Construction Week Newsletter 12th March 2005

It was indeed an experience. On receiving the invite, I inwardly groaned at the thought of attending yet another boring press event where nothing much is really said until the question and answer session begins — and even then not much usually comes out during or after. I have attended events in locations as diverse as Dubai and Tokyo, where the press were assembled, a prepared statement was read out and we all disbursed.

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By  Eudore Chand Published  March 12, 2005

Editorial Leader|~||~||~|

The trend needs to become a movement, and then the norm

It was indeed an experience. On receiving the invite, I inwardly groaned at the thought of attending yet another boring press event where nothing much is really said until the question and answer session begins — and even then not much usually comes out during or after. I have attended events in locations as diverse as Dubai and Tokyo, where the press were assembled, a prepared statement was read out and we all disbursed. The invite from Dubai Municipality seemed to be a combination of the two. The occasion was the opening of the financial bids for the much-anticipated Dubai Light Rail System. I expected the press to be silent witnesses, or at best be sidelined by the bidders. The feeling intensified when, after spending half an hour trying to find a parking space, I reached the municipal headquarters to see that each of the four bidding consortia had assembled in nail-biting tension with a full complement of their members. It was a crush, and extra seating was brought in to accommodate all of us. But from here on things were different. In deference to the assembled guests, the municipality director general, Qassim Sultan, spoke in English and then addressed assembled Arab press members in Arabic. The second thing that he and Nasser Saeed (the Dubai Light Rail System project chairman) ensured was the constant clarification that the financial bid was not the sole determinant of the winner. The third — and most important factor — was that the event was conducted in an open and transparent manner. The submitted bids in sealed envelopes were opened in front of the media and bidders. Bidders were invited to stand in and help with the calculation process, if it was required, to translate the US dollar figures into UAE dirhams. The concerned bidders were asked to confirm that the figures were correct before they were announced to competitors and the assembled media. I was impressed and satisfied with the openness of the entire procedure. But there was more to come. The bidding teams were then asked to leave, reeling in shock at the lowest-by-far base price offered by the Mitsubishi-Obayashi-Yapi Merkesi combo. The media were even invited to seek clarification and further information. The opening of the financial bids was the second event I have witnessed over the past few months in terms of openness, transparency, and the new desire by some authorities to provide information. The previous occasion was the collapse of a steel mesh wall at Dubai airport that resulted in the tragic death of five workers in late September. Taking me by surprise, the Dubai Civil Aviation spokesperson first confirmed the accident early on and then, to my further surprise, stuck to her promise of sending me an official statement by early afternoon. And that was not all: realising that the public and press could not be allowed onto an accident site as they might be in danger and could get in the way of rescue efforts, the DCA spokesperson actually provided a picture of the accident site. I nearly fell off my chair. These two incidents are an indicator of greater transparency and disclosure, but incidents such as these are still rare. The road towards full disclosure, transparency, good governance and accountability is still long. The trend needs to become a movement and then a norm. The Gulf receives less than 1% of global foreign direct investment flows; the major inhibiting factor is the perception of a lack of transparency and low levels of accountability. This perception is based on a lack of proper and sufficient information — be it at the macro-level or in the case of a construction worker, being interviewed for a job. Regional institutions, public authorities, real estate developers, construction industry trendsetters and all those associated, are building new world-class developments aimed at the global citizen. Short term, they have successfully tapped into the regional demand. But long term sustainability and global integration will only come when a foreign investor in a real estate development project, or a buyer into one of the properties, gets the same level of information, transparency in charges, efficient services and access to regulatory authorities as they would in New York, London or Paris, or indeed any other international location favoured as a second home.||**||

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