As Qatar moves forward on hundreds of new construction projects in the lead-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, under the broader auspices of its Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030) development plan, maintaining the highest standards of workmanship and materials has become a key government priority. The enactment of the Qatar Construction Specifications 2014 (QSC 2014) in May 2015 is expected to have a significant impact on the lifespan and quality of new projects. However, questions remain as to whether the new standards will be applied to live projects, as well as the impact these changes will have on project budgets, leading some to call for reforms to the current tendering process, as well as improved communication between contractors and clients.
Need For Reform
Although incidents such as the November 2015 floods are exceedingly rare in Qatar, the storm and its aftermath shone the spotlight on an issue that has become increasingly important in the construction industry – design flaws and use of low-quality materials in major infrastructure projects. Depressed global oil and gas prices and falling government revenues have further underscored the need to improve building quality and reduce costs.
“There is a will and pent-up demand for change and improvement, but there’s the sense that it isn’t coordinated, and the sector is underachieving as a result,” Don Ward, CEO of UK-based lobby group Constructing Excellence, told OBG. “There is the sense that the Qatari riyal can buy so much more construction and value for money than it does at the moment.”
On the client side, for example, changes to the bidding and tendering process could significantly improve the long-term viability of projects. In Qatar, public contracts are awarded using a “two-envelope” system. Bidders submit two forms when vying for a project, one package containing the project’s technical specifications and design, and one containing the total budget. A technical committee makes the first round of decisions, approving all projects which meet the required technical specifications. After that, a budget committee often selects the lowest-priced project out of all of those which have met the technical requirements of the project.
“The attitude that you can award to the lowest-priced contract is absolutely part of the problem, as is the lack of trust between clients and contractors. A lot of construction companies have let their clients down over the years, not just in Qatar but across the Gulf, so the lack of trust is somewhat justifiable,” Ward told OBG. “We need the industry to come with a more professional position. For example, when the job doesn’t have enough money in it or when there’s bad news, the company has to tell the client.”
Contractor reforms are also under way, and on February 4, 2015 new technical regulations, QCS 2014, were gazetted, with the aim of providing technical guidance and establishing a minimum acceptable quality standard in both materials and workmanship for the state’s construction projects. QCS 2014 replaces the previous technical regulations, QCS 27/2010 (QCS 2010), in all respects. Under the new regulations, which were first released under a Minister of Municipality and Environment decision (210/2014) in December 2014, all parties must implement the new standards within three months of their gazetting, meaning the new standards were officially enacted on May 4, 2015.
QSC 2014 builds on the 2010 regulations, in addition to containing new sections and topics. For example, section 29, which applies to rail projects, was not included in QCS 2010. This section stipulates that designs must be based on a “whole-life” approach which optimises both capital and operating costs. It establishes minimum requirements for tunnel design, geotechnical specifications, tunnelling, including the use of tunnel-boring machine excavation, precast concrete and grouting for segment lining, in addition to de-watering and groundwater management, concrete and steel structures, and railway tracks. Section 11, meanwhile, sets new standards for health and safety, and represents an important step forward for labour and human rights reforms in the state.
The new standards put Qatar at the forefront of the GCC and are expected to expand beyond the state’s borders. In June 2015 the Qatar General Organisation for Standardisation announced that it had signed an agreement with ASTM International, a US-based standards and development organisation, to link QCS 2014 to ASTM’s interactive database, establishing an online version of the new regulations which includes direct links to the full text of ASTM standards referenced within QCS 2014.
Some uncertainty remains, however, concerning whether the new standards will apply to projects that were already live, and if so, whether a contractor will be entitled to extra time or money to implement the changes. In a June 2015 assessment of QCS 2014, Paul Prescott and Gabriel Olufemi, lawyers at Pinsent Masons, wrote that the industry can expect significant cost and time impacts if stakeholders are required to implement QCS 2014 changes on live projects, for example, through redesigning work, re-sequencing programmes, amending method statements and even re-executing works.
However, under sub-clause 13.7 of a standard International Federation of Consulting Engineers contract, which is commonly deployed in Qatar, a contractor is entitled to additional time and money if it incurs delays as a result of the implementation of new laws, or as a consequence of repealed or modified existing laws (such as QCS 2014), which are made 28 days or fewer prior to the tender date.
This means that if a project’s tender date was on or after May 4, 2015, the contractor will not be entitled to any additional time or money. On top of that, public contracts awarded in Qatar usually deny a contractor any such entitlement by deleting the provisions in sub-clause 13.7 or by limiting their entitlement by granting additional time and money only if the change in laws could not have been foreseen by an experienced contractor.
Outside of improving quality, the government is also increasingly emphasising green building practices in Qatar.
Doha was ranked the 12th-most-polluted city globally on the World Health Organisation’s 2014 ambient outdoor air pollution in cities database. As such, the state’s mid-term National Development Strategy for 2011-16 emphasised green building practices under the Global Assessment System for Green Buildings, which was developed in partnership with the Gulf Organisation for Research and Development. Qatar Green Building Council further emphasised green building with the April 2015 launch of its green directory, a listing of companies providing green services.
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