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Ejiekwu: Contractors deliberately sideline quantity surveyors to inflate contracts

Chairman, Nigeria Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NISQ), Federal Capital Territory chapter, Mr. Bede Ejiekwu, in this interview with ONWUKA NZESHI, says project implementation scenario must change if Nigeria wants to see prudent management of public resources deployed annually

 

What exactly is the role of the quantity surveyor in a construction project?

 

A quantity surveyor is a cost expert of both building and engineering projects; he develops and manages the cost and the essence is to make sure that the client has value for his money at the end of the day.

 

If you check the role of a quantity surveyor in a construction company, he is like the economist, he is the one in charge of the finance, the live wire of every project. You know that if you don’t get the finances right, the project will not be completed.

 

Why do we see a lot of abandoned projects and uncompleted buildings here and there? Most times, it is the absence of the utilisation of a quantity surveyor that causes this ugly phenomenon. If you want to build a house, you need to consult a professional who is an expert in costing that house you want to build and that expert is the quantity surveyor.

 

He will not only cost the building, he will manage that cost he gave you to make sure that the cost actually realises the objective of the project at the end of the day. Once that happens, you will find out that the client will have value for his money.

 

For instance, if you want to build a house and you fail to consult a quantity surveyor but rather, you consulted a mason or roadside person to carry out the costing, the man will give you a cost that does not have integrity. You will find out that at the end of the project, you may end up spending three times the cost he gave you.

 

You see a lot of abandoned projects all over the country, this is because the sponsors of such projects refused to get a professional who will give them a document called bill of quantities.

 

What does that mean?

 

The bill of quantities is derived from the architectural drawing, mechanical drawing, electrical drawing and the structural drawing. When all these engineers design a building , they will bring everything to the quantity surveyor who knows a little about all these areas.

He will sit down and get the quantity of 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 will analyse the tenders and recommend to you the most responsive bid, that can do the job and if you award that contract to the most responsive as he recommended, the project will go smoothly and be delivered at 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. Nobody abandons a building if not because of money. The strength and reinforcement of these abandoned buildings for instance, the rod we use does not like water.

 

Every building you see, water is an enemy whether from plumbing or rain. When water soaks a building for years, the quality of mat e r i – als used begins to depreciate.

 

N o w , when the o w n e r 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 structure can bear. At that time, that could cause a collapse of that building. What we are saying in essence is that the services of a quantity surveyor is very Important.

 

There are a lot of challenges we are facing in Nigeria right now because quantity surveyors have been sidelined. In an engineering project of roads and bridges, you will find out that it is only in Nigeria that you spend so much money.

 

If you check the cost of one kilometer of road in Nigeria and one kilometer of road in Ghana or South African for instance, they are not the same. I don’t want to criticise the government, but most times, this is where the main corruption lies and that is where majority of the funds go every year and they don’t want to see quantity surveyors there.

 

We don’t want to contest with those government likes to patronise, 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.

 

 

In other climes, the quantity surveyor takes care of all the cost of projects including roads and bridges, but in Nigeria it’s not the same. The profession requires more efforts from us to make it visible.

 

What is the level of involvement of NIQS in the operations of the Bureau of Public Procurement?

The board of the. Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) has not been constituted up until now. There is a 2007 Act in use but the board has not been constituted because of some factors of representation on that board.

 

But I thank God because in the first place, the quantity surveyor was entirely excluded on that board when the law was being made, but over the years, the National Assembly has seen the need for the quantity surveyor to be part of that board.

 

The amended Act has included a quantity surveyor on the board and I think that the bill is awaiting the President’s assent. Once the President assents to it, the quantity surveyor will be a member of the board, playing a major role in cost management.

 

Don’t forget that the p r o -curement process begins from the conception to the delivery of a project and even to the maintenance.

 

After design, you go to tender, analyse the tenders and award the project. The quantity surveyor is the one that makes sure that the contractor does the work in accordance with the specifications and cost. He is an all rounder till the end of the project, so I don’t think the importance or the role of the quantity surveyor can be over emphasised.

 

So why do we only see architects, engineers and other professionals listed on billboards at project sites and your group is not there?

For some time now, this has been a burning issue on our table. When a contract is conceived, you have parties to the contract – the employer or the client as the case maybe and then you have the consultant.

 

When you have consultants you are going to have architects, structural engineers, electrical and mechanical engineers as well as the quantity surveyor. 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 and implementation commences at the site.

 

So it is ignorance on the part of the contractors. But again, even within us we have quacks. So, if a quack happens to be in a project, of course he will not want his name to be mentioned because when I see the name I can go further to ask why the person is on that project.

 

So, a lot of hide and seek game is being played in the process but the sum total of it is that as a consultant, insist on the name of the quantity surveyor being displayed on the project board.

 

This will go a long way in ensuring that all the right things are done. We can’t also rule out the fact that the system is corrupt and there is a form of conspiracy against the man that will bring sanity. If they see how they can do without the quantity surveyor, it will be very good for them to do because that will give them an easy way to eat the money and nothing will happen.

 

But if a quantity surveyor is there, he will not allow that to happen and that is what we don’t know in this country.

 

A quantity surveyor is the most prudent person and the consultant that will make sure the money is spent wisely. Let me also add that all these wrong things only happen on government projects. Individuals and corporate bodies cannot do without quantity surveyors, even on road construction projects.

 

.When they concessioned Lagos -Ibadan Expressway to Bi Courtney under the PPP arrangement, a quantity surveyor was the project manager because the private sector funded the project and wanted value for money.

 

But that can never happen in a government funded project because those in charge are not interested in cutting cost and delivering a good project. If you boycott the functions and involvement of the quantity surveyor, you are also causing damage to the system.

 

With the tax waivers granted Dangote and others to encourage them to intervene on some roads, you will see that quantity surveyors will be at the forefront of these projects because these are private sector organisations.

 

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 for nothing. They will do the work to get value for their money.

 

A common phenomenon with government      projects is abandoning a project after mobilisation and carrying out budget reevaluation 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 price has 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 ministers do not like to continue projects they met on ground and is ongoing. 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 mobilise the contractor to site is simply to get kickbacks. It is only in few cases that you can see a minister continuing with a project that was started by the previous government. Corruption is a problem to us in Nigeria.

 

The irregular budget cycle of the government 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 fund-  ing.

 

So it’s a holistic thing and part of it too is the fact that many of those who are in the Budget Office are really not professionals. Sometime ago, we made concerted efforts to see the Director General of Budget Office, but each time we go he turned us down pretending to be hundred per cent busy. So we couldn’t access him to present our case.

 

Now, part of the problem we are having is that an electrical engineer is sitting in a place and he is the one apportioning cost to a project whose components he knows little or nothing about. Sometimes, even a historian can be playing that role in the budget office because civil servants have a way of looking for lucrative offices and that Budget Office, to them, is lucrative.

 

So the people you find around there are more often than not, non professionals. They are not the right people to make inputs into the proposed budget, so whatever allocation they are making in the current year will not be able to complete the job.

 

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 abandons it and once a project has been abandoned it suffers. We know we have a long history of abandoned projects facing us everywhere, even here in the Federal Capital Territory ( FCT ) and at the state level.

 

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 or said about these processes and why they often fail.

 

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 buildings, but even in engineering projects if they want to realise and have the benefit of this profession. I bet you, this cost issue and challenges of abandoned projects will be drastically reduced when the quantity surveyors are involved in projects.

 

The building environment takes more than 50 per cent of the capital projects in our national budget every year. If you look at it critically and Nigeria utilises the services of the quantity surveyors, with the little resources we are having, we will have more land mark achievements in infrastructural development.

 

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