Article Review: “Appropriate or Default Project Procurement Systems?” by Rwelamila and Meyer
The article “Appropriate or default project procurement systems?” reports the findings of a research conducted in Botswana, a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member, to determine the shortfalls in the building procurement systems in the SADC construction industry. Rwelamila and Meyer argue that “the problem of balancing quality, cost, schedule, and utility is not the inability of the traditional building procurement system, rather it is partly due to the selection of appropriate project procurement system,” (p. 40). In their recommendation, they held that a balance of project parameters within the SADC construction industry could only be achieved by selecting appropriate project procurement systems.
As the authors note, appropriate financing and procurement are key to effectiveness in project management. The twentieth and the twenty-first centuries have witnessed an evolution in technology that necessitates an evolution in all other aspects of project management. Although SADC, has demonstrated some evolution efforts in its procedures, the authors argue that traditional approaches are still evident (Rwelamila & Meyer, 1999, p. 42). This is to the detriment of its projects. True change requires an overhaul of some systems and a strict scrutiny of what is considered essential before being applied. Management structures in the public construction sector have failed to establish proper systems that individuals are developing and using their appropriate methods.
Reviewing the history of the construction project procurement in Botswana, the authors note poor performance in the balancing of project parameters. Poor quality, cost overruns, delayed schedules, and increased claims and litigation characterize the industry (Rwelamila & Meyer, 1999, p. 42). They then fault the system in which they claim that building contractors, more often, begin the work with little knowledge of the construction. Justification of this claim points to the loopholes in the procurement process. Prior to the award of a construction undertaking, the systems have to verify beyond reasonable doubt that the contractor is well able to deliver quality work within set parameters. This also raises concerns in the accreditation process of the contractors. Claims that a contractor begins on a work that he has little knowledge about reflects the poor accreditation procedures set by SADC. Maybe, the system fails to establish different scopes of work to be done by specific categories of contractors. I content with the authors view that procurement systems should be based on the scope of the work rather than having a default project management structure where one system applies to every project.
Seemingly, the procurement problem cuts across the continent of Africa. The authors cite proper procurement procedures in Europe, US, and Australia but nothing significant in Africa (Rwelamila & Meyer, 1999, p. 41). Then, it implies, the poor procurement procedures are not only a problem of the construction industry, but it penetrates all other aspects of development in Africa. However, the continent of Africa ought to learn from the nations that have reformed their structures to adopt appropriate project procurement systems such as management contracting, construction management, total quality management, alternative delivery strategies, and continuous improvement.
According to the authors, several researchers have emphasized the need for streamlining organizational structures to particular building project requirements. The intensity of the research works presented indicates that there is a need for transformation of structures actualize efficiency in the industry. There is an overreliance on the traditional systems established by colonial masters in most of the SADC members. Even though the colonial masters like U.K. have transformed their systems, African countries still hold onto the old systems. This implies the reluctance to change by most of the African countries.
In the study, the researchers queried the three construction professions in the Botswana’s construction industry – engineering, architectural, and quantity surveying. They used questionnaires and interviews to collect data. The data collected identified pure traditional procurement system as the dominant system in the public building sector (Rwelamila & Meyer, 1999, p. 42). The authors then identify a hybrid system that seem not to be well understood in the three professions. The confusions and lack of understanding of the two systems portrayed in the research indicate the lack of knowledge in the advancements in the construction industry. This implies, the public construction authorities are failing to equip their officials on the advancements in the industry. Lack of investments in training of staff for them to be abreast with the reforms that can transform the industry is partly to blame to the inefficiencies experienced. Partnership programs with nations cited to have modernized their procurement systems could be a major turning point in transformation agenda.
Skeleton contract documents cannot guarantee quality in the work done by the contractors. Although the authors note that the contractors get to work without a clear picture of what is expected of them, it is clear that much of the fault lies in the systems rather than the contractor. There is seemingly a distinct cut-line between the designers and the builders, which hinders efficiency in the industry. Confining cost control to the bill of quantities, which are derived from incomplete specifications at the tendering stage. Such cost controls end being faulty and affecting quality. Poor quality results into cost overruns and claims and litigations, which taint the whole construction industry.
Client expectations, as noted by the author, are quality, utility, cost-effectiveness, and timely delivery. These objectives cannot be achieved when appropriate procurement procedures are put in place. Rwelamila and Meyer reiterate that building procurement procedures should be tailored to every project to suit the scope. This extends beyond the selection of a proper procurement methodology to the transformation of the overall project management process. Sticking to traditional methods lead to what the authors state as the “fixed constants syndrome.” (Rwelamila & Meyer, 1999, p. 44) This inertia to change may plunge the construction control institutions in Botswana and other African nations to a deluge of illusions that may see the construction industry dwindle into ultimate failure.
A review of the current procurement systems is essential not only in the SADC countries but also in the continent of Africa as a whole. Efficient procurement is the first step towards the success of any project undertaking. Current complexity in construction is nothing to be compared with the simple construction activities that were undertaken in the earlier years. Hence, traditional systems cannot continually be used with the expectation of yielding modern outcomes. The complexity in construction necessitate a change in the procurement systems to incorporate detailed documentation prior to sourcing for contractors, clear control guidelines, cost control measures, and standards for quality control, which enhance a balance in the project parameters and realization of quality in the construction industry.