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Enforcing the code

Without enforcement, regulations remain a paper tiger, says Benwen Lopez, as he looks at various options, including block-chain, that can help monitor the sea of activities in a construction cycle

| | Oct 15, 2017 | 11:31 am
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While regulations in the GCC region have been commendably carved out, industry insiders and government regulators concur that the level of enforcement, be it related to construction or something as specific as indoor air quality (IAQ), is yet to reach its full optimisation, owing to a variety of reasons.

The question that needs an answer is: ‘What are the common solutions that can overcome the impediments for all stakeholders to bridge the gap between regulations and enforcement?’ It is also important to introspect on prospective game-changers that can bring about a rafting change and bridge this critical gap between regulations and enforcement.

The key challenges

Brian Suggitt

Governments invest a lot of resources to draft regulations; however, the role of implementation needs to be strengthened. Explaining one of the focal encumbrances, Brian Suggitt, Managing Director of Systemair Middle East, says: “One of the biggest problems in the industry is while you do have sufficient regulations, you do not have enough policing to ensure that the regulations are enforced, thus making the regulations and certifications redundant. While we have a regulatory framework, we also need to have an even bigger framework for enforcement.”

Citing an example of LEED certification, Suggitt suggests that once a building acquires the certification, there is no follow-up to find out if the standards are still being maintained in the building, post-occupancy. Offering a case-in point, Suggitt argues: “The Systemair India factory is the only HVAC factory worldwide that is LEED Platinum-rated, but since we got the certification, nobody has ever followed up to see if we are continuing the efforts to maintain the certification requirements. However, in Europe, you do have authorities that will ensure the buildings are adhering to the certification requirements.”

Prabhakar Naik

Voicing a similar view, Prabhakar Naik, CEO & Managing Director of Vastu & Engineering Consultancy, says: “Generally speaking, while regulations are drafted out on paper, there is a lack of enforcement, and hardly anyone follows up with it. While the gap between regulation and enforcement is prevalent, there are different methods, which government agencies can adopt to enforce the regulations and bridge the gap.”


Dr Ramiz Babus’Haq

Other stakeholders, like Dr Ramiz Babus’Haq, Deputy General Manager at Hydro Engineering Consultants, believes that the level of enforcement by the different regulatory bodies should be a closely coordinated effort for better clarity. “As engineering consultants, we have to comply with various regulatory bodies,” he says. “While the regulations by the municipal, and electric and water authorities are clear from the beginning of the project, the civil defence will step in at a much later stage, offer different scenarios, and we have to comply or else we do not get the certificate. We do welcome such enforcement, but at the same time such actions cause delay in launching of the project. Therefore, the level of enforcement must be clear from the beginning to ensure a smooth flow of the project.”

Leo Radford

Even in specialised areas, such as testing of IAQ, the level of enforcement is yet to gain momentum. IAQ in today’s age is one of the most crucial aspects, which contribute to the performance and wellbeing of building occupants, as expert studies point out. Arguing a case of how enforcement in this area needs to be driven forward, Leo Radford, Managing Director of Envida Technical Services, says that although the GCC region has set the best standards in the world, without enforcement, the standards remain on paper. “Adoption of IAQ testing has been slow,” he says. “Over the last two years, we have seen a concerted effort by Dubai Municipality to push hotels, hospitals and malls to keep records of IAQ testing.” But Radford does wonder if regulators are equipped enough with the necessary workforce to inspect and test all the buildings in Dubai. Explaining the required manpower for the building inspection, he says: “If each of Dubai’s 120,000 buildings were to be inspected annually, there would need to be a team of over 50 inspectors checking at least two buildings each per day 365 days a year. I hope that the authorities have enough manpower to address this issue.”

Regulators speak

Peeking from the other side of the looking glass, regulators have a different set of challenges ranging from how much they can enforce to what factors contribute to the lack of enforcement.

Dr PR Jagannathan

Offering a governmental perspective on the challenges of enforcement, Dr P R Jagannathan, Manager of Sustainability at Trakhees, says: “Enforcement post- occupancy would be a challenge for building control or regulatory authorities, and this is not something specific to Dubai but anywhere in the world, owing to the fact that upon completion and occupation, there is hardly any regulatory interaction between the owner and the authorities. “[However], as a practice, we ensure to provide adequate advisory notes, highlighting the importance of operational sustainability, post-occupancy and the need for the building to deliver, as promised.”

While it is understandable that regulators may have their limitations, it is important to discern if the value of green buildings is really appreciated, and the role of the stakeholders in the chain that contribute to successful enforcement or, in this case, the proper adherence to enforcement. Elaborating on the contributing factors that drive down the true principles of green building regulations, Dr Jagannathan explains: “From our experience, one of the main barriers is the lack of awareness and appreciation of green building principles that scuttles the enthusiasm required.

“The next major barrier is the lack of management commitment. Our experience shows that a management-driven process significantly increases the success rate of green buildings design as well as operations.”

Highlighting another challenging factor, Dr Jagannathan says that the lack of technically skilled resources poses as another hindrance. However, he adds that though this issue is slowly diminishing, it yet persists.

Anwaar Al Shimmari

For smooth enforcement, it is critical that the industry supports the government regulatory bodies through collaborative governance by sharing of domain knowledge, says Anwaar Al Shimmari, Director – Design Department at the UAE Ministry of Infrastructure Development. She says: “When it comes to enforcement, some of the issues we face are either outdated information or lack of updates from the field. I expect consultants, contractors or even suppliers to provide us with continuous updates from the industry, which will help us to understand the changes and witness the improvement. This practice will also assist in the enforcement framework. Collaborative governance is not very easy. But we have to work together, ensure a smooth flow of communication and deliver a healthy relationship and project at the end of the day.”

Speaking on government initiatives to smoothen out the regulatory and enforcement framework, Al Shimmari reveals that the ministry is developing a grading system for contractors and consultants. “This is a very important step for us, because in this country we have several consultants and contractors, but it is unfair to classify them all in one category, because performance is based on people,” she says. “So if a company has got a good rating for one year, but the teams have changed, then the rating will also change. It could either go up or down, depending on what type of expertise has been hired to replace the team.”

Through this system, she says, the ministry expect consultants and contractors to point out what are the key differentiators and how unique they are from each other. We are not concerned about how long a company has existed but rather what is its performance record.”

Moving ahead

Supporting the view of collaborative governance, Naik says that the upcoming grading system will boost the market. Suggesting further measures, he adds: “The government should also look into the resumés and quality of people at least once a year at the time of renewing the trade license. If the teams do not match the parameters, then the company should be penalised by a downgrade of the rating. Unfortunately, according to the market, the organisation is bigger than the individual.”

He further suggests that authorities must also ensure that building completion certificates must not be issued unless 90% of all payments are paid to all stakeholders.

Voicing a similar view from an IAQ perspective, Radford says: “In any walk of life, enforcement is the key to changing behaviours. I know from personal experience the reason I try not to speed is that I do not want to get fined and get points on my licence. Enforcement of IAQ regulations is no different. The penalty may not be financial but could be linked to a possible hotel style star rating performance of the building.”

The lack of awareness of IAQ as a subject, Radford adds, is also the cause of poor enforcement. “Building owners, occupants and users need to recognise the problems of indoor air and rectify it through certified professionals, even when there is no direct odour,” he says.

Radford also suggests that owing to the lack of education surrounding IAQ, many industries do not comprehend the cause and effects of using certain products to construct, maintain and clean buildings. “All functions within these phases of a building’s life affect the quality of air within them,” he says. “The understanding of the causes and effects certain tasks have on the IAQ of a building can only have a positive outcome.”

Elaborating on the role of the industry in supporting the government towards better enforcement, Radford says: “The industry itself should support the efforts of the government by conducting inspections in partnership with the government. A key solution would be for the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA) to incorporate IAQ in the soon-to-be-released building star appraisal system.”

As another method to smoothen out enforcement processes, Suggitt suggests the hiring of a quality task force for policing. “It is easy to hire 10 people to carry out inspection, but the question is whether or not those 10 people are knowledgeably and skilfully competent enough to understand the enforcement process and how to carry it out.” Therefore, he adds, “Governments must have one central body and hire specialised teams with different expertise, who can enforce the regulations, and then have them reporting to that central body. In this manner, there is a smooth flow of information, and enforcement is carried out effectively.”

Mirroring this view, Naik adds that the government can work towards hiring part-time specialists, who can contribute their expertise to better enforcement.

Prospective solutions 

One of the critical challenges of enforcement plaguing the construction sector is payment of the stakeholders. Although the regulations are in place, every stakeholder of the construction supply chain cringes when it comes to dealing with payments. However, a new technological trend, block-chain, is slowly penetrating payment systems. Several sectors across the board are now looking at how this new technology will revolutionise payment systems.

Nesar Reza Khan

Nesar Reza Khan, Managing Director, FP Global, suggests that this disruptive technology will be the right tool to enforce the regulations. Explaining how the technology would work, he says: “With the current enforcement of payments between the developers, contractors, sub- contractors and suppliers, there is a break in the chain. Any one of these stakeholders ends up not getting paid.

“If block-chain were to be involved, regulating this process would be far easier, because if the sub-contractor or the supplier, who is part of that block-chain were not paid, based on the performance or reaching a certain milestone or delivering a certain product, then the main contractor would not be paid. And then going backwards, the developer would be blacklisted. Every transaction of the developer, which is digital now because of the block-chain, will cease to exist until that one person in the supply chain, who may be the supplier of a light bulb in that project gets paid off first.”

Further elaborating on the technology, Khan explains that 60-page contracts are now transformed into smart contracts, so that all stakeholders have a copy of the contract readily available through an app. Thus, every party, he says, is held accountable for their actions. Block-chain, he says, ensures that every stakeholder meets the criteria that are pre-embedded in the system by the governing body.

Offering an instance, Khan says that if a developer decides to lay a foundation in-house, without going through a proper contractor, which is a requirement, and requests the release of payments, the authorities will not release the payment citing that the criteria of hiring a contractor has not been met and “block-chain does not permit this kind of transaction”. The big question that now prevails upon the construction segment is whether block-chain can come to the rescue of delayed cash flow, and ensure a smoother flow of regulations.

Government regulators do point out that enforcement in a post-occupancy scenario is not within their jurisdiction, but as Al Shimmari suggests,

through collaborative governance of knowledge-sharing, the gap can be filled. Other stakeholders, like Dr Jagannathan, Radford and Suggitt indicate that through commitment, communication, education, awareness programmes, and collaboration between regulators and specialised talent from the industry, the enforcement framework can become more effective.

It is inevitable that the industry needs to support the government regulators in ensuring a smoother framework of regulations and enforcement. Industry and end-users also need to develop a self-enforcement attitude by honestly adhering to the regulations. Till the industry and end-users turn a moral corner, though, it remains to be seen if block-chain and initiatives like the consultant contractor grading system float in the rafting change and bridge the gap between regulations and enforcement.



The writer is Assistant Editor, Climate Control Middle East. 


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