Government looks at piloting collaborative contracting model for public sector projects

Generic photo of cranes at a construction site at Bedok Central.
Generic photo of cranes at a construction site at Bedok Central.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The building time for public sector projects such as transport infrastructure and HDB flats could be shortened, with the Government looking at making industry players - from architects and engineers to contractors and facility managers - collaborate from the moment they tender for contracts.

Currently, they tend to work in silos, says National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, resulting in inefficiency and time wastage.

To boost construction productivity, the Government is looking into piloting a collaborative contracting model in its public sector projects similar to existing models in the United States and Hong Kong, he said.

Speaking at the first joint conference by the Board of Architects (BOA) and Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore at Marina Bay Sands on Wednesday, Mr Wong said the push towards a more collaborative approach to construction was necessary as the sector here is "fragmented" despite the small Singaporean market.

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This meant it takes time for new best practices or technologies to filter through to the entire industry.

"There is also the risk of working in silos and not coordinating effectively amongst ourselves," he said.

If the building plans were not specified properly or if work needs to be aborted, it could lead to inefficiencies, duplication of effort and wastage, he added.

"We have studied what other countries do. It is very interesting because other countries are similarly grappling with this challenge and they are trying out different contracting models," he said.

In the US, the different parties - the owner, architect, engineer, contractor and sub-contractors - come together to conceptualise the project from day one, and seek to reduce errors and wastage, and minimize redesign problems, he said.

Hong Kong also uses an alliance contracting framework - known as the New Engineering Contract - for all its government projects tendered from 2015.

In Singapore, the Building and Construction Authority is looking to do something similar by stipulating how important details and information are to be communicated between architects, engineers, contractors and the facility managers, said its deputy chief executive officer of industry development Neo Choon Keong.

"Because we are the biggest procurer, BCA is working with government agencies to put in place contractual requirements to get parties to collaborate," he said at the sidelines of the conference.

Such a collaborative approach would also pave the way for developers, consultants and contractors to adopt digital building tools, such as the Building Information Modelling (BIM), to facilitate collaboration, said Mr Neo.

The hope is for the private sector to follow suit. BCA already imposes the mandatary use of prefabricated construction methods, known as Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction (PPVC), at selected government land sales sites.

According to BCA's targets, 70 per cent of all large construction projects should be designed virtually and use such offsite construction methods by 2025, said Mr Neo.

"It is a stretch target, but it something that we are working towards, and something that we believe will effect the transformation of this sector."

Besides the collaborative approach, the Government is also looking at how to place greater emphasis on quality assessments and productivity instead of price for tenders, said Mr Wong.

It will also look at penalising firms with a record of poor performance and disqualify them from participating in tenders through BCA's new Consultants' Performance Appraisal System, which scores firms based on their performance record.

"We want to have more balanced quality and fee competition and provide greater rewards for firms that deliver high quality work. (These ideas) will not be implemented so quickly as the different government agencies which do procurement need more time to put this into place. We are sharing these ahead of implementation to let you know that we are taking this seriously," he said.

The conference was held in reaction to recent challenges faced by the construction consultancy sector, including the current trough in the property market, the manpower crunch and the growing need for consultants to be multi-disciplinary, said BOA president Mr Tan Shao Yen.

Said Mr Tan: "Industry stakeholders must be prepared to unlearn the way they have been doing things and start to understand the world of technology and IT, developing them into our core competencies."