20 December 2019
The Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, on Friday, ordered stoppage of work at the ongoing Omi-Adio Railway Station — a project under the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail line.
The minister cited compromise of standards by the contractor as reason for the order.
Amaechi gave the directive when he got to the station during his monthly routine inspection tour of the ongoing project, which he commenced from Lagos in company of others.
According to him, the discovery of non-usage of stone for flooring at the station was one of the benefits of continuous inspection the project.
“One of the benefits of this inspection is what is happening here now.
“Now, the contractor has been seen to be doing very poor quality job in this station.
“We say stop and they have to start afresh.
“The implication is that if we didn’t stop here like we didn’t at Olodo (rail station), we won’t know what they are doing. If we didn’t stop here, they would have laid these things and proceeded.”
The minister said he had directed the consultant to ensure that there would be a consulting staff, who is an engineer, in every station to ensure quality.
He said the consultant must be on ground in each of the stations always and not on visiting basis.
On progress made so far in track laying, Amaechi said the contractor had met the Federal Government’s target, but must work harder on construction of stations for speedy delivery.
According to him, there is the need to speed up work on stations and deliver it by February, which is the government timeline.
He said the argument of contractor was to deliver by April 2020, but the government’s argument was that they needed more hands and equipment to complete on time.
This is a FIDIC EPC contract under which the Chinese contractor is supervised by the Italian consultant engineers whom the govt described as competent. The design is done by the contractor and approved by the consultant. The consultant’s duty is to vet the design and sign off the construction of the works. Instructions are given to the contractor by the consultant not the minister.
The consultant is on site with the contractor. Engineers from the Federal Ministry of Transportation also shadow the consultant and contractor and are present on site.
So how is it that a technically illiterate Minister who visits once a month is the one that will discover that sub-standard materials are being used in construction to the extent of ordering work to stop during one such visit?
If there is a non compliance with the approved design or standards, it is for the consultant to instruct the contractor to comply with the design, not the Minister or even his staff. How will even the Minister or his staff know about it if not advised by the consultant? Ordering the stoppage of work in the circumstances as reported therefore would be sheer theatre as it is not his place nor does the alleged non compliance warrant such a response. Sometimes you must wonder if the guy thinks he is building a boys quarters by direct labour.
The minister also reportedly directs that the consultant situates personel at each of the 10 stations on a permanent basis. This is not only impractical, it is also not economical. Who will pay for this and what will such personel be doing with their time there? If a consultant who visits a site perhaps daily or every other day does not detect a non compliance and it takes a technically untrained minister who visits once a month to discover it, then there is a serious problem. It is more than likely to be a ruse or publicity stunt.
Under the terms of the FIDIC EPC Agreement between the Federal Government and the Chinese contractor, the FG lays itself open to significant financial claims from the Chinese by the constant interference with the contractor’s progress by a Minister whose penchant for showmanship and eye service has become legendary. The Minister is carrying on as if there is no contract between the FG and the contractor and consultant. He would do himself a world of good by reading them.
Perhaps he is preparing minds for the eventuality of non completion by his new impossible deadline of April 2020. Sadly, aside from the force majeure of adverse weather and the unforeseen right of way issues, the contractor can also cite the client’s repeated interference with the contract programme in defence of his likely failure to complete by the contractual completion date of April 2020.
With what is left to be done in the scope of work for this phase such as the 13 or so flyovers over the railway within Lagos, they will struggle to complete by 2021. Completing the infrastructure and buying a dmu set however does not address the transportation problems of Lagos congestion. There is no evidence of an operating plan that optimizes the new infrastructure. The more the Minister talks, the more it is clear that he does not have an understanding of how the railway could address the Lagos congestion problem.
On the loan for Ibadan-Kano, the NASS has not approved it yet and is now on recess until about mid January 2020. Neither has China Exim approved it yet. Even if it is the first order of business when the NASS returns, it is still rather optimistic to expect work on Ibadan-Kano to start in January as approval does not equate to cash in the contractors hand. Same kind of unrealism that has dogged the Minister’s promises on railways.
Curiously, a video of a Ghanaian Roads minister arresting a foreign contractor has recently been trending on social media. Is it a coincidence?