Enhancing collaboration among clients, contractors and consultants on Ghanaian construction projects

Collaboration among key stakeholders is essential to the success of construction projects all over the world. Project participants have all agreed that collaboration among clients, contractors and consultants is one of the important ingredients for successful contracts and good contractual relationships.  Unfortunately, in Ghana there seems to be a complete disregard or ignorance of the provisions of the contract concerning the relationship among these stakeholders. This is seen especially between the main contractor and consultants resulting sometimes in a situation where some consultants are tempted to think that the main contractor is a subordinate to them and they treat them as such.  The purpose of this article is to identify the roles of the client, main contractor and the consultant on construction projects. The article will also emphasize the need for mutual respect, cooperation and collaboration towards achieving the overall success of projects in the country.

Contribution of the Construction Sector to GDP

Without a doubt, the construction industry in Ghana continues to be an engine of growth for the economy with contractors playing a leading role in this regard. In 2015, the contribution of the construction sector to GDP was 14.8% and 6% in terms of global GDP (Ghana Statistical Service, 2015). The building of collaboration among the key stakeholders will further enhance the economic performance of the construction industry which will ultimately benefit the country.

Parties to the contract and their roles

The client is the owner of the project. The client’s rights and obligations are clearly defined by the conditions of the contract. Important among these responsibilities is the provision of funds as and when required for the smooth execution of the project. The main contractor is responsible for the provision of all the material, labor, plant and equipment and management needed for the construction of the project. Today, the design and construction of buildings have evolved becoming more complex involving new technologies and a variety of specialist trades. This coupled with the high expectation of clients for faster delivery, value for money and improved quality has transformed the vocation of construction into a profession.

The main contractor and the client (owner) are the parties to the contract. The consultant is not a party to the contract.  As a third party, the consultant derives his or her authority and rights over the construction process from the general contract between the client and the contractor. The consultant may be an architect, engineer, quantity surveyor who is employed by the client to represent the client’s interest on the project. Typically, during the construction, the consultant owes a duty to the owner to ensure that the contractor abides by the terms of the contract and that the design and specifications are followed in constructing the project.

Payments to be made to the contractor

The construction contract normally provides for periodic payments to be made to the contractor based on the volume of work done or when specific phases have been attained. It is the consultant’s responsibility to determine when these phases have been successfully completed by the contractor, and thus when the contractor is entitled to payment. Without the consultant’s certificate, the contractor cannot receive payment.    The contractor is responsible for applying for certificates of payment within a reasonable time.  The consultant must deal with all requests for payment promptly and in accordance with the contract.

One of the biggest problems and perhaps most frustrating moments for main contractors is when the consultant must prepare interim certificate to enable them receive part payment for work done. Some consultants use the situation to bully contractors. It literally becomes “a love affair”. A main contractor must often dance to the tunes of the whims and caprices of clients and consultants to receive what is his or her right under the contract. Where a main contractor tries to enforce what is his or her right, he is either seen as stepping on the tail of a cobra or described as a litigant who must be listed in the ‘black books.’

Managing Disputes

It is also important to state that when a dispute arises between the main contractor and the client in any matter in respect of the contract, which they fail to resolve, it is expected under most contracts that at the initial stage, the consultant will use his authority to resolve these disputes. The consultant under these circumstances is required to determine disputes in an unbiased and fair manner. The consultant in such circumstances, is expected to act professionally by removing himself or herself from his or her position as the client’s representative on the project to become an unbiased adjudicator of a dispute between the client, and the main contractor.

 

Treatment of Contractors as slaves

Unfortunately, these roles are not often fully understood or complied with by the parties involved in the project, including the client and the consultant.  Sometimes, main contractors complain that clients do not regard them as equal partners in the provision of construction projects but sometimes think and act like ‘paymasters’ and regard the main contractors as ‘slaves’. There are also many instances where consultants treat contractors in a similar fashion in complete disregard to the provisions of the contract. These uncooperative and uncollaborative attitude of consultants stem from their desire to please their clients who employ them. Their actions often become dictatorial and very oppressive. Any attempt by the main contractor to enforce the conditions of contract leads to a stiff intimidating posture from the consultants. In some cases, instead of the consultants serving as good arbiters to explain or educate clients on the conditions of contract, they rather side with clients to abuse the right of contractors with impunity.

Collaboration as the way forward

The present state is clearly not good for the health of the construction industry and for that matter the economy of the country.  Collaboration will improve teamwork, enhance quality and timely completion of projects and stimulate better communication. Above all, it will minimize the adversarial relationship between main contractors and clients on construction projects.

With increased awareness and understanding of the roles of all parties and the willingness of parties to abide by the spirit and letter of the conditions of contract in Ghana, a sustainable construction industry would be achieved.

Finally, we wish to acknowledge the support of the BUSAC Fund together with its development partners USAID, DANIDA and the EU, for their support and sponsorship towards promoting the advocacy issues being championed by the AGI construction sector.

By Rockson Kwesi Dogbegah, Chairman for AGI Construction Sector & CIDF – GH