Uniform low quality

Public housing construction needs better contractors and international standards, an arbitration supervising body, and a better long-term plan for public housing construction, experts told Business Daily. The comments follow a Legislative Assembly plenary session this week in which Secretary for Transport and Public Works Raimundo Rosário stated that the quality of public housing has decreased significantly in the last 15 years and that contractors should be held accountable for construction defects.
“I don’t agree that the city’s construction quality is worse than that of 15 years ago. You cannot imagine how bad the construction quality was back then, when we didn’t have enough construction materials, whilst the supervision of public construction was not really that high,” the Secretary General of the Macau Construction Association, Lo Chi Hou, told Business Daily.
Lo Chi Hou believes that the city has registered many improvements in construction standards but that while some are apparent – in the construction works on the integrated resorts – with regard to public works the city lacks related laws and regulations to catch up with international standards. As an example he mentions that the city doesn’t require construction workers to acquire any certificates before allowing them to work on construction sites.
“Any workers, who are a dish-cleaner today, could apply for construction works at the Labour Affairs Bureau tomorrow. Our Association has requested the Labour Affairs Bureau many times to have certain regulations requiring construction workers to be verified with certificates, but the Bureau claims that their responsibilities are only in giving training to these workers,” Lo told Business Daily.
Public projects in need of arbitration
The Macau Construction Association Secretary General believes that the government lacks a long-term direction for the city’s design standards, sometimes asking contractors to follow different national standards for one single project that actually conflict with each other, while taking too long to respond to the problems that contractors find during their projects.
“For example, if we are renovating a coffee shop and then we find that we forgot to install air-conditioners, we only need to ask the owners whether they want us to install air-conditioners and the owners reply and give us a budget. But for a public project, it’s another case; you ask the government whether they want air-conditioners, the representative would say he would need to ask his boss, and his boss needs to ask another boss, and the other boss asks another boss – so contractors may wait for two-years for the government’s confirmation if they want air-conditioners , which happened similarly for the Light Rail [project],” Lo Chi Hou stated, adding that “the government needs to ask the reason why most of the private projects, such as casino resorts, can be completed on time but not its own projects.”
As a solution, Lo Chi Ho believes that the government should create an arbitration body for public projects to resolve disputes between the government and contractors, and implement a united standard for the industry, preferably copying the standard from that of Mainland China, to eliminate the need to retrain non-resident workers from the region in other construction standards.
Not enough local resources
For Paul Tse See Fan, President of the Macao Association of Building Contractors and Developers, Secretary Raimundo is correct in saying that the construction of public housing has worsened, as the president notes that in the past few years “Macau’s construction resources were diverted to the gaming industry,” commenting that the most experienced contractors and the most experienced workers were involved in the construction of casinos and hotels and not public or even private housing.
“No less than six 5-star hotels are under construction, and they can afford to pay the highest sums compared to public housing and private housing developers,” Paul Tse See Fan told Business Daily, stating that he sees the lack of experienced contractors and labourers as one of the main reasons for the decay of public construction quality.
“We are in short supply of labourers since young people in Macau don’t want to go into the construction industry because it’s physically demanding; they would prefer to work in offices or in a casino dealing cards,” notes the president.
“As a result, we have construction workers who are over the age limit and that should really be retiring but because of the fact that we’re unable to hire young people we have to keep these more senior labourers and pay very high wages,” Paul Tse See Fan stated, noting his belief that allowing more non-residents to work in the city could be a solution.
Macau was considered the second most expensive Asian city for construction last year, according to the Construction Costs Index, and Paul Tse See Fan believes that aside from inflation, the absence of human resources was one of the main reasons for increased costs.
Secretary Lo Chi Ho noted that importing non-resident workers for construction positions could even “allow more promotion of local workers” who, as they “are old it is quite impossible for us to ask them to do frontline work,” stating that currently there were 30,000 and 40,000 non-resident construction workers, whilst local construction workers remained at around 20,000.
Inspect yourself
In the AL session Secretary Raimundo Rosário stated that currently the government only had 80 people available for construction supervision, a problem Tse sees as prevalent for building owners, public housing and private developers.
“The number of supervisors is so minimal that it’s not possible for them to check everything they are supposed to, whether [or not] it’s the contractor himself checking the work of his own workers and sub contractors,” Paul Tse See Fan told Business Daily.
Lo Chi Ho agrees that the city should indeed increase the number of project inspectors for the long-term development of the industry but that the problems in public projects are not due to the lack of the talent but a lack of directions and plans for the construction industry from the government.
Paul Tse See Fan believes the solution could lie in stricter enforcement of already existing construction requirements and through government encouragement of public housing buildings setting up owners committees so that “there’s a legal entity within the building to look after the standard of quality of the property.”
This, he notes, could help increase the value of properties, as well as improve safety issues. “The government should enact laws to input those requirements and at the same time encourage the community to abide by those laws and commence those practices of inspecting those buildings and making remedial measures,” he told Business Daily.
“It’s important for the Legislative Assembly and the second standing committee to guide that legislation, which has to pass quickly, but it has been stuck with the second committee for half a year,” the President of the Macao Association of Building Contractors and Developers stated.