When a Government Ministry or agency, through the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board, seeks a contractor to carry out works, evaluators are in charge of ensuring that the firm has the capacity to carry out the job.
Things can go wrong after the fact, and, if one seeks to lay blame for defective works, the automatic assumption is that the contractor bears responsibility. This assumption is fair, but there is a crucial and often overlooked player in ensuring on site value for money.
This factor is the supervising agent or firm. When the firm’s work gets underway, someone has to be the Ministry’s so called ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground. It can be a consulting firm, which is also selected through a public tender process. Or, it can be an individual; a trusted engineer seconded to the project by the Ministry itself.
The power of the superintendent of works, as they are sometimes referred to, largely depends on the Terms of Reference contained in the agreement which they signed with the government. An example of this was when consultants were sought to supervise the reconstruction of the northern dam of the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC).
The notice inviting tenders had specified that their work would be general contract administration and quality assurance. It had also specified that this would be done in accordance with the Construction Supervision and Quality Assurance Plan.
The consultant was expected to ensure that works were in line with the bills of quantities.
The Bill of Quantities
The Bill of Quantities is a document detailing the costs associated with procuring materials, parts and even labour to carry out works stipulated in a contract. When carrying out their works, contractors must adhere strictly to the bill of quantities that they submitted to evaluators. This means that to deviate from the official priced list is to breach the terms of the contract.
As the superintendent or consultant of the project, one thing he/she/the firm will have to be on the lookout for is the materials which were listed on the bill of quantities, being substituted for substandard materials. To the contractor, this is an excellent way to cut costs and turn a tidy profit.
To the government, however, this is one of the worst ways it can be shortchanged.
Selecting a Superintendent of Works
The superintendent will most certainly have to be impartial if they are going to be able to perform their duties. And whether it is a single engineer or a consulting firm, there is always a possibility that professional duties will clash. And this can happen in ways not immediately apparent.
Not only are consultants likely to have a diverse portfolio of clients they worked with in the past, they can have multiple clients at the same time. Hence, there is a need to do thorough checks to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.
A case in point is a firm which has undertaken to provide consultancy service to a civil engineering job. It is a direct conflict of interest should the firm also have to prepare an independent environmental assessment report on the project.
While the firm must not have any existing conflict of interest with its clients, it cannot be overstated that a supervising firm has to have experience, especially experience relevant to the particular project it will oversee. In the case of a firm, it should also be able to demonstrate the capacity in the form of personnel to oversee the project.
One of the most important responsibilities of the supervisor of works is to verify that the contractor’s work is proceeding at a satisfactory pace. The supervisor of works then has to certify, on the payment voucher, his/her approval before funds can be released to the contractor.
Because of this, trustworthiness is paramount. The firm/engineer must have an unblemished record. Because again, if the supervisor of works is induced to turn a blind eye to defects as they unfold, it can cost life and limb.
Many countries have incorporated an organized system of blacklisting and scoring firms based on their Key Performance Indicators (KPI), racked up over the time they have been active and bidding for government contracts.
Debarment mechanisms are used in the Caribbean in countries like Jamaica and international funding agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). There have been calls for its enforcement in Guyana and efforts are ongoing to make this happen.
When this happens, it is expected that companies performing sloppy jobs and supervising firms vetting this sloppy work will be debarred from receiving contracts under similar considerations.
When contracts are defaulted on and collusion occurs, the police do not just come for the contractor. The supervisor who was responsible for giving the contractor’s work a stamp of approval is just as culpable.