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Working lives - Honest brokers

Across Africa engineers must offer appropriate design while remaining free of corruption. After a decade, Paul Karekezi's leadership of Gibb Africa is bearing fruit.

Gibb Africa's fi rm stance against corruption has at times hurt the company financially. But managing director Paul Karekezi says that the continent's construction industry is gradually cleaning up its act - and that work load is picking up.

Karekezi became MD of Kenya-based Gibb Africa 10 years ago. It had established itself as an important and principled player in development-led engineering, winning the Worldaware Award for long term commitment shortly after his appointment to the post.

Maintaining the integrity of Gibb Africa in an environment where corruption is commonplace has remained a high priority.

Karekezi joined the firm straight after graduating from Nairobi University in 1978.

He became an ICE chartered member in 1987, and last month he assumed the mantle of ICE's Africa representative.

His, and Gibb Africa's, vocal opposition to corruption has earned the respect of nongovernmental organisations, but 'until a year or two ago you couldn't win any public sector work in Kenya without paying [backhanders]', he says. This led to many lean years for Gibb.

'In the past 10 years we only won projects on very low profit margins, otherwise we wouldn't have stood a chance.' But the firm's steadfast line and reserves of patience are bearing fruit in its home market. Government clients are becoming more accountable and are starting to prioritise the quality of consultancy work, not just its price.

'Things are changing. Now we put in a reasonable price, are marked fairly and win jobs, ' he adds.

Elsewhere in Africa, he fears the pace of change is much slower. But on the positive side, Karekezi has not come across corruption in Ethiopia or Eritrea. 'If I lose [a tender] in those countries, I lose fairly.' Karekezi works closely with the World Bank, but says he is often disappointed with its capacity to investigate corruption and has come across a number of corrupt bank officials.

'When I speak to country directors in the World Bank, I'm not always sure they're happy with what we do, because we blow the whistle.' He believes there are still some World Bank officials who make sure that Gibb Africa is kept off shortlists because it will not pay to win projects. He is confident, however, that the situation is improving.

The Gibb Africa office was established in 1948 and works mostly on public sector water supply and roads contracts.

Jacobs took over half the company in 1995, but sold its stake back to Gibb Africa last year. It is now a wholly independent company.

Corporate ocial responsibility is ingrained in the way it works. On the Kenya Roads 2000 construction project, which started last month and will continue for four years, Gibb uses labourintensive construction and local materials, and trains local labourers to maintain the roads.

'We get the district stakeholders together and prioritise which roads they need. So it's very much driven by local people. The projects are not so profitable, but are very gratifying, ' he says.

On the Kisumu Road Northern Corridor Transport Improvement project in western Kenya, hard standing areas will be integrated into the project to encourage local produce markets to set up.

Labourers will also be educated about HIV/AIDS.

'We've found that there's a high prevalence of HIV in the campsites where labourers live. It's because men without their wives attract prostitutes.

'Our tender documents require the contractor to educate labourers and nearby people about HIV - they are paid to do this.'

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