Construction: Quality, despite being one of the major issues inflicting the construction sector today failed to appear among the 28 issues that contractors submitted in the 15th annual general meeting of the Construction Association of Bhutan held in Thimphu from May 9-11.

The government  had to suggest its inclusion.

Economic affairs minister Lekey Dorji said quality is being overlooked in the meeting. He added even the Prime Minister noticed its omission.

“Even if ensuring quality might cost the government more it shouldn’t be a problem as long as it improves,” the minister said. “If quality is not talked about now it will never improve in the construction sector,” he added.

Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay, who chaired the afternoon session of the meeting, said that the number of contractors in the country today stands at 3,894. The sector has potential to employ around 20,000.

The construction sector contributed Nu 21.85 billion to the economy last year. The sector also contributed nine percent to GDP. Between 2014 and 2015 construction sector grew by 16.7 percent.

“This is to let you know how you are benefiting the country by the year,” Lyonchoen said. “There are many things we have to work and strife for hereafter, keeping in mind some crucial things, the foremost being the quality.”

It was also pointed out that while the general perception is that contractors are to blame for the poor quality, the government is also equally responsible. The government is accountable for lapses like delayed budget release, improper planning and lax monitoring.

“Moreover, some of the officials involved in monitoring have been found engaging in corrupt practices,” Lyonchoen said.

He added that while every contractor may not be involved in corruption some have been cheating the government. “Some have been also bribing the officials” he added. “They have been engaging in corrupt practices. This is something many of us have witnessed and experienced.”

A contractor from Samtse, speaking at the meeting, said to ensure quality it should begin from quality “balance of quantity”. “Quality can be achieved if there is enough budget and proper planning from the government,” the contractor said.

For instance, four gewog centre offices in Samtse, which were constructed a few years back using wooden reinforcement are now in poor shape.

“This is happening because of flawed plan on the government part to use wooden reinforcenment to steel,” the contractor said.

However Lyonchoen argued that even providing enough budget would not  necessarily ensure quality. For instance, even if roads are paved with 80mm of blacktop, quality will still suffer if contractors use inferior quality of aggregates, he said. “While you should make profit, it is important equally to ensure quality.”

The Prime Minister also urged contractors not to bid too low as this is one of the reasons for poor quality work. He said this would neither ensure quality nor profit.

To keep a check on quality, Lyonchoen reiterated the importance of deploying monitoring officials. “If we can’t monitor the works in Thimphu thromde it will be even more difficult to supervise those activities in the remoter areas of the country,” he said. “If we don’t do it ourselves, nobody from outside would ensure quality for us.”

The Prime Minister said that some drains and roads disintegrate after just one or two years after its construction.

He also urged contractors to work towards changing the perception that contractors and engineers are corrupt. “Whether contractors or engineers, it’s my request to work towards reducing instances of corruption,” Lyonchoen said. “If corruption takes root now … it will be difficult to eradicate it in the future once its entrenched.”

The government has been responding to corruption promptly. For instance, construction of the Dalbari to Dagapela road was suspended as per the Anti Corruption Commission’s recommendation. “If you can prove me that there is corruption even if you want anonymity I will support you,” Lyonchoen said.

Though the government’s priority has always been to employ Bhutanese in the construction sector, not much progress has been made because of constraints faced by both the government and contractors.

However, the Prime Minister assured support to contractors willing to employ  a Bhutanese labour force. “I will help you get works without actually having to sit in the bidding if any of you has a company comprised solely of Bhutanese employees,” he said.

Lyonchoen welcomed moves by contractors to employ fresh Technical Training Institute graduates and engineers without experience. “Let’s work harder to give Bhutanese, the jobs in the Bhutanese job market,” he said.

The two-day meeting concluded yesterday.

Tempa Wangdi