In his Report, presented to President George Maxwell Richards last week and published exclusively on Easter Sunday by Sunday Newsday, Uff makes a series of observations on the performances of local versus foreign contractors.
He notes that in some instances it is clear that foreign contractors may have the advantage in terms of capacity and financing, but when it comes to the quality of work and the actual performance of contractors on projects, both are similar.
In relation to contracts for several schools in Trinidad and Tobago administered by the Education Facilities Company Limited, Uff notes “while the causes of delay in respect of these contracts appear primarily to be the result of late mobilisation rather than subsequent construction problems, it has to be concluded overall that there is little if any difference in the performance of Chinese contractors compared to local contractors.”
Additionally in terms of the quality of work done, Uff finds little to differentiate local from foreign contractors.
“While some of the recent high profile projects which have achieved high standards have been carried out by foreign contractors, we have not found any pattern of higher standards being achieved by foreign contractors as compared to local contractors or workers,” Uff observes. “There is no doubt that the local workforce can produce high standards given appropriate supervision and management....We believe that appropriate standards are achievable and are usually achieved both by local contractors and foreign contractors.”
He noted that one stand-out Udecott project done by a foreign firm, the International Waterfront Project by the French firm Bouygues, saw no cost over-runs possibly because there was “so much fat” in the negotiated contract price which was not tendered openly.
He also notes that the Port-of-Spain National Academy for the Performing Arts and the Prime Minister’s Residence and Diplomatic Centre at La Fantasie, Port-of-Spain, both done by Chinese firm Shanghai Construction Group (SCG) were completed “to a high standard,” even in the face of criticisms of those to buildings.
On the issue of capacity, Uff noted that foreign firms had advantages but noted that if foreign firms were used above local firms, care must be taken to ensure that local firms are not excluded from public sector projects.
“It is accepted that the capacity of the local industry, however defined, is limited and that foreign contractors and consultants may have resources and expertise not available locally,” Uff notes. “If foreign contractors or consultants are to be engaged, it is important that this should not be to the exclusion or detriment of the local industry and that projects undertaken by foreign contractors should include opportunities for training and skill transfers to the local industry.”
Uff also notes that there was no indication that the design/build model of construction – heavily used and praised by the Government – was better than the design/tender model of construction. In individual cases, the different models each had advantages and disadvantages. Uff also notes that it was up to Government to decide whether or not the 2005 White Paper on Public Procurement would introduce important safeguards. However, in the absence of such, it was for the State to implement safeguards.
For instance, Uff calls for a review of the law which prohibits firms from challenging the tendering decisions made by bodies like Udecott.
“There should be established some equally effective form of review through the courts to be available in appropriate cases. Indeed it is somewhat ironic, in the context of this inquiry and the court actions that it has engendered (from Udecott challenging the proceedings) that Udecott should continue to stand behind their own immunity from judicial review,” Uff observes.