PWD long past its glory days

The recent failure of numerous public infrastructure projects has a lot to do with the current system of awarding contracts.

During the last decade or so, many, if not all, big government projects were dished out on a fast track "Build & Transfer" or "Build, Operate & Transfer" turnkey basis. Under this system, a contract would be awarded to a consortium of contractors, engineering consultants and other relevant professionals based on a proposal submitted by the consortium to the government, giving details of the scope of works including an estimate of cost, completion period, etc.

In this process, though the Public Works Department (PWD) would invariably be involved in the evaluation, the major decision on the award would rest with the Finance Ministry and the EPU.

During construction, PWD would only monitor the progress of work and approve progress payments. However, the consortium's consulting engineer and other professionals would carry out the supervision of construction.

This turnkey system of awarding public infrastructure projects can easily lead to corruption, cronyism and other malpractices. The main problems arising from this are high costs and substandard works, which are now surfacing one after another.

The turnkey system is totally different from that of the good old days when the construction of buildings and other infrastructure projects were undertaken by PWD. The PWD then was staffed with well-qualified and experienced professionals - engineers, architects and quantity surveyors. However, if PWD could not cope, a professional firm would be selected through a process of evaluation of technical proposals submitted by a number of invited firms. A committee set up by the government, in which PWD had a major say, would select the consultant based on its experience, capability and resources.

After appointment, the consultant would carry out all designs and prepare tender documents to PWD's requirements. PWD would then call tenders for the works and award the tender through a tender board. The appointed consultant, on behalf of PWD would supervise the construction, prepare progress payments and perform other necessary duties until the final completion of the works.

The above procedure, practiced for over half a century, had been working well all along. One wonders why such a well-tested procedure had to give way to one in which PWD has little say in the way public projects are being implemented.


The above was published in The Star on 25/10/04. 2008