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'Cowboy' builders endangering lives, say consultants

Manama, April 20, 2008

More than 80 per cent of construction activities in Bahrain may potentially lead to unsafe structures and in some cases fatal accidents due to the lack of professional supervision, according to top project consultants.

They blame Bahrain's five municipalities, which they say look the other way as 'cowboy' consultants get designs approved 'in no time' and have building licences issued, said a report in the Gulf Daily News, our sister newspaper.

This is being carried out as the legitimate consultants struggle with formalities, often running around in circles, the consultants were quoted as saying.

'Under the law, all construction activities in the country have to be supervised by qualified consultants, but this is not being done,' said Association of Consultant Engineers chairman Mazen Al Umran.

'And in the absence of proper supervision and the complete lack of it in most cases, accidents take place and lives are lost.'

He said the latest in a series of accidents was on March 30 when a construction worker at a Manama site was crushed under tonnes of debris.

'Many such accidents have happened and many more are waiting to take place,' said Al Umran, who is Mazen Al-Umran Consulting Engineers managing director.

'There was a law enacted in 1998, which said all construction activities should be supervised by qualified consultants.

'But what we are seeing is that most of the worksites do not even have the name of the consultant mentioned, let alone the site being supervised.'

He alleged 'cowboy' consultants, in cahoots with municipalities' officials, get designs approved overnight and obtain building licences.

Meanwhile, Al Umran said the bigger consultants have to wait for between three to six months to get approvals and begin construction because they have to go through a complicated process.

'This leads to a huge escalation in costs, with clients not willing to pay contractors that much,' he said.

Al Umran said it is unfortunate that accidents have become commonplace.

'If we look at the fatalities in the last few years, we notice a very large majority have happened at such unsupervised worksites,' he said.

'Even if there is no accident, the resultant building or structure is not safe since we are not sure how it has been built and whether all correct procedures have been followed.'

Mohamed Salahuddin Consulting Engineering Bureau president Mohamed Salahuddin said his firm, being the biggest on the island, was not able to supervise more than 40 projects at a time, with all the professionals at its disposal.

'It is weird how these hundreds of projects are being supervised. It is only on paper that they are but in reality, nothing happens,' he said.

Salahuddin said that the lack of follow-up from the municipalities has proven to be fatal.

'We have held several meetings with the municipalities' officials and with officials in the Municipalities and Agriculture Affairs Ministry, but nothing has happened,' he said.

Salahuddin said all they want is the proper implementation of the law and a professional follow-up.

'The minister also told us recently he would look into the issue, but we heard nothing after that. Someone has to take action,' he said.

Farry Kazerooni Consultant Architects and Engineers is also accusing the municipal councils of disregarding the proper implementation of projects.

Firm president Farry Kazerooni said the solution lay in setting up an independent authority with similar powers to the Economic Development Board or the Labour Market Regulatory Authority.

It will be responsible for looking after the approval of designs and issuing building licences and several other worker safety issues, he said.

'Another solution is to empower consultants approved by the ministry to issue their own building permits and approve designs so

Tags: Bahrain | builders | Cowboy |

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