Leaders in Construction Oman was a frank affair
Oman continues to be a country I look forward to visiting, so it was with great pleasure that I travelled to Muscat for our second Leaders in Construction Oman conference. We were expecting a good turnout going by last year’s attendance figures, and in that respect it didn’t disappoint with a virtual full-house. Nor was it a let-down in terms of debate.
It was honest, open, frank and occasionally controversial: everything you’d hope and expect from a conference such as this.
To paraphrase the opening remarks of co-moderator, Pinsent Mason’s Sachin Kerur, the summit tends to be the most emboldened on CW’s conference calendar. Why is this so? Well I’m not entirely sure, but Kerur is right.
This kind of naked truth is vital to the Sultanate, which ends its current five-year spending cycle in 2015. There are so many mega-projects on its plate as it implements Vision 2020 that it would be remiss if people did not question whether the country is going about delivering them in the best way possible.
One wag, for instance, whose firm is working on a residential project, quipped that the more you know about a project the less likely you are to get it. The reasoning being that if most problems that arise on projects were known at tender phase then bids would be priced more expensively.
At the Oman conference, it was suggested that some of these issues can be ironed out through revising the way contracts are drawn up.
Hill International’s Melvyn Ford said that present contracts lump risk onto one party, which creates a culture of ‘them and us’. Ford suggested that Oman could adopt newer ways of working such as collaborative systems that have been adopted in the UK – most notably in contracts undertaken for London’s 2012 Olympics.
“Take a railway project: you have multiple contractors but somebody needs to take control of the problems,” he said. “Because when you’re a project manager/engineer/subcontractor/client; everyone has an opinion and they think they know the answer. So you need someone who can specifically dedicate their time on that and try and resolve these issues as they happen.”
The education system also came under the spotlight, with one Omani panellist suggesting that it had failed a generation of youngsters who now feel they are entitled to a job. Moreover, delegates heard that the Oman government is bringing in tougher anti-bribery and corruption laws, having signed up to the UN Convention Against Corruption.
They are intended to make the Sultanate more transparent after a string of high-profile convictions of industry and public figures in recent months.
Such frank debate might be uncomfortable for some, but if Oman is going to spend a lorryload of cash on projects, what cost is a dose of honesty if in the end it saves time and money?