I wish to commend Minister of Infrastructure, Mr David Patterson, for focusing on improving the construction contract award process, including the quality of work delivered by contractors. I believe the Minister’s comments should trigger a debate in the engineering community since we now have a Minister with a technical background who seems very enthusiastic in embracing a drastic reform of the system and who, I am sure, is very willing to have inputs from a wide cross section of sources. To this end I wish to make the following initial comments:
- Improvement of the project delivery process must address issues from conception to completion not just construction. A project that is poorly conceived and badly designed cannot deliver a quality product.
- Any reform must review how scope and cost are balanced and how this impacts on the cost benefit of the final products.
- The Ministry should introduce an evaluation system that monitors contractors’ performance on a monthly basis during the life-cycle of the construction phase. Issues such as safety, adherence to the schedule, quality of work, cooperation with the supervision team, competence of technical personnel and timely submission of documents necessary for the smooth management of the project must be evaluated. The final evaluation must draw from the monthly reports unless something drastic happens in the last few months.
- Strict criteria should be established for bonding agencies with the main criterion being having the financial capacity to pay the bond or complete the work. However, a bonding agent will resist honouring the bond if it is perceived that the contractor was not allowed due process under the contract or if the government calls in the bond when the contractor is not in default.
- The prequalification of contractors need not focus on the technical competence of the owners but rather on the experience and qualification of the staff. The ministry must establish detailed and transparent prequalification criteria. Once a contractor is prequalified and not subsequently disqualified the contractor should not be objected to by a political person or anyone for that matter, on award of a contract by the Tender Board. In 1993 I was a member of the Tender Board for the Guyana Airways Corporation when the chief executive objected to the recommendation of the evaluation committee on the grounds that he did not know the reputable contractor.
- Time overruns and cost overruns are not necessarily the fault of the contractor. A cost overrun may result from poor work by the design consultant, the unwillingness of the government to invest in adequate site investigation or differentiating site conditions. It is difficult to see how a contractor could be responsible for cost overruns when under the contract the contractor is only paid for approved work properly done. Time overrun on the other hand could be the contractor’s fault, but not always. Delays in the project could be excusable and even excusable and compensable. Therefore, cost and time overruns do not necessarily means that a contractor is delinquent.
- Focus should also be placed on design consultants and supervising consultants. Review of failed projects will reveal that in some cases the failures are due to poor design and inadequate supervision. These companies also need to be evaluated at the end of the project.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is affirmative action for small business enterprises (SBEs). In other jurisdictions the government stipulates that a certain percentage of a contract must be subcontracted to approved SBEs. Even the composition of the workforce must meet certain stipulated criteria. These measures will allow SBEs to build track records that may allow them to eventually compete directly in the tender process plus enable the development of skill sets in all sections of the society.