Why There Are Abandoned Projects In The Nigeria – Ejiekwu
The issue of abandoned projects has become a major cause for worry among Nigerians. Many of these projects are abandoned by successive governments, individuals and organisations. In this interview, Chairman FCT Chapter of Quantity Surveyors, Mr Bebe Ejiekwu reveal causes and possible way out.
What exactly is the role of the Quantity Surveyor in a construction project?
A Quantity Surveyor is a cost expert for both building and engineering projects; he develops and manages the cost. The essence is to make sure that the client gets value for money at the end of the project. The QS is akin to the Economist in the built environment, he is the one in charge of the finance, and the live wire of every project among other services he renders.
There is no gainsaying that if you don’t get the finance structure right, the project will not deliver value for money; with the probability of time and cost overruns; if at all the project is not abandoned. This is why there are a lot of abandoned projects all over the nooks and crannies of the country. Most times, it is the non-engagement of a QS on such project for proper cost management that causes this ugly phenomenon.
There is dire need to consult a professional who is an expert in costing before embarking on construction project, and that expert is the Quantity Surveyor. He will not only cost the building, he will manage the cost to make sure that there is no cost overrun and the project is completed within the time frame agreed; to actually realize the objectives of the project. The ultimate advantage of this to the client is to ensure value for money.
For instance, if you want to embark on a construction project, don’t fail to consult a Quantity Surveyor to carry out the costing of the project by means of a document called Bills of Quantities – a contract document listing the quantities of works to be done and their costs, designed primarily as a tendering document and valuable aid to administer and value the works done as the project progresses to arrive at the final actual total construction cost of the project in a scientific manner devoid of any manipulation. This service can only be carried out by a trained QS professionally tested to be competent to carry out such service.
You see a lot of abandoned projects all over the country, this is because the sponsors of such projects ignore to get a professional QS who will prepare the document called Bill of Quantities.
The bill of quantities is derived from the architectural, mechanical, electrical and the structural drawings. When all these engineers design a building, they will bring everything to the quantity surveyor who has been trained to interpret the designs in construction terms and with his knowledge of construction technology he is proficient to get the quantities out from each of these drawings, cost them individually, combine them together and arrive at the total cost of the building. This is the first step.
He is also involved in the procurement process. This means that he is involved in the tendering process. After the tendering process, he is also in the best position to advise the client on the best contractor, that has the most responsive tender to carry out the project. By this analysis, he will recommend to the client the best responsive tender that can do the job and for the purpose of award of the contract, rather than to the most/least expensive. Also, by this analysis, the project will be delivered seamlessly and within the projected cost.
You earlier, blamed abandoned projects on the non-involvement of Quantity Surveyors. Could you explain this aspect properly?
Abandoned projects could easily lead to collapsed buildings by reason of dilapidation and compromised integrity of the structural elements of the building, especially the reinforcing bars that has been exposed to weather effects.
Now, when the owner gets money again and goes back to site to continue the project, instead of carrying out integrity test to know whether that structure is still strong enough to continue on it, some people don’t do that, they go into construction and the load coming on the structure will be more than the initial design load that the abandoned structure can bear. At that time, that could lead to collapse of that building.
What we are saying in essence is that engagement of the services of a Quantity Surveyor and other construction professionals are very important if we must totally eliminate the menace of incessant building collapse that has caused us avoidable loss of lives and properties in our national life. There are a lot of challenges we are facing in Nigeria right now because quantity surveyors and other construction professionals have been sidelined in the construction processes; both in the pre-contract and more especially in the post-contract services of supervision.
In highway engineering projects involving roads and bridges in Nigeria, evidences abound that Nigeria is one of the countries of the world with highest cost of highway engineering projects. You will find out that Nigeria spends so much money for services the government can drastically reduce, if the government decides to use her indigenous construction professionals. If you check the cost of one kilometer length of road in Nigeria and one kilometer length of road in Ghana or South African for instance, they are not the same.
While I am being restrained not to criticize the government for whatever reason(s) that informed the government decision to prefer patronizing the foreign companies (multinational construction companies) for both design and construction of mega engineering projects at the exclusion of the indigenous construction professionals, it can be inferred that most times, this is where the main corruption lies and that is where majority of the funds inform of capital flight go outside the Nigerian economy.
We don’t want to contest with those government like to patronize, but we will allow the public to see things for themselves and at the end of the day Nigerians will know what to do. It is happening now, but it won’t go on forever.
Another menace flowing from this, is the adversarial relationship among the construction professionals in the construction industry, as self-help option, where there is infiltrations among the construction professionals. In other climes, Quantity Surveyors take care of all the cost of projects including roads and bridges, but in Nigeria it’s not the same. The industry needs to adopt collaborative strategic alliance among the professionals inform of multidisciplinary professional practice to challenge the government to jettison the unabated patronage of foreign companies in the industry, to achieve and reap the benefits of using the indigenous construction professionals for the betterment of our economy.
What is the level of involvement of NIQS in the operations of the Bureau of Public Procurement?
The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) was established under the Presidency with the enactment of Procurement Act of 2007. According to the Act, there shall be in place a Board, as the awarding body with the approval of the Federal Executive Council (FEC). The Board of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) has not been constituted up until now. The rest should be consigned to policy bureaucracy in government, which is beyond the scope of this interview.
There is Procurement Act of 2007 in use but without the Board. because of some factors of representation on that board. But I thank God because in the first place, When the Act came to existence, the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS) was not a member of the Board. So, Quantity Surveyors were entirely excluded on that board when the law was made, but over the years, the National Assembly has seen the need for the Quantity Surveyors to be part of the procurement process, thus, NIQS has been included now as a member of the Board to discharge the cost management role among other functions of the Board.
The amended Act, I think is awaiting the President’s assent. Once the President assents to it, Quantity Surveyor will be a member of the Board, to play the role of cost management and improve the procurement process according to the provisions of the Act. So a welcome development in the wisdom of the National Assembly. With this development, the NIQS is willing and ready to partner with the National assembly in her oversight functions as related to the construction projects. By the specialized training of Quantity Surveyors, the procurement process will now be holistic in approach by ensuring an inclusive procurement methodology that will take cognizance of project delivery to encompass procurement process beginning from the conception to the delivery of a project and even up to the maintenance and disposal of the project. This is the value addition that the inclusion of Quantity Surveyors on the Board of BPP will elicit by virtue of Quantity Surveyors training in “total life-cycle costing” or “Cost-in-Use” techniques of an asset/facility to be procured, which is exclusive preserve of the Quantity Surveyors.
So why do we only see Architects, Engineers and other professionals listed on Billboards at project sites and your group is not there? Is there a deliberate attempt to take you out or you have not asserted yourselves in the system?
For some time now, this has been a burning issue on our table. When a contract is formed, you have parties to the contract – the employer or the client as the case maybe and then you have the consultants. When you have consultants you are going to have architects, structural engineers, electrical and mechanical engineers as well as the quantity surveyors. Not placing the quantity surveyor on the board for me is ignorance because he plays a major role from the inception of the project up to the point where implementation commences at the site. Frankly speaking, I don’t subscribe to the notion that Quantity Surveyors are being sidelined in this regard. Every prudent client that I have been opportune to meet, especially in the building project sub-sectors value and appreciate the invaluable services and contributions of Quantity Surveyors in cost management of a construction project. This role cannot be overemphasized and like I said prudent client don’t joke with the appointment of a Quantity Surveyor.
Any project Billboard not displaying the firm of Consultant Quantity Surveyors is a manifestation that unqualified Quantity Surveyor must have been engaged probably by the client of that project or the “evil-practice” of another consultant who must have engaged the service of a quack or unqualified QS to prepare the Bills of Quantities for that project, for fear of being reported to the Quantity Surveyors Registration Board of Nigeria (QSRBN), which will definitely attract sever disciplinary action by the QSRBN. May I seize this opportunity to enlighten the public, especially unsuspecting client to always insist on engaging all the consultants required on a project INDEPENDENTLY and jettison the practice of one consultant approach to handle all the consultancy services required in a construction project – this is to their advantage for successful project delivery that ensures value for money. With professional ethics stipulated by the NIQS and QSRBN, engaging a QS on any project is the assured way to getting value for money.
Sadly enough, the society for now does not abhor corruption, so Consultant Quantity Surveyors whose duties are to watch and monitor cost in construction projects will be seen as whistle blowers and detested by all and sundry by way of undermining the expected professional roles to the detriment of the society at large. This is a systemic phenomenon which the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has been struggling to fight without positive results. Suffice to say that, I will rather leave this “organized crime” against the engagement of Quantity Surveyors on some other aspects of construction projects to the conscience of every client, especially in the public sector. However, the scenarios are different in the private sector, whose business philosophy is premised on productivity, efficiency and profitability to achieve the corporate goals, always insisting on value for money.
A case on point is the recent Tax Credit Scheme, that is, the tax waivers granted to Dangote Group and some other notable companies to encourage them to intervene on some roads projects, some of our members (Quantity Surveyors) are being approached to partake in the contract documentation and engagement on monitoring of these projects for efficient utilization of resources on these projects because these are private sector organizations. Since the government wants to waive their taxes in lieu of construction of some roads, these private firms will never allow people to come and embezzle or spend their money without value for money. They will do the work to get value for their money.
A common phenomenon with government projects is abandoning a project after mobilization and carrying out budget re-evaluation after few years. Could this be also part of the problem?
A lot of factors could be responsible for the revaluation of projects. There is no stable economy and most times inflation is very high in Nigeria. As a result, there are things you will buy today and by tomorrow the prices have tripled because of the inflationary rate. So the unstable economy of Nigeria is the major factor but you cannot also take away corruption.
One of the problems with our system is that most administration do not like to continue projects they inherited. They prefer to award a fresh contract and that is one of the reasons Nigeria is not developing at the rate at which it is expected. The motivation to conceive another project, award the contract and mobilize the contractor to site is the main reason for encouraging kickbacks. It is only in few cases that you see MDAs continuing with a project that was started by the previous government. Corruption is a problem to us in Nigeria.
The lopsided budget cycle of the government vis-a-vis project time lime is another big factor. Sometimes, adequate releases are not made for projects and so contractors go to work with the much that is released and when it is exhausted they go back to the client to request for more funding. So it’s a holistic thing and part of it too is the fact that many of the personnel who are in the Budget Office are really not construction professionals. So to synchronize budgetary allocation and project cycles is herculean task.
Sometime ago, we made concerted efforts to see the Director General of Budget Office, but each time we go, we could not have his attention to contribute our professional advice in this regard. Now, part of the problems is that the right personnel is not assigned to carry out the task of budget appropriation – simple. So the people assigned to carry out certain tasks are non-professionals in that schedule of duties especially in the civil service. So government needs to overhaul the selection process into the civil service, most especially in the specialised MDAs to enhance efficiency, probity, and due diligence.
Could this poor costing also be responsible for the government not achieving its targets in infrastructure development?
You talk of failure of government policies and programmes on infrastructure. How did they determine the cost of the housing estates, new roads and bridges they put in the budget every year? If the cost is not realistic, the fund allocated remains a guess work. It means that the project will be executed haphazardly. When a new government comes in, it will abandon it and once a project has been abandoned it suffers. We know we have a long history of abandoned projects facing us everywhere through the federation, so what efforts are in place to engage in backward integration policy of revalidating these projects for completion to put an end to the wastes of these resources, by creating jobs for the teeming young population unemployed. So part of the problem is that our system of budgeting is faulty. Sometimes the budget cycle runs from May to May and within the period there is rainy season.
Now you have a budget, you have funds, you have the project but you achieve nothing. For instance, in constructing a road, you have to consider several factors. If the weather is not favourable because of the rains, nobody can work and when you release the money in the dry season, in a short while we are in May again and then they close the budget for the fiscal year. So there is a lot that needs to be done about synchronizing the budget and project cycles in such a way to make use of the substantial part of dry season.
What should government be doing to change these narratives of inflated contracts and abandoned projects in the country?
The government should involve quantity surveyors in all aspects of capital projects because the quantity surveyor will save money for government and will make sure government has value for the money being spent at the end of the day. The quantity surveyor will develop, manage and control the cost. So the absence of the quantity surveyor in this whole circle is the cause of many challenges we are having in the Nigerian construction sector. Government should consider the services of quantity surveyors not only for building projects, but also in engineering projects, if they want to realize and have the benefit of this profession. By doing the needful of engaging the services of Quantity Surveyors this cost issue and challenges of abandoned projects will be drastically reduced.