How quantity surveyors can root out misspending

by Ofentse Sefolo
How quantity surveyors can root out misspending

The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure was one of the departments that receives the poorest audit results from the Auditor General. According to the Auditor General’s 2018 report, unauthorised expenditure had increased by 38% to R2.1-billion. According to Zandile Makhathini, Chairperson of the Built Environment Matters Committee on the Council for the Built Environment (CBE), there is only one Quantity Surveyor and three candidate Quantity Surveyors who manage the projects that make up the R12-billion budget of the Department.

“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,” says Zandile, who 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.

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

How quantity surveyors add value

Quantity surveyors are trained to manage and complete contractual and financial aspects of construction projects. Instead of appointing these built environment professionals to ensure that projects are completed within budget, engineers and construction managers – who haven’t been trained in cost estimating – manage the financials of government 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,” says Zandile.

Acting Chairperson of the Council for the Built Environment (CBE), Maphefo Mogodi, advises against tasking quantity surveying duties to people who are not trained and qualified to do the job.

“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 Maphefo.

Zandile 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 Zandile.

Unsubstantiated variation orders a symptom of poor cost control

Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille called for an overhaul of the department’s register after more corruption revelations were revealed in September 2019. The root of the problem is that despite being custodians of over 30 000 pieces of land more than 81 000 buildings, the values and status of properties are mostly unknown.

Zandile says that this lack of financial control is prevalent in projects currently underway, with the number of unsubstantiated variation orders on government projects being a symptom of the problem.

“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 Zandile.

Quantity surveyors can root out corruption and solve bottlenecks

Maphefo says that besides assisting government in rooting out corruption, quantity surveyors can also help solve bottlenecks on-site and improve project delivery.

“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 Maphefo.

Getting professionals to manage your contracts

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 Zandile.

“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 Zandile.

Maphefo concludes by saying that the result of appointing a quantity surveyor on a project can easily be quantified: there will be 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.”

For more information contact the ASAQS on +27 (11) 315 4140 or via www.asaqs.co.za.

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