)mittels Messerstich in Achselvene getötet.Er wurde in einer Blutlache aufgefunden. Er wollte die Mängel an der Strasse welche die Chinesen verursachten nicht für Geld "übersehen".
    Gauff und die Chinesen gehen über Leichen.Und wenn alle Rohstoffe aus Angola rausgeholt sind..Na dann werden etliche Opfer der Korruption der Preis sein.Kontakt: na-west.pi@gmx.de....http://club-k.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5014:engenheiro-alemao-assassinado-em-mbanza-congo&catid=2:sociedade&Itemid=612

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  18. "apparently, the Angolans were supposed to provide geological survey data for the location, but this data was not accurate, and therefore the design by the Chinese architects was flawed"

    I guess the author meant to talk about geotechnical investigation. Now it is the job of a structural engineer, not an architect to make sure that the building is safe.

    That is the problem, on top of corruption, we in Angola do not know who should do what in a construction project.
    This kind of project requires as a minimum:
    Geotechnical engineer, architect, structural engineer, civil engineer, MEP engineer + The contractor(s) and the special inspectors for critical parts of the job.

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  19. Hospital infrastructures need to meet safety standards. This is a priority that needs to be implemented.

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  20. It's good that Ms Brautigam gives a more clearer picture as to what is really going on. So much have been mas People have made the hospital out to be the example of all the building projects in Angola. Over a thousand buildings have been built and this is the only negative example you can give us. Media sensationalizes it on one side and the other side acts as if everything is perfect. The truth is always somewhere in between the two. And in this case you have it more closer to the media is just sensationalizing it. Now the oposition party (UNITA) has an agenda to exaggerate everything that is wrong, which they conviently did. Now UNITA may have a few ligitamate gripes but they have the tendency to way over exaggerate and the media which has a negative opinion of Africa anyway picks up on that gripe as the 100% gospel truth. But there is no way I'm saying the Chinese construction companies are perfect angels but in Luanda, Angola it was clearly way overly exaggerated. Out of a thousand buildings you can only give one negative example should tell you something.

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