Q: What are the current challenges in the industry?
A: The main challenge relates to the negative impact of the so-called ‘construction mafias’, which include ‘business forums’ that claim to act in the interests of local communities. Under the smokescreen of ‘radical economic transformation’, such criminals cause projects to run over time and over budget, the result of which impacts on the contractors working on the sites, which in turn has a ripple effect throughout the economy. A secondary challenge is the late or non-payment of contractors and consultants, affecting their ability to pay salaries and meet their financial commitments. The overall result reduces the sustainability of the entire industry.
Q: What are the impacts of late or non-payments of quantity surveyors by national, provincial and local government departments?
A: We see many professional practices closing or scaling down as a result of late or non-payment. A further consequence is that many built-environment professionals seek better opportunities abroad, leaving a serious skills gap. Contractors therefore struggle to access the skills they need to succeed, which further hamstrings efforts to transform the industry. The only figure we can quote currently is the Master Builders Association’s R5.5 billion owed to contractors and built-environment professionals. The Association of South African Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS) is in the process of compiling a survey that we plan to send out early in 2020 to our members as well as to other voluntary associations and institutes within the construction industry, to gain a better, granular understanding of the ‘R5.5 billion’ in order to approach the relevant government departments with accurate figures.
Q: What are the major pitfalls of using engineers and construction personnel instead of quantity surveyors in order to cut costs?
A: Quantity surveyors specialise in managing construction budgets, which can be extremely complex. They are trained to assess rigorously all aspects of cost and contractual management, particularly in how to measure construction works precisely and accurately, ensuring the complete financial management and viability of the project. While other professionals, such as engineers and architects, may be able to produce bills of quantities (BoQs) for complex construction projects, such BoQs will never be as accurate or as detailed as those produced by a trained, professional quantity surveyor.
Q: The ASAQS has highlighted that government has lost control over its projects by not using quantity surveyors, resulting in excess waste, bottlenecks and delayed delivery times. How serious is this problem?
A: This is a very serious problem and there’s no way of quantifying it, despite a number of reports and evidence that numerous state projects are dramatically over budget. One of the reasons is a lack of registered professional quantity surveyors being appointed by various state institutions to oversee the costs of projects.
One only has to think of Eskom’s Medupi and Kusile and the massive cost overruns they have experienced to grasp the extent of this challenge. A quantity surveyor, for example, would be accountable and answerable for the various reasons that could have caused cost overruns at these power stations. The ASAQS strongly advises stakeholders within the construction industry to appoint and employ registered quantity surveyors to maximise the chances of achieving project goals within the predicted budget and time frame.
Q: What are the environmental challenges that quantity surveyors face in SA?
A: By way of background, one needs to understand that in an effort to promote transformation, government mandated that 30% of a project should be undertaken by SMEs. Unfortunately, local communities, business forums and the construction mafias use this contractual requirement to disrupt projects and make further demands on the main contractors. However, the main contractors remain bound by the contractual agreement with the client to deliver projects to a certain quality level and within stipulated time frames.
It’s a big challenge for the quantity surveyors to evaluate claims from contractors who are trying to reclaim losses incurred through these disruptions and delays, as well as unacceptable quality delivered by SMEs not able to meet a project’s standards. Standard industry contracts also do not always make provision for contractors to be compensated for disruptions and delays, which makes it difficult to evaluate claims and motivate them to clients, especially as they have usually already resulted in budget overruns.
Q: How does the IT revolution enhance the role of quantity surveyors on projects?
A: Quantity surveyors, like other professionals, need to come to terms with change and seize the opportunities offered by new technology. For example, when a whole professional team uses building information modelling, time will be saved in numerous areas of the project by ensuring ease of access to information and the sharing of all relevant changes almost instantaneously. This time can then be more fruitfully spent on value engineering and cost control during the project.