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Government as champion of design in public procurement

By Paul Taiwo Aina
15 May 2015   |   2:35 am
AKIN Adesola Street, Victoria Island, the main arterial road into Victoria Island and the major definitive approach to the much celebrated and hyped Eko Atlantic city is currently being reconstructed via a World Bank grant.

Minister Of Works, Mike Onolememe

AKIN Adesola Street, Victoria Island, the main arterial road into Victoria Island and the major definitive approach to the much celebrated and hyped Eko Atlantic city is currently being reconstructed via a World Bank grant.

A LAMATA project-managed scheme, it is being executed by the same contractor promoting the Eko Atlantic City project.

Curiously enough, in the short stretch of the road that has partly been finished and opened for vehicular access, while there appears to have been an extension to the road, ostensibly for car parking within two drainage channels on the same side of the road, there does not seem to be any provision for a distinguishable sidewalk! I would imagine this a major oversight on the part of the contractor given the much-hallowed Lagos State Megacity development guidelines.

Not to talk of the size of the drainage slit on some of the slab covers. You can literally “put your foot in” so pedestrians beware! The level of the new road alignment also suggests that the internal streets of Victoria Island will be the recipients of the displaced flood from Akin Adesola.

By contrast, the Obalende/St Gregory’s road reconstruction has obviously improved the fortunes of an otherwise fringe community and as a result the entire area is undergoing gentrification.

Akin Adesola Street, also the link road to Ikoyi is too prime as an arterial road into the nation’s foremost CBD, for this intervention not to ensure it delivers a world-class gateway.

Walking or pedestrian activities, which is a basic urban planning tenet for a sustainable ecosystem is encouraged and celebrated in any urban revitalization policy or intervention.

Assuming the design intent of the “Akin Adesola street reconstruction” is to check the perennial flooding, this challenge should be reversed into an opportunity to transform the street character in anticipation of the new skyline heralded by the megacity and the promise of Eko Atlantic City as the foremost financial district in Sub-Saharan Africa. Then that would have been value for money.

With the coming down of the barricading fences on some of the more forward looking new development on the street, there is ample right of way on either side of the road to accommodate an expansion to the road, create sidewalks/boulevard and thereby reinforce the urban link.

Basic specification for streets in urban centers include sidewalks, streetlights, bus shelters, sustainable drainage system, waste bins and provision of redundant sleeves for service lines and maintenance in the future.

With increased urbanization, it is important that our streets are safe, attractive, functional and comfortable for all.

As well as cars and other vehicles, they should be pedestrian friendly, accommodate cyclists and those using public transports. They should dictate the complexion of future development on them and not escalate degradation.

Public buildings and infrastructure are supposed to be the indices for development in the growth of any nation, society or people. They enhance competitiveness and have direct economic advantage.

Tourism, both domestic and international to destinations where infrastructure works become an indirect benefit, as manufacturing, industrial and tech companies find it convenient to set up and create jobs. Governments go as far as commissioning flagship vanity projects or events as loss leaders to rejuvenate their economies, and rebrand – knowing that the direct and indirect benefits on the long run far outweigh the capital cost of those projects.

It is for this same reason, governments pull out all the stops to ensure their gateway structures, airports, inter nodal transportation stations, ferry terminals, train stations are opportunities to make and leave lasting impression on visitors.

From Grand Central Station in New York commissioned 100 years ago to Beijing Airport (designed by Foster & Partners) which opened in 2008 in time for the Olympics, along with the “Bird Nest” stadium; the entire Olympic ceremony invoked so much pride in the citizenry that saw China winning all round gold in the event.

The Atlanta International Airport built to host the 1996 Olympics, remains the busiest airport in the world with passenger traffic of over 96 million in 2014. Singapore is expanding the Chang Airport “Jewel” project by close to $2 billion.

Serious governments appreciate the place of design excellence in branding and driving the fortunes of their countries. The same sentiments inform the commissioning of other public buildings and infrastructure.

A university should be planned and designed to be conducive to learning, inspiring for the freshmen or Jambites, to push the boundaries in the thirst for knowledge and to stimulate a higher level of engagement with the world. Hospitals should be designed to industry guidelines with structures that are refreshing, enhance well being and are uplifting to the spirit.

Governments with the depth of pocket or access to the creative finance instruments available today have the power to benchmark the industry in terms of standard and quality, yet here in Nigeria, what we celebrate today as ‘Public Buildings’ or infrastructure development casts doubt on the ability of government officials at all levels to act as “Intelligent Customers”. Timidity of vision has not always been the challenge of our governments.

In the past, the Federal Universities of Ibadan, Lagos, OAU, ABU, the University College Hospital among others, were built by governments, as were Western House, Cocoa House, Eko Bridge, Third Mainland Bridge, (still the longest bridge in Africa), Federal Palace Hotels, and Nigeria hosted FESTAC 77 at the National Theatre.

User or guest experience has become the yardstick for measuring the success of public building and infrastructure within the realm of the built environment. Place making has become an art form while city branding is a tangible equity on the balance sheet.

Public realm is key to fostering connection and developing heterogeneous communities. This is driven largely by robust public building and infrastructure developments that are inclusive and welcome all strata of society. These places have to be democratic in order to become walk-able by both the high and low.

The continued disconnection from the masses, lack of access to basic infrastructure, ‘obsolete’ and ‘decrepit’ as euphemism for anything termed ‘public’ by government with the inherent disenfranchisement this implies, should be of concern to those charged with steering the ship of development for this country.

London has consistently been a melting point, a destination of choice due to her robust infrastructure development and public utilities.

There is continuous improvement, rejuvenation, and revitalization across communities and connections with urban linkages to ensure that no region is left behind.

It is not unusual to find the CEO of a blue chip of multinational and cleaners of the same company using the same trains while their children play in the same parks or community centers.

Abuja and Dubai were founded around the same time. Both have been largely developed from revenue that accrued from oil.

While Dubai has become an international tourist destination, Abuja, despite the indomitable entrepreneurial spirit of Nigerians compared to the seeming mild mien of Emiratis, remains light years behind Dubai.

Nigerians throng to Dubai everyday (4 daily flights between Lagos and Abuja) and have significant property holdings in Dubai. That city has become a get away from the poor state of our infrastructure.

Shanghai’s phenomenal growth as the commercial capital of China has largely been in the last 20 years. It has a population comparable to Lagos, is cosmopolitan with the same business growth potential, yet Lagos seems to belong to an earlier civilization by comparison, so do most cities in America and Europe as well.

The game changer in both Dubai and Shanghai seems to have been vision, a cohesive sustainable and holistic Master Plan procurement and development programme.

The battle for turf at every level of our government, for the discretion to procure and award physical development (capital) projects by respective parastatals, regardless of the lack of the professional expertise to do so, makes it impossible to develop a coherent manual for design standards, specification or articulate procurement procedure across public building types or infrastructure development. The descent into mediocrity and anarchy is evident in the kind of public structures being celebrated by our governments.

In a rapidly globalizing world, public buildings and infrastructures should be more homogenous, because they are driven by the same basic parameters of functional requirements of human endeavor, efficiency and operational capacity.

These are systems, processes, facilities that have endured, been refined through years of research, user experience, technology, innovation and information sharing on successful case studies resulting in world class standards which templates are available.

Why then should we continue to “put a Nigerian spin on it” instead of adapting global best practices?

The goals for most countries are to further raise the bar on these templates in the development of their public buildings and infrastructures. The reverse seems to be the case in Nigeria, deliberately promoted by government officials often times in connivance with development partners.

Public building and infrastructure, whether they are public toilet or boulards on the street should be robust, fit for purpose, build in life cycle, within context and invoke civic pride.

For the system to deliver value for money, the procurement to work well, government has to put economic and social value on the added benefits of design quality, patient experience in hospitals, educational achievement in schools, public service delivery, community vitality, quality of life and lasting civic value.

Our starting point to accomplish this is the breakdown of a project cost. Over the lifetime of a building the construction costs are not more than 3% of total cost but the cost of running a public service facility will often constitute 85% of the total cost. On the same scale, the design costs are likely to be between 0.3 and 0.5% of the whole life cost yet it is through the design process that the largest impact is made on the 85% figure. *

The procurement process therefore has to encourage a government culture, which engages fully on systematically addressing whole life costing and quality issues. It should stress the need to set budgets with regard not only for upfront capital cost but also to take account of whole life costs, focusing on service outcomes with government not so much concentrating on “due diligence” and savings represented by the building cost but rather the substantial millions of naira represented by maintenance and public service delivery within the facilities. Procurement policies fundamentally share the same objectives, the parameters just need to be broadened to encompass the foregoing, and if implemented consistently across governments, they will have significant impact on performance standards.

Ensuring transparency, due diligence in contract award and cost control in execution is of little value unless there is an effective project procurement process which must begin with a comprehensive brief development and identifying what constitutes value to the users.

The policy needs to ensure that its performance brings design best practices to bear on all capital programmes. Government at all levels in procuring a new capital project should be a design champion and be ready to pursue an innovative approach to promote design quality. Our goal should be for global industry best practice to become standard practice here.

• CABE, UK “improving standards of design in procurement of public buildings”.

Aina, Managing Partner, B+TIC, wrote from Lagos