Incompetent, inexperienced, unqualified consultants, contractors

Dear Editor,
It has been reported in the media on June 7, that a Government investigation into the collapse of the Palmyra monument on April 26, found that failure was due primarily to a poorly designed earthen foundation supporting the structure. Also, failure of the masonry blocks filled in with mortar for the base support was probably due to their low compressive strength. However, poorly cast masonry blocks filled in with concrete would not have increased the crushing strength of the blocks significantly, as was reported.
The previous PPP/C Govt. had apparently assigned Design Consultants Services Ltd. (DCSL) to prepare the preliminary design. Specifications and estimated cost to construct this project was given at 5M. Construction, however, was kept on hold until the newly elected APNU/AFC Govt. decided to resurrect the project; and based on a revision of the DCSL design by its appointed consultant, FEBCAM, the Ministry of Education’s Department of Culture decided to proceed with project execution.
Accordingly, Innovative Engineering Consultant Services (IECS) were appointed to prepare the final design; and FEBCAM, as supervisory consultant and alternate contracting enterprise (ACE) was appointed primary contractor.
During design of the project, IECS observed that soil data was required for the foundation design, in order to determine the strength and consolidation characteristics of the soil, and its capability of supporting the stresses imposed by the structure. IECS therefore requested the applicable soils data to complete its design, but was advised by the Ministry of Culture that geotechnical investigation was not carried out and would not be done, since no budgetary allowance was made for this aspect of project work.
At this stage of its work, IECS should have walked away from its contract, since the Govt. had to provide the soils data, and no professional engineer could design the foundation for a structure of seeming complexity without adequate soil data.
Instead, it was reported that IECS used historic soil data to prepare the foundation design, which, when used during construction, was a major cause of the structure’s collapse.
Similarly, it is not clear whether the specification had listed the minimum crushing strength requirements for the mortar-filled blocks, which also failed. A concrete-testing laboratory should have tested the blocks during construction, to ensure they met design requirements.
Failure of the Palmyra Monument, Kato Secondary School, and several other public works’ projects indicates that the APNU+AFC Govt continues to employ incompetent, inexperienced, and generally unqualified consultants, construction supervisors and contractors for its civil engineering projects. Firstly, these service providers should be pre-qualified, to ensure that they have the relevant qualification, experience, and other parameters to competently undertake their given assignments. Continued reluctance to do so would only add to failures and cost escalation of public works’ projects.

Performance bonds should be mandatory for all contracts, as this would enable the Govt. to recoup its expenditures when contractors fail to perform in accordance with the terms and conditions of their obligations. Those firms that fail to perform should also be barred from future Govt. assignments, at least for a specified period.
Finally, the APNU/AFC Govt should recognize that many, if not all of its Ministries, do not have the required technical personnel, with the training, competence and experience to undertake execution and oversight of many of its engineering projects.
The Palmyra project clearly bears this out, as the Ministry of Education’s Department of Culture technical personnel did not comprehend the importance of geotechnical investigations and material testing, such as the determination of masonry blocks’ strength requirements for the design and construction of this structure, in accordance with generally accepted standards.

Yours truly,
Charles Sohan