If we fail to practise good engineering we will continue to shoot ourselves in the foot

Dear Editor,

Derogatory articles were published in the Kaieteur News regarding shoddy work by Chinese contractors in Africa. If my memory serves me correctly one addressed a bridge in Kenya that partially collapsed, and a second highlighted a hospital in Angola that had to be evacuated because of structural defects. They also discussed an airport in Sri Lanka that generated so little traffic that it is now a financial burden on that nation.  These were not the only subjects addressed.

The newspaper unjustly heaped all the blame on the contractors.  If the contractor was responsible for the design, as well as construction inspection and quality control then he is fully responsible for post construction problems. I think this would apply to the Moco Moco hydro project in the Rupununi. If, however, there was an independent entity keeping an eye on quality control then blame must be shared with that entity. (The Marriott Hotel had an entity on board to ensure quality control.) Normally, the entity reviews the design. If the design had serious flaws that were overlooked in the review and the contractor built to this flawed design, used approved materials and observed good building practices, he still must share the blame for post-construction problems because a competent contractor is expected to be able to spot serious flaws and bring them to the attention of both the entity as well as the client.

Regarding the under-utilized  Sri Lankan airport I really don’t agree that the Chinese were at fault. If the client believed an airport, cricket stadium, sea port, roads and other infrastructure works (all named after the then Prime Minister) would develop a forest area into a pot gold then the client is to blame.

On the local scene there are many examples (particularly highways, roads and streets) that fall apart long before they have reached their designated life. A prime example of a road gone wrong is the Parfait Harmonie Highway in West Demerara which was opened on Sept 6th, 2014.Within two years of being built it developed over a hundred potholes. These potholes (subsequently patched) were pointed out to dozens of Ministry of Public Infrastructure engineers during a site visit I organized in February of this year. Was it a faulty design? Was it incompetent inspectors or a lack of inspection? Was it sloppy construction using substandard materials?

Two examples of buildings gone wrong are the Kato School and the building at 44 High Street, the former site of the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation.

In the case of the Kato School, there was no fault with the design; however because of questionable inspection and a lack of adequate quality control, the contractor took the opportunity to cut corners, and in no time post-construction defects appeared. High level inspections followed, experts consulted and in the end the contractor agreed to correct all identified defects.

Apart from employing competent contractors, specifications must be available that address all aspects of the project, and there must be constant construction inspection and rigid quality control.  Clearly this was lacking at the Kato School, the Parfait Harmonie Highway, and regrettably, many past and present government projects.

A new Mental Health Institute is under construction at 252 Quamina St, which is across the street from where I live. Since July, I have checked construction and photographed substandard work. I have sent e-mails and attached the photographs to every level of authority at the ministry. This ranged from the Ministry of Public Health’s engineers to the Minister herself.

Inspection is just about nonexistent, and the contractor is free to do whatever he likes. Obvious deficiencies in relation to the consistency of the concrete, concrete curing, a lack of testing, etc, were photographed from my front window.

Critical items like bar size, quality and placement of steel reinforcement, quality of concrete blocks, strength of concrete, etc, should be verified to make sure they are in accordance with the plans and specifications. This requires site inspection and testing which as I mentioned is almost totally lacking.

In the absence of good designs, project specifications, skilled inspection and quality control, there will be more roads that prematurely fail, revetments that collapse within months of being constructed, buildings that lean and settle, and walls that crack.

So we don’t need to discredit Chinese contractors and imply they will give us a six for a nine. As long as we fail to practise good engineering we will continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.


Yours faithfully,

Edward Gonsalves

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