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Focus on lowest bids promotes shoddy construction work

Update: September, 04/2012 - 09:48

Professor Tran Chung, head of the Construction Quality Board under the Viet Nam Federation of Civil Engineering Association, spoke to the Thoi bao ngan hang (Banking Times) about poor quality construction work

Can Tho Bridge collapsed when it was being built (September 2007); Song Tranh 2 Hydropower Plant's dam was found to be leaking (November 2011); Thu Thiem Tunnel under the Sai Gon River and Van Thanh flyover had cracks (2005 and 2012). What is the main reason for the low quality of construction?

I am a scientist specialising in researching shortcomings of construction works. And I feel concerned about how many construction works that were carried out after being invited for bidding are of poor quality. However, in the nature of things, bid invitation is an auction. The bidder who offers the lowest price for the construction work is usually selected. I think that high quality usually does not accompany a low price and time limit.

I remember well that a garage located in Truong Chinh Street collapsed in 1997, killing five people. Substandard construction materials were identified to be the cause. The bidder who offered the lowest price assigned its subordinate units to build the garage. There should have been loss of capital when the construction work was transferred to another unit to build. Therefore, the shortcoming is in the way the capital is managed.

Besides, it takes time because one construction project has to go through many complicated procedures, including those under the ask-and-give mechanism. By the time the construction project is carried out, the deadline is very near. The contractor has to quickly execute the construction work; they even ignore technical orders when building a construction project, because they will receive less capital if they get behind schedule. These factors lower the quality of construction.

Sometimes it is hard to avoid speeding up the construction process. For example, what if the construction project must be completed in time to celebrate a big event?

Economical and technical solutions must be issued, rather than simply cutting short the construction process. We should learn a lesson from the Van Thanh tunnel under the Van Thanh Flyover in HCM City, in which severe cracks developed because the contractor finished consolidating the road surface that leads to the flyover in only three months instead of eight months. Applying advanced techniques and additional investment capital would have sped up the construction process more effectively.

To give another example, a contractor had to spend US$16 million to shorten the construction process of Ca Mau gas-fired Thermal Power Plant. This shows that we cannot simply use our "will" to shorten the construction process. Rather, we need advanced techniques and more investment capital.

For construction projects made to celebrate big events, we must take these projects more seriously. Changes in execution are necessary to shape the construction works into beautiful symbols for celebrations.

Proper techniques and construction schedules are outlined in depth in Bidding Law. So, why do shortcomings appear in construction projects and how can we identify them?

Although the Bidding Law rules outline proper techniques and construction schedules in depth, only dozens of reasonably priced construction projects meet quality requirements so far.

It is not difficult to identify shortcomings in construction projects. It's about time we learned to face the fact that many shortcomings are identified only after an incident happens. However, the key question is who will take responsibility for the shortcomings – and who will force them to accept the blame.

Actually, the Government‘s Decision No 209 in 2004 required contractors to provide compensation if their construction works do not meet the quality requirements they committed to. Unfortunately, there is no consensus among relevant agencies about how to enforce this law.

Finding out and announcing the real cause of shortcomings is the best way to improve the quality of construction projects and force the wrongdoers to accept responsibility and offer compensation. Wrongdoer's names should be made public. This will teach them a lesson and help people identify and prevent shortcomings. — VNS

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