Friday, July 6, 2018

Time Over Run and Other Glitches in our Construction Industry.

It is now official that from here on, the Consultants and Contractors will too be accountable with Audit Memos. 

While it was discussed in many forums in the past, finally the genie is out of its bottle with guidelines that will be stamped on the faces of consultants and contractors from 1st of July. Had it been three more days later, it would have been ironical to the American culture. 

However, here is my opinion. While the vision that envisages to have transparent and quality works, it surely summons demons that disrupts the very foundation of private sector. While time and again, the government says and the majority agrees, private sector should be the back bone of country's economy, private sector till date has been treated as a voluptuous woman whom a man promises thousand and one thing, to bed her or is simply the children from second wife. While organizations are trying hard to encourage entrepreneurship and in the name of innovation, the winners with cleaning up garbage or someone who is just enough tech savvy and an app maker, might take all the cheques written for the winners. The question arises here, aren't these consultants and contractors entrepreneurs as well? 

Quality of work is something that I have always vouched for, but there are so many glitches in our industry that holding the consultant and the contractor is like putting blame upon the maid who worked for you with low wages but she didn't show up on a day while your guests arrived. The thing is, we do have certain draw backs in our industry. It isn't one man show, and it shouldn't be one person or an individual to be blamed. 

One can challenge the official hourly rates for equipment. One can challenge the basis upon which the time period of construction or consultancy services have been finalized. Most often, it is assumption of an official that so and so project worth of so and so amount should be completed within 18 months. On what basis? Why 18 months? Did anybody use chain rule or did anybody follow critical path method to finalize the time period? 

Consultancy services in itself is a new thing in our market, upon what basis does one finalize their time frame? I have often found that various organizations have their own intuition of interim report, design concept and final draft. Should it be reasonable to impose liquidated damages upon a consultant because the time period is over but the client hadn't finalized the concept? And who comes with the idea that estimation and construction drawings to be completed within three weeks? Perhaps, shouldn't there be precise calculation over finalizing the time period? Or shouldn't time frame itself be one of the major factors whereby a consultant is awarded few extra points for their proposal for finishing off the project at the earliest possible? 

Our industry today suffers the actual brain drain, and not some mere reporter leaving to adjacent Himalayan valley. Ours is real, because many engineers have left in the past and many will in future because they are paid better elsewhere than in our nation - albeit our own people think that their works are overrated and they are highly paid. What can one do, we are a developing nation. And are engineers highly paid? Does one know the amount of stress and calculation one needs to do in order to make a working drawing? And it isn't a new thing that many aspiring house owners always think that the rate quoted for their construction drawings is above the sky roof. While consultants anywhere would be paid maximum of 10% of the project cost, Bhutanese consultants only make 2% maximum. The contractors as well, don't make good profit because there is a lot of competition lately and many times, one only gets a job if one quotes below 20% of the estimated amount. So, how does one fill the void upon quoting 20% lesser?  

Firstly, we need to know how to retain people in our industry. Many engineers have left in the past and will leave in the future. Construction industry isn't that stable as one thinks it is. After a project, what those particular engineers land up doing is always in God's hand. The lucky ones get deployed to other jobs, but most often, one is left jobless.  

Secondly, one needs to safeguard the companies that we have in private sector. One cannot just behave rudely and in opportunistic way the moment one sees a contractor - thinking he is a contractor, he will make money, why not make him buy me a lunch or why not ask some wood or steel or rock, promising him that I will replace later and not actually replace it - because why does it matter? He is a contractor. 

Thirdly, training civil servants better. At times, when an inexperienced engineer comes at site, the project gets delayed because of wrong decisions. Wrong drawings and wrong decisions will kill a contractor. Because if one deploys wrong materials at site, who pays for them? Most often, when cases like this surfaces up, the departmental engineer is in safe area, while the loss incurred is taken by the contractor.

Fourthly making the competent authorities experience consultancy and construction works. Perhaps, before they are assigned to issue memos, one should be assigned for two projects at least, one each in consultancy and construction. One should know that when one buys 10 bags of cement for a work, it isn't ten bags that goes in, a half or one will always be wasted due to workmanship. And efficiency of workmanship and equipment too shall be assessed well. The competent authorities as well shall be taught about project management and they too should know that at times, when the time period for construction or consultancy works are awarded, one should know whether the department was reasonable with the time frame or not?

Lastly when there is acute shortage of materials, will it be calculated as well for the project delay? Like in the past, there was cement shortage and the national newspaper also covered the story. Currently, we are having shortage for sand and tmt bars, will this factor of shortage of materials be incorporated for time over run? Because, this is not in control of a contractor. And in consultant's case, even after the design concept has been finalized, at times, the client changes the design at the last moment, for which there too should be extension of time.

It isn't easy to run a consultancy and a construction firm. I will not state that issuing a memo to them is wrong. I however, would like to state that while we are already facing shortage in manpower, why taint the industry with fear like in civil service - I am not going to do this because I will get a memo?
Besides, the basis upon the memo, and the guidelines for the memo should be discussed throughly with all the stake holders, right now, most of the competent authorities who issue memos have never done construction themselves and lent out for consultancy services. So, how can someone actually audit or issue a memo for a job they have never done themselves? It's like how can a particular person be qualified to cross check a person's drawings, calculations, and experience in years, while the competent person himself is a fresh graduate from college? It simply doesn't add up to the logic. Always have and always will be a true supporter of quality works.

Note: The author a passionate construction industry worker.

Ps: Please do leave a comment below and let us know what's your opinion on the matter. 

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