Qatar’s infrastructure challenges sparks debate

Qatar’s infrastructure challenges sparks debate

The challenges of Qatar’s whopping $100bn infrastructure programme was the subject of debate at Construction Week’s Building Towards 2022 conference in Doha on Tuesday.

The conference, held at the Grand Hyatt Doha, featured a heated panel session on transport infrastructure, moderated by Sachin Kerur, managing partner, Pinsent Masons.

Kerur asked the panelists: “What arrangements are being put in place to keep the country moving while this massive construction program is going ahead?”

Tim Clarke, project director (QIRP), Obermeyer, Deutsche Bahn International, replied: “All the people that know the answer to that question are sitting in this room.

“There needs to be coordination with the road, metro and airport so that all of that doesn’t suck the labour into one sector. It could be quite dodgy if we’re not careful. The Central Planning Office is one of the models that we need to encourage more in Qatar so we can coordinate the projects.”

Kerur asked whether there will be a strong enough supply chain to deliver the programme. Ziad El-Balbisi, director, highways and bridges, Hyder Consulting, replied: “Yes, I think most of us do have concerns, but the signs are positive. If you look around the room you can see companies from all around the world.

“There’s a lot of international contractors that come in, coupled with the local contractors. I think that reduces the risk considerably. But it is a major challenge that we have the right supply chain – a lot of these projects are of the scale and complexity that require specialist contractors.”

Clarke added: “With any of these projects that go ahead, there has to be an arrangement with customs and port authorities that the volume of required materials can be handled and cleared, and that has to be a basic rule. There is potentially a bottleneck in terms of importation, but that ‘s a learning process and that has to be evolved.”

The moderator followed up with the question: “Can Qatar buck the trend of neighboring states, when it comes to efficient execution of projects?”

Clarke retorted: “It comes down to having good communication systems in place. ‘Open book’ is difficult to imagine in some contracting situations – the client’s domain needs to be private, the designer’s domain need to be private. In a way communication is very structured through interfaces and certain meeting situations.

“I think the idea of openness is a real opportunity. In a way it’s a cultural challenge. There’s an opportunity but there is a discipline.”

Kerur’s final question was: “Are the procurement agencies sufficiently streamlined now to take on the procurement challenge, and is the bureaucracy going in the right direction?”

El-Balbisi replied: “It’s improving. A lot of organisations realise they have to streamline their procurement processes – the way they think about delivering the projects. In time that will become better. It’s trial and error, but the supply chain will mature in time and hopefully well before 2022.”

Kerur concluded: “When you speak to clients there is now a belief that there is a will to change into what’s required. It will take time – it needs sensible advisors, and sensible direction from the top. Speaking to people in the audience, not just today but over the last few months, there does seem to be a sense that things are changing.”

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