Mauritius is open for business and in order to achieve this strategy it is not surprising to see the current government embark on a series of major development projects aimed at bringing the infrastructure of our country to a level deemed adequate to meet the demands of a major developing nation. The political engagement is very well but it needs to be allied to sound practices requiring engineering of the highest international standard and the implementation of a strategy that is all encompassing from tendering to project close-out via conceptual design, FEED (Front End Engineering Design), detailed analysis and construction phases. Without the correct strategy and the right approach throughout the lifetime of all these major engineering or construction projects, we may end up with a defective product that will not be fit for purpose and end up costing Mauritian taxpayers who invariably will provide the financial buffer in such projects.
Imagine scenario A: the Client, say the Mauritian government, intends to modernise its transport network and open part of its territory to help its businesses compete on the major international markets with better transport. Some preliminary study has identified that creating a new motorway will not only provide quick access between various hubs of the country but it will also alleviate some of the major traffic jams, that is the bane of commuters and motorists every day in those parts of the country: serendipity in action. A bidding process is started and a candidate (the Contractor) is quickly identified to manage, construct and deliver the project. The local team appointed by the Client performs a token job of reviewing reports and technical documents from the Contractor and its sub-contractors. The job is signed off and delivered slightly over budget but on time to great applause. However a year later, the first cracks start appearing. A road to nowhere if ever there were one!
Now imagine scenario B: the same Client, the Mauritian government, appoints a project team headed by a few local engineering experts and some dedicated local personnel backed by an international certifying authority. This team has been set up to oversee the construction and delivery of the new motorway ensuring that all specified international guidelines and design codes are followed. The bidding process is carried out and Contractors are short-listed according to sound engineering, environmental, quality assurance and cost consideration. Other considerations such as the inclusion of a “local content” within the project can and should be considered too. The final contractor is appointed whose solution meets the guidelines and criteria set out to deliver a safe, structurally and environmentally sound solution that meets the specifications. The fact that the project is set to be delivered within budget and on time is also not to be ignored.
The Contractor is a highly recognisable organisation with a series of safeguards to ensure that all its deliveries whether technical or non-technical follow clear steps in terms of Quality Assurance. Any deviation or amendment, as is sometimes required, to take account of local variations is discussed with the local team in charge of the Project from the Client side. Cost and time resources are monitored closely and milestones are set out and followed. Risks identified during the FEED or Concept study phase are expanded and monitored during the detailed design and construction phase. Regular technical review meetings ensure that the project is maintained on track and risks are managed and variations to the original design follow a clear strategy with dialogue between all parties: the client via the Project team, the contractor and any certifying authority that has been appointed to ensure that the delivery is, well, up to standard.
The supply chain of material is monitored closely to ensure that whatever is being used during construction meets all the specifications that have been agreed upon for the integrity of the final product. The financial and engineering resources are managed all along the project lifetime to ensure that any unforeseen requirement is adequately managed and clearly explained. It is rather unsurprising to see that the project is delivered on time and not far from the original budget. The local project team has all along been open with the media and has even been to schools to explain to students the various technical feats that they have achieved whilst delivering the new motorway. The expertise gained within the local project team whether from a project management or engineering aspect is then ready to be rolled out on other projects.
I am certain that almost all Mauritians will plump for scenario B above and would like to see any future infrastructural projects defined within clear guidelines and procedures throughout the various stakeholders of the project whether it is the Client (the government), the main and any sub-contractors, the suppliers and anyone involved in the delivery of the final product. The latter should meet all major international standards which should be clearly defined within the project specifications and managed by the local team appointed to oversee the delivery of the product. It is no use letting the contractor write the technical specifications and ignore risks posed by the local landscape or climate. The local team should be headed by experts who are familiar with the way international guidelines are formulated; only then can local variations be understood and implemented. At every level of the project, regular technical reviews must be held as well as clear milestones defined to monitor progress.
It is commendable to see the term “good governance” being brandished around and it is this very concept that is required to implement such a system as described above. Accountability requires the definition of procedures and guidelines within an organisation such that any major work undertaken on a project is checked and documented at every stage to ensure that the final delivery meets all specifications set out and any flaw in the design can be traced back and rectified. Mauritius deserves to kick the cowboys out into touch and deliver engineering with integrity.