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     FrontPage Edition: Sat 8 May 2004

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Minister Mah speaks on recent construction site accidents

Source: www.gov.sg 

"The last few weeks have been sad ones for the construction industry. Two major construction site accidents in the space of 10 days, first at Nicoll Highway, then at Ayer Rajah, caused the tragic loss of 6 lives.

"The industry not only suffered major losses in terms of time lost and damages, but also a dent in confidence. These incidents remind us that we should never take construction safety for granted because precious lives are at stake....

"In the immediate aftermath of the Nicoll Highway incident, BCA’s engineers inspected the buildings adjacent to the site to make sure that they were structurally stable and safe. BCA also ordered a continuation of this inspection and round-the-clock monitoring of the buildings. Such safety inspections and monitoring were also extended to buildings near to the other construction sites along the Circle Line.

"LTA, in consultation with BCA, decided to stop work at all the other worksites of the Circle Line, while BCA conducted an audit on the design and construction methods.

"In the Ayer Rajah accident, BCA engineers were also at the scene quickly to assess the safety of the structures at the work site, as well as to ascertain the safety of nearby buildings and structures. I commend the quick response and professionalism of the BCA engineers.

"Following these two incidents, there has been much speculation as to their cause.

"One common comment is that the public tender evaluation system is flawed, resulting in the award of projects at unrealistically low prices and contractors having to compromise on safety measures in order to remain viable. As a Committee of Inquiry has been appointed to look into the causes of the accident, it would not be proper for us to speculate at this stage. However, let me take this opportunity to set out some facts.

"First, the Government’s procurement policy for construction works is to award a tender to the contractor that will give the best value for money in terms of quality and performance, and not necessarily to the lowest bidder. Between April 2003 and December 2003, 28% of all public sector construction contracts were not awarded to the lowest bidder.

"Second, only contractors who have been prequalified or registered under the BCA’s Contractors Registry System (CRS) are allowed to bid for public sector projects. The CRS has stringent criteria on safety performance and technical competence, as well as management and financial capability. Contractors without good safety performance records are therefore barred from tendering for public projects.

"Finally, for complex projects, such as airport complexes, MRT lines and hospitals, additional pre-qualifying criteria are often specified to ensure that only contractors that are technically and financially competent can undertake such projects.

"All things being equal, however, it is prudent to award to the lowest bidder who meets all the criteria. There must be compelling reasons not to do so, for transparency and public accountability.

"Understandably, public confidence in the construction industry has been affected by the two incidents.

"However, we should view these incidents in perspective. Our construction safety record is good. According to MOM, the number of fatal construction accidents has dropped, from 72 in 1997 to 31 in 2003. Let us not speculate on the causes. The incidents will be thoroughly investigated and findings made public in due course. What is important is that we learn from the incidents and fully incorporate the lessons into our systems, structures and processes..."

Source: Singapore Government Press Release 6 May 2004 (Excerpted)

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