Preliminaries; Money Allocated for Public Worries?
Posted on January 18th, 2018

Dr. Chandana Jayalath

Rules and regulations, plans and strategies, contracts and laws, all ought to benefit the people. But when it comes to the subject of public issues including environmental impacts due to construction, they remain studious with little benefit to the people. Ultimately, the people grapple with many environmental concerns due to development projects and have to fight for justice. Rulers tend to interpret that they are merely political.

It is not bewildering to understand that our environment is gradually being swallowed by dirt and degradation and the pace it happens is alarming. When the rains come we get floods, soaked garbage and mosquitoes. The floods take place mainly because either there is no proper drainage system or the existing ones have been interrupted by new construction. A classic example is the recent protest against the down south railway works. There is a growing environmental hazard in relation to earth cutting for central highway as well. There is also a great health hazard that lurks behind the unauthorized structures in and around the canal banks in Colombo and suburbs which makes it impossible for heavy machinery to be taken into the canals to be cleaned.

Though there were certain efforts in the past for the betterment of the construction works, nothing much has yielded as expected to bring about solutions to dire needs of the public affected by construction. Instead continuity of the poor process is publically evident from many incidents reported including hardships and inconveniences endured by the public due to corruption, poor planning, unsafe construction sites, fire hazards and negative impacts on environment etc.

Infrastructure projects are utilized for public that indeed play an important role for development in any country and, it is feasibility study that decides which project is the most effective. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been regulated on legal framework in many countries including Sri Lanka before any major project is kicked off; be it private or public. EIA includes the socio-economic and partly the social study. Most frustratingly in Sri Lanka, the feasibility of highway projects for example includes the smallest part of this social dimension.

EIA deems the social changes and indirect social impacts but it is not SIA; so that the real social impacts are not covered, in fact. For example, the view of public health concerns only pollution occurred during the construction phrase but neglects the accessibility of local people to the health facilities. In the aspect of property compensation, it is reported only how much cost of compensation is or how many relocated area are that is neglected the cohesion of community, structure of institution, interaction among people. Land use impacts mainly focus direct impacts from expropriation such as residents, agriculture area, and commercial area. Quality of life emphases impact assessment from pollution and relocation of facilities and services. This is particularly evident where the public participation is utterly neglected. Under circumstances, how can we ensure that the development projects in this country are in conformity with national policy aspirations towards securing sustainable development? Undeniably, sustainability is a broad term describing a desire to carry out activities without depleting resources or having harmful impacts, and meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

However, it must be noted that projects do have allocation for public health and safety and this allocation is usually a kind of front end contingency to deal with public issues. The right position to consider these aspects is the preliminaries that appear in tender documents, providing a description of a project that allows the contractor to assess costs which, whilst they do not form a part of any of the package of works required by the contract, are required by the method and circumstances of the works. The purpose of preliminaries is not only to specify general conditions and requirements for their execution, but also to include such things as dealing with hazards, risks and public access and so forth where there is considerable money for right disposal when required and when the contracts do mandate.

However, the most forgotten is that the prelims are for the public as well; the untold bitter truth. Preliminaries relate to the cost-significant items required by the method and particular circumstances under which the work is to be carried out, and those costs concerned with the issues that may arise during the construction such as dealing with noise, pollution, maintenance of public and private roads, lighting, water supply as well as access to homes via diverted routes. Dealing with possible floods due to embankments is also a matter of preliminaries.

Therefore, the preliminaries section in bill of quantities is one of the most important sections that require being priced taking a holistic view on the aforementioned reports, describing of project requirements as well as the public, services and facilities that must be maintained with no decline. Sustainability in building developments encompasses a wide array of concerns which are a vast and complex subject that must be considered from the very earliest stages as the potential environmental impacts are very significant. Researches reveal that around 32% of landfill waste comes from the construction and demolition of buildings. Once it has been decided to build a new building, as opposed to say changing working practices or refurbishing an existing building, a very significant commitment to consume resources has already been made. Designers and contractors may be able to help limit that consumption, but they cannot change the overall commitment. Decisions which are often made outside of any environmental assessment process can have a far greater impact on sustainability than decisions that designers are able to influence such as the form of the building and selection of materials.

Key decisions may be picked up by an environmental impact assessment on larger projects, but even then, this can be a post-rationalisation process used to justify decisions to the local planning authority, rather than a genuine decision making process. Other standards may be imposed by funders, the building regulations, and planning legislation. It is wise however to declare a public account as to how preliminaries were being considered, as building projects involve many detailed issues that go beyond the scope of an existing corporate plan. Preliminaries have been evolved for this noble cause and the public should know that it is preliminaries that are allocated to account of their grievances.

Apart from this, administration of preliminaries has often been the cause of dispute between the consultant quantity surveyor and the contractors’ quantity surveyors. The nature of preliminaries is such that it covers financial matters, which relate to the contract as a whole, and not confined to any particular work section and I wonder this aspect itself is a game of roulette. Therefore, each item of preliminaries should be assessed individually against a pre-determined criteria of compliance and this permits a much more realistic and accurate approach to be adopted to suit the circumstances. In Oman for example, any non-compliance with the Royal decrees connected with the public safety and health are detrimental for both the contractor and supervisory engineer.

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