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News & Press: 2019 News Items

Consistent lack of QS's in government departments is the root of infrastructure budget misspending

Tuesday, 29 October 2019  
Posted by: Bert vd Heever
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Late last year, the Auditor General reported that unauthorised expenditure in South Africa had increased by 38% to R2.1-billion, with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure being one of the departments that received the poorest audit results. While the Department is mandated to be the custodian and portfolio manager of the national government’s immovable assets, there are virtually no Quantity Surveyors within many government departments.

Zandile Makhathini, Chairperson of the Built Environment Matters Committee on the Council for the Built Environment (CBE), has worked in various roles within government departments for the past twenty years. In 2012, she became the head of an infrastructure programme at the Department of Public Works and in 2015 she was able to appoint a Quantity Surveyor for the first time.

“Before 2015, there weren’t formally appointed Quantity Surveyors at the Department of Public Works. After requesting a special dispensation from HR to appoint a Quantity Surveyor for my projects, I was able to appoint one at an uncompetitive salary. The lack of competitive salaries for Quantity Surveyors is one of the biggest reasons for the lack of professional expertise within the Department. There is currently only one Quantity Surveyor and three candidate Quantity Surveyors who manage the projects that make up the R12-billion budget of the Department,” says Makhathini.

Engineers and construction managers aren’t quantity surveyors

Quantity surveyors are the built environment professionals equipped and trained to manage the complete contractual and financial aspects of construction projects. They provide key oversight and management that helps to ensure that a construction project is completed within its projected budget by pricing/forecasting as well as measuring the value of the work done on-site. Makhathini says that these skills are in short supply within the Department and that built environment professionals who haven’t been trained in cost estimating manage the financials of projects.

“Government departments are at a critical point where they need to recognise that a Quantity Surveyor’s skills are specialised and greatly needed on our projects.  Engineers and construction managers do not have the same skills as professional Quantity Surveyors. As a construction manager, I’m fully aware of my limitations, which is why I’ve appointed a Quantity Surveyor as part of my project team. Instead of expecting engineers and construction managers to excel in cost estimating and cost control, we need to entrust this responsibility to people who have mastered these areas of expertise. Government departments need to make roles for Quantity Surveyors available at competitive salaries so that they can control costs and help us derive value from our building projects and assets,” says Makhathini.

Maphefo Mogodi, Acting Chairperson of the Council for the Built Environment (CBE), says Quantity Surveyors are trained experts that provide an accuracy of estimates that other professionals simply aren’t trained to provide.

“Consultants involved in a project often tell the client that they can do the bill of quantities and they include this task in their fees. Quantity Surveyors are the ones with the nuanced expertise to provide a level of transparency and clarity to the costs that other professions aren’t equipped to offer,” says Mogodi.

Makhathini says that having a Quantity Surveyor on her projects has led to financial and project management benefits.

“Quantity Surveyors can foresee problems before they arise and do cost exercises to advise me on how I can achieve my goal while remaining within budget. During the design phase, they work with the design team and they focus on containing costs throughout the construction phase up until delivery to ensure we get value for money. Without a Quantity Surveyor, it becomes difficult to manage design changes and project costs,” says Makhathini.

Quantity Surveyors can help root out corruption

In September 2019, Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille called for an overhaul of the department’s register after more corruption revelations were uncovered. Despite the department being custodians of over 30 000 pieces of land and more than 81 000 buildings, the values and status of properties are mostly unknown.

While these numbers relate to completed projects, Makhathini says the number of unsubstantiated variation orders on government projects is a symptom of the poor cost control that happens on a project planning and construction level.

“Each and every bill of quantities should be properly accounted for and substantiated. Without costing specialists, government departments will continue to lack control over the numbers, and they will continue to be subjected to abuse by dishonest contractors and consulting companies. When we have Quantity Surveyors working alongside our construction managers, engineers and accountants, we will be able to pinpoint wastage across the entire value chain and root out corruption,” says Makhathini. 

Solving bottlenecks, managing contracts and providing legal input

Quantity Surveyors on projects can help solve bottlenecks on-site and improve project delivery, says Mogodi.

“As most professionals in the built environment know, the government is often a slow payer and this lack of adequate cash flow often leads to delays on construction projects. A Quantity Surveyor is in the position to work with contractors on site, work out what money needs to be paid for the value of the progress that has been made, and move projects forward in a systematic and cost-effective way. Having a Quantity Surveyor keep their pulse on project costs and ironing out issues with the contractor on site can drastically improve project delivery,” says Mogodi.

Besides managing progress on-site and working with contractors, Quantity Surveyors can also assist with contract management before projects go to site and provide the construction expertise that is needed if and when a project ends up in court, adds Makhathini.

“Many times, corporate lawyers are hired to represent government departments during the litigation process, but in some instances these lawyers don’t have experience with the JBCC, FIDIC, or other contracts that government uses for construction projects. These frequent disputes erode profit margins and ultimately affect project delivery. If a Quantity Surveyor is involved in the project since inception, they can ensure that the contract management was handled correctly and provide input to the legal teams who have been appointed for the litigation process. A Quantity Surveyor’s expertise can therefore assist in minimising costs related to project delays and litigation,” says Makhathini.

Minimising waste

When asked how government departments can be convinced of the value that Quantity Surveyors can bring to a project, Mogodi says that the result of a Quantity Surveyor on a project easy to see and quantify: there is no waste.

“Quantity Surveyors are there to assist the contractor in making sure the client gets value for money and that there isn’t wastage on projects. If you don’t employ a Quantity Surveyor on your project, you are losing out. The projects with cost overruns are often the ones where no Quantity Surveyor has been appointed,” says Mogodi.

Larry Feinberg, Executive Director of the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors, says it is incumbent on the government to recognise the deficiencies in project cost management and that appointing Quantity Surveyors will go a long way in alleviating corruption.

“When Quantity Surveyors are appointed at municipalities and within government structures across South Africa, the mismanagement of funds will be substantially curtailed. While engineers, architects and other built environment professionals can do contract administration bills of quantities, they will never come close to being as meticulous and as accurate as trained Quantity Surveyors. When Quantity Surveyors oversee contractual and accounting budgets, government will be able to get clear cut answers as to why there are cost overruns on projects, which will reflect a better fiscus for our country, and provide government with stringent budget oversight mechanisms and ultimate accountability,” comments Feinberg.

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