Interview with Ghaffar Sidiqee, Quality Control engineer for Community Based Monitoring of Infrastructure Projects in Herat.
Back in 2009, when we started our community based monitoring program in Herat, pervasive corruption had dominated the infrastructural projects there. Construction companies developed different ploys aimed at lowering their costs to save money on construction contracts between themselves donors.
One of the unethical practices employed by these companies was the mixing of dust and cement for use in plastering walls. This would effect the bonding and adhesive properties of the materials used, causing the walls to crack easily and the paint to chip off. These companies would also use lower grade materials than agreed upon in ratified contracts for framing building structures. Construction companies would make these switches once they had gotten approval from government monitors. They would replace standard quality beams with whatever rusty ones they could find. This would considerably undermine the resilience of the buildings and place inhabitants in serious danger. In at least one instance, I can remember that the ceilings of two girl’s schools in Herat collapsed, causing injury to students. Construction companies in some cases would even make unilateral changes to the agreed-upon project plans in order to lower cost. For example, a plan might specify the construction of six restrooms in a school, but the company would only build four.
Another problem I would like to mention existed in the area of road construction. There were cases where construction companies may have been hired to build gutters on both sides of the road. While the width of the walls for these gutters, according to the contract was designated at 20 cm, the companies would narrow them down to 12 or 15 cm. The resulting structures would crack and break under the stress of heavy vehicles which frequented these roads on a daily basis.
Now, after some years of community involvement in monitoring, this situation has improved considerably. Since March 2016, for example, we saw no illicit changes in blueprint plans for any of the construction projects we monitored. Also, there were no cases–as had existed in the past– where inferior building materials were substituted for those approved of in contracts. These companies now take quick action in addressing problems brought to their attention by local monitors. More importantly, nowadays, the construction firms share relevant information with local monitors and allow them to be present at the sites for continuing observation of the entire building process. This had not been possible in the past.
These days, standards and guidelines are considered an essential requirement in the construction sector. I have to mention that, notwithstanding these progresses; we still face problems. Among these is the issue of the abundant flaws in the very plans approved by the ministry. Additionally, in the past, we observed that local councils, acting as authorized monitors, used to demand bribes from construction companies for allowing them to do their jobs. Fortunately, this problem has been mitigated. While apparently the face of corruption has changed for the better in the construction sector; the bulk of it had mostly to do with the use of sub-standard materials in building projects. These days however, we are grappling with the use of sub-contractors and a blatant disregard for recently established standards and guidelines. This has introduced new shortcomings in that sector. The main construction companies sign contracts with the donors and then sub-contract the jobs to smaller companies or individuals.
This phenomenon has created three major problems: first, the subcontractors are not bound by the standards specified in the main construction contracts. Secondly, many of these sub-contractors are unskilled and do not have the necessary equipment and knowledge to carry out the construction process—knowledge such as the leveling of gradient for constructing sewers. The third problem is that these smaller construction companies still use low quality materials for construction in Herat.