The University of Trinidad and Tobago’s (UTT) approval of almost half-billion dollars in variations for the Tamana InTech Park Campus in 2013 is “completely unacceptable” and outside the norm of the construction industry, says Derek Outridge, a project management consultant.
Acuitas was UTT’s project management company up to 2016 and in its close-out report made several observations.
According to the Acuitas report, in 2013 UTT approved $452.4 million in variations which included the changes in the scope of works over and above what was contained in the original tender and contract as mandated by the UTT Board before May 2020.
The report noted that these were not “cost overruns” but bonafide changes in scope which were designed to enhance the overall performance and functionality of the facility and included the library facilities, upgrades to the auditorium, and other facilities.
Outridge, commenting on this, said: “This is a project with a 50 per cent cost overrun as a result of variations. Somebody did not properly think out this project before they decided to embark upon it. It’s as simple as that.
“If you could have scope changes in a project that amounts to 50 per cent of its contract sum it tells me that the original concept was not thought out. It’s a huge amount of taxpayers’ money.
“I don’t know who would contemplate scope changes to that extent. Maybe it should have been a new project overall. That’s careless. That’s reckless.”
Outridge said he was “flabbergasted” that after all this money was spent the project remains just over 80 per cent completed and all this happened even after the findings of the UFF Commission in 2010.
“I have seen several projects going this route. That is the reason why a commission of enquiry was called into the construction sector in 2010.
“The UFF Enquiry was called to investigate why the construction industry, specifically projects run by UdeCOTT were going over their budgets. The Commission did find was that it was not projected overruns that were the main problems but project delays which accounted for 400 per cent of projects on average.
“So, if a project was supposed to be one year it ended up taking four times more than one year.”
He referred to the Arima General Hospital which was a $1.3 billion project and admitted there were delays but there were no large cost overruns compared to what happened at UTT.
“The Arima Hospital project only had $15 million in variations. That’s just 0.1 per cent. That was within industry norms. UdeCOTT appointed project oversight consultants and they were responsible to make sure that the project scope was properly defined and the time frames were proper.”
For normal projects, Outridge said there is usually a contingency sum and it is usually about 10 per cent. This is used for unforeseen circumstances that are likely to cause the project scope to increase.
The normal expectation is that a project ought not to cost more than 10 percent of its original contract sum.
“So to have variation at 50 per cent at UTT, which is five times over the norm, is unacceptable. This is years after the UFF Report,” he said.
Afra Raymond, chartered surveyor and consultant, said ideally the decision to approve such a large sum in variations should be Cabinet approved.
“UTT is a wholly-owned state Enterprise, so there is no status such as quasi-state applicable to that organisation. Under the Companies Act, the board is responsible for that kind of decision, but in an entirely practical sense, the decision does sit with Cabinet since the expenditure would have to be funded by public money,” he explained.
According to the Acuitas report, management of the project schedule was an extremely complex and challenging task due to the number of external circumstances that fell outside of the remit of Acuitas as project managers.