Monday, 11 February 2019


During my present visit to Sri Lanka, I had the privilege of travelling to Trincomalee and from there to most parts in the Eastern province. What I saw was an amazing transformation of the major infrastructure of Sri Lanka. The Colombo Galle highway from Kottawa and other massive road developments around the vicinity of the Sri Lanka parliament are signs, that Sri Lanka is proving that it has the will and resources to attract tourism and most importantly private investment.

I was informed that many of the road development and reconstruction is funded by foreign aid. There is absolutely nothing wrong with obtaining foreign aid but at the same time the government must encourage private finance initiatives (PFI’s) from within the country. Even developed countries like the United States 
CONSTRUCTION projects world over have the reputation of ending up over budget, beyond original completion periods and in most instances of questionable quality.

In every case those responsible seem to get off scot-free.  The contractor becomes a scapegoat and the owner ends up paying “through his nose”.  Time and again it has been pointed out that owners or sponsors do not get a fair deal from the team retained by them in the pursuit of their construction and procurement objectives.

Is there any justification for such an accusation?  This article examines the issues involved in a construction project and argues that by proper management and control of the whole project, including managing the team, it is possible for the owners, sponsors or funders to achieve value for their money when embarking on construction projects.

The Issues

The main issues involved are the control of time, cost and quality.  These are of paramount importance in every project, more so in construction projects as people who invest in them, be they individuals building a house for their own occupation, speculative builder, a firm building its office or factory or even government projects. They all expect the project to start its beneficial operation in accordance with their initial plans.     

Initial plans involving cost parameters, time limits and quality standards have been set to meet the returns expected on their investment based on their feasibility studies.  It is not unreasonable for the owners to expect this from the professionals they engage.

What happens if the project is delayed for any reason?

The contractor gets extension of time and prolongation costs or loss and expense if appropriate, the consultant continues as if nothing has happened but the owner pays out whatever costs resulting from the extension and suffers loss and expense himself which are not immediately recoverable.  The Public Works Department (PWD) conditions of contract lists 11 items which entitle the contractor for extension of time.

Four of these are beyond the control of any of the parties to the contract like force majeure; exceptionally inclement weather; loss or damage by fire, lightning, explosion, storm tempest, flood, ground subsidence, bursting or overflowing of water tanks, apparatus or pipes, aircraft and other aerial devices or articles dropped there from; riot and civil commotion and consequences of trade union disputes

These four can be fairly reasonably predicted by a risk analysis and assessment and adequate contingency provisions made to deal with any of these situation should they occur.

Therefore, the owner would not be taken unawares when dealing with such eventualities.  Three others come about by the owners relationship with other third parties viz, disputes with neighbouring owners; delay in possession of site, and delay on the part of owners direct employees engaged in work not forming part of the contract.

These are the owner’s responsibility and he has to suffer the consequences should such an event take place.  Historically, such occurrences have been very rare.  In any event the owner would know of such events taking place and would have made contingency measures to deal with them himself.

One cause for extension of time is the contractor’s inability to secure essential goods or materials, for reasons beyond his control and which he could no have reasonably foreseen at the time to tender.  This is a reasonable clauses but a rare occurrence.  It is my belief that with proper planning and phasing of the site operations such a temporary “glitch” could be overcome.

One other reason is delays caused by nominated subcontractors. Historically, it has been found that contractor’s tend to depend on this most of the time for their claims for extensions of time.

However, this is only a fraction of the whole and could be controlled by taking efficient steps and management to co-ordinate the work of nominated subcontractors with those of the contractor.  Two reasons that are given for granting of extension of time need full discussion as these are those that incur the owner not only in terms of delayment but also cost.

They are:
(a)  by reason of SO’s instruction issued under clause 5; and
(b)  by reason of the contractor not having received from the SO timely information.

Among the items described in the aforementioned clause 5 is “variations” which has been defined in clause 24(b) of the PWD form of contract as “alteration or modification of the design, quality or quantity of the works as shown upon the Contract Drawings, Bills of Quantities and /or Specification, and includes the addition, omission or substitution of any work, the alteration of the kind or standard or any of the materials or goods to be used in the works and the removal from the Site of any Work, materials or goods executed or brought thereon by the contractor for the purposes of the works other than the work, materials or goods which are not in accordance with this contract.”

This appears to give the SO a carte blanche licence to cover up any of his or other consultants’ deficiencies by the issue of an instruction under Clause 43 of the standard form of contract.

This happens all the time that architects, engineers and quantity surveyors overcome deficiencies in their work by cleverly disguising these as variations under clause 5 and the owner cannot do anything about it but suffer loss and expense himself.  The owner has no recourse to any recompense from those who are at fault and has to suffer the consequences.  The owner at this point is like the person who has caught the proverbial “tiger by the tail” not having any option but to put up with it.

Why should it be so?
Every standard consultancy agreement (memorandum of agreement) I have been able to see did not have any clause safeguarding the interest of the owner.  There is nothing in such agreements accountable for any of their deficiencies which cause loss and expense to the owner.

On the contrary there is adequate safeguard for the consultants from any breach from the owner. The unreasonableness of this has been pointed out time and again but professional organisations have skilfully managed to retain the status quo by claiming professional integrity of their members in dealing with clients.

If such is the case why, may I argue that there are large numbers of variations in construction projects not attributable to those initiated by owners?  Furthermore, there is no reason why projects should go beyond completion periods if proper planning, programming and controls are administered.  At the moment the system seems to be in favour of consultants but Sir Michael Latham who was commissioned by the British Government in association with the construction industry to review procurement and contractual agreements in United Kingdom in his report agreed (4.12) that “The system must be robust enough to meet the wishes of clients, not vice versa.” It has been found world over that designers have tendency to impose their exaggerated ideas on “lay” clients and over specify thereby making the project unnecessarily costly.

Latham points out that “a well designed building need not be to a high level of specification”.  It should however be effective for the purposes for which it is intended.  The survey conducted by Latham for his review found that clients expressed concern that they do not always get what they asked for from consultants.  This view is supported by a presentation by Dr. Bernard Rimmer of Slough Estates Plc. to a conference organised by Contract Journal and CASEC in Barbican London on Dec 15 1993 (from the Latham Report).

Latham points out that such criticism may be challenged by the industry as unfair, but if clients express such concerns the construction industry should seriously take note.  Every project needs to be managed.  It is otherwise unreasonable to expect them to proceed smoothly.

How could the owners achieve value for money?

Most parts of the developing world, Malaysia included, still persist in following the systems left behind by the British.  The PWD is one of them.  The British government having found the Department of Environment (DOE which is equivalent to the PWD) ineffective in providing value for money in government construction projects have sold the department to a private firm (Tarmac). Now they have to compete with other project management organisations for work.

In Sri Lanka the PWD has been fragmented and made accountable for any cost and time over-runs. New Zealand has also corporatised their PWD.  These governments have recognised that although the PWD have highly qualified, able and efficient professionals, the system within which they operate does not provide them with flexibility for innovation and to cut through the red tape in providing an efficient service.

Therefore, governments must gibe the lead and the only way to gibe these highly qualified and able professionals the opportunity to prove their worth is to make them compete with professional firms and practices in procuring work.

Recent speeches by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mahathir Mohammed and also by his Deputy and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim appear to steer the civil service to break out from the shackles of complacency and face the reality of competition.

Latham in his report Constructing the Team (HMSO) says (4.1) “effective management of the design process is crucial for the success of the project”.  He suggests amongst other things that “it should involve a lead manager” and goes on to say, “The chosen procurement route will affect the design strategy and employment of consultants.  But it does not alter the need for all design to be co-ordinated”. This is one area which usually creates a lot of problems for the owner.

“The client should ensure that all consultants are appointed under mutually interlocking contracts which specifically define their duties and responsibilities and set time scales for their implementation.  The lead manager and /or design leader should then take responsibility for co-ordinating the work of all consultants” (Latham 4.5).

“The design leader must ensure that the client fully understands the design proposals and agrees that they meet its objectives. Unless tee owner is fully made aware of the understanding of his brief by the consultant, he is likely to be disappointed when he sees something different coming up.

Latham says that “it is rarely satisfactory for clients to be shown conceptual drawings, still less outline plans of rooms.  Good design will provide value for money in terms of both total cost and cost in use”(Latham 1.18) Sir Michael emphasised (1.13) it is greatly in the interests of such clients to have the best advice and robust guidelines which will assist them to obtain value for money”.  Under the present system, as I have argued in the previous paragraphs, there are no effective controls to protect the owners’ interests.  Effective controls come from effective management.  To put into place an effective management. plan Latham says that “clients will have a vital role to play in ensuring the implementation of best practice and they will also have most to gain from it.”

By. Dr. M. Haris Z Deen

(Many thanks for Dr. Haris Deen for providing us with this valuable article)

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