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Why government must shun turnkey projects in road construction

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Experts in the built environment and construction industry have expressed worries over the misuse of turnkey operation by construction firms, saying it is the major reasons for road failures in the country. They said it does not allow for transparency and appraisal as it is fraught with corruption. In many public projects, the model do not allow for external examination of procedures employed by construction firms.

In turnkey operations, the contractor or construction firm is obliged to conduct the entire operation from design to close-out, including subcontractors, purchase of materials, machinery and equipment from within that fixed price.The operation, which is often introduced in specialised field like the building of nuclear plants where expertise is required are often being operated by construction firms in the country with the government paying heavily as a result.

At present, Nigeria is said to be losing billions due to road failure and the incident is brewing discontent among professionals in the sector and there are intrigues of who to do what in terms of road construction.

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In developed world, the system had made way for universally recognized standards for international conduct and there were conscious efforts to abide by this charter. It was learnt that of the 53 members of the commonwealth, Nigeria appears to be the only country where turnkey system still operate due to greed by some professionals working for firm to venture in areas that are clearly out of their competence to subvert codes and ethics of international standards.

But with failures in many road projects in Nigeria, experts said continuing in turnkey operation in government contracts is fraudulent and against best international standards.For instance, failures like cracking in rigid pavement are caused by inadequate curing of concrete, settlement, movement or restraint at joints, which could be arrested if consultants are allowed to do proper design for projects.

According to experts, poor design and construction, poor maintenance of already built highways, use of low quality materials in construction, poor workmanship and poor supervision of construction work are causes of failures in road construction. According to them, although many big firms have professionals working for them, there are however rooms for compromises since they are not independent.

Speaking on the issue, a fellow of Nigerian Institution of Quantity surveyors (NIQS), Olarewaju Gabriel told The Guardian that turnkey operation in road construction has been discarded by many countries but wondered why it is still being retained in Nigeria.According to him, the whole work of road construction and maintenance in the country is left at the mercy of expatriate companies that need to understand the local terrain and situation of our roads to enable them construct appropriately. He stressed that Nigeria professional bodies should be involved as consultants as they have a lot of contributions to make to the construction of highways in this country.

According to him, turnkey operation is against best international standards, because firms should have consultants to do some works for proper supervision. Gabriel said professional bodies in Nigeria have not been given adequate chance to contribute to road construction and maintenance in the country.

Also, a civil engineer and former chairman, Nigeria Society of Engineers, Dr. Ombugadu Garba, said engaging firms to do both designs and construction does not bring out the best in quality. If there are errors, they might not be able to see it. “It is always good to do a good job and there are always good for supervision, there should be a difference between the consultant and the contractor it is always good for better evaluation of the project.

“ We should always allowed a consultant to do the design, while the contractor do the road. If there are variations, that can be settled and it can also be properly evaluated than leaving it to one person.” Garba stressed that turnkey operation does not encourage transparency in project.

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“ You cannot be a consultant in a project and at the same time be the contractor. At a time where quality are compromised how do you check it? when you have a consultant, he will serve as a mediator between the client and the contractor. So he will be able to balance that but when you are doing the two works together, in most cases the clients are short changed”, he added. For the President, Nigeria Society of Structural Engineers (NiStruct), Eddy Atumonyogo, turnkey operation is creating disaggreement in the sector and is only suited in an area where there is no specialised knowledge.

According to him, it is not very common for the road sector, whereby the government is paying for both the designs and the contractor is everything.“It is often said that two heads are better than one. It is always good to have another eye looking over your shoulder.

“ If it is special project like nuclear facility for which requires specialised knowledge then, it can be used but not in road construction where the design knowledge is available. There is need for a consultant designing the road and then there should be a competitive bidding and the contractor that wins it after prequalified works on the project”, he concluded.

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NIQSOlarewaju Gabriel
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