Should governments “commission” incomplete projects?

November 18, 2019 9:32 am

Published by admin

Should projects be “commissioned” so that the “Powers that be” should unveil to the public, take snapshots; enjoy the lighting, rides and etcetera on “risky incomplete infrastructure” There is not much scholarly or practical literature regarding this topic. In this article, I take the bother to share mine and some stakeholder perceptions on what “Commissioning projects actually is and how it should be really handled” I get to learn, it is not a photo moment neither is it a moment of thanks and praising who has done what but something else….do we misconceive “Commissioning” to something else lets say Handover?

What does commissioning infrastructure projects mean anyway? As I sauntered on Google, I learned that Project commissioning is the process of assuring that all systems and components of a building or industrial plant are designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained according to the operational requirements of the owner or final client.

Besides, organizing big events and lighting them in diverse colors …….. commissioning is a process of testing whether work has actually been done to design and of quality compared to celebration and merry making when the projects we are “commissioning as we call it in Uganda” have defects or are reserved at the risk of the final users once we leave.

The talk about project commission has encouraged me to read further and compare some trends/times with practice in my country Uganda, I am overwhelmed by what there is to learn about project commissioning. Ideally, it is some sort of a detailed project audit, or the equivalent of the CoST – the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative’s Assurance Process; these literally speak kinder close to “project commissioning” Could it be a language issue? Or somehow we need an Engineers discretion visà-vis English Professors understanding. Should I be correct to call this process, “a check of performance against plan and disclosure of findings and recommendations for a local person to understand but not a launch of public projects said to be complete and yet incomplete in the long run?

I have come to learn that despite the English mix up in Engineering, some public infrastructure is rushed to be “Commissioned” (please mark the commissioning in quotes) in the abyss of the “untold agendas” and this puts the end user to risk. Handover of incomplete projects presents concerns on the client “Procurement Entity” to answer questions that may compromise the quality of works, including payment for additional costs (if the project defects liability phase has expired).  But commissioning projects in its rightful definition would help check project performance and citizen engagement/awareness during project delivery. Most times, Government is faced with concerns relating to lack of transparency just because somethings are not done the right way,

For instance, residents and leaders in Arua, Maracha and Koboko districts in Uganda on one occasion protested a move by the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) to have the 92 kilometer Vurra-Arua-Koboko-Oraba road commissioned before completion of the planned works. How the citizens curiosity drove them to learn about the incomplete works is what I call, a one step to a citizen led issue-based advocacy with action. How agencies do not differentiate the risks associated with publicizing incomplete projects as complete keeps beating my understanding.

Commissioning incomplete packages of infrastructure projects is a risky venture. Since most projects are delivered on loans and tax payers money, international development loans must eventually be repaid and the leadership must account to citizens respectively; it would be in the country’s best interest to make sure that there are good payoffs for the funds invested and thus, once incomplete projects are commissioned, there is a tendency for Procurement Entities to “forget” about the pending works as minor and yet these have immense impact on the projects but also on the end user of the projects, the citizens who are exposed to the negative effects of these projects.

One may say, but the defects liability period takes care of any incomplete works; I defer from this, firstly why do we wait for a defect’s liability period? A defects liability period is a set period of time after a construction project has been completed during which a contractor has the right to return to the site to remedy defects. A typical defects liability period lasts for 12 months. Why don’t we implement projects to our satisfaction and save the contractor that additional time and resources for additional works resulting from poor project management. CoST Uganda assurance reports have in the last three years pointed the need for enhanced project management and monitoring for better project and contract performance, alas, the lack of concerted efforts to address the function of the supervisor on site to ensure that works are done as planned and in time continue to affect the sector.

What does the Engineer say about Project Commissioning?

Having accepted the site from the contractors at practial completion, the client has to prepare the facilities for occupation. The principles of client commissioning and occupation should be determined at the feasibility and strategy stage. The objective of client commissioning is to ensure that the facility is equipped and operating as planned, mark this is not a public event yet, since we are affirming the works are done as contracted.

This entailes the formation of an operating team early in the project so that requirements can be built into the contract specifications. Ideally, the operating team should be formed in time to participate in the decision making process. It is common for the client to organize a separate project to carry out accommodation works. Often this team will be separate from the main project team and will comprise personalle with greater experience of operating in a finished project environment.

The Construction Engineers perspective on “Project Commissioning”

The Construction Phase Commissioning Plan includes the Commissioning Team and updated construction information obtained from review of Construction Documents, review of submittal data and controls submittals per commissioning scope, data from specific equipment being installed, complete controls sequences of operation, change order work to date, and any approved as-built modifications.  Building Systems Commissioning Approach (BCC) Team will provide submittal reviews for applicable systems to be commissioned for consideration and action by the Design Team and Owner Representatives.  Design and submittal review documents will not be included in the Construction Phase Commissioning Plan document placed onsite for contractor execution of the SVC’s, but these submittal reviews will be contained in the Commissioning Report delivered to the Owner during the Post-Acceptance Phase of the project.

The Construction Phase Commissioning Plan will be presented to the contractor and explained during an onsite Commissioning Kick-Off Meeting where Commissioning Team Members will be identified, roles and responsibilities will be explained and Commissioning Team communication protocols will be established.

The Commissioning Plan contains project specific System Verification Checklists (SVC’s) prepared by BCC to be filled out by installing contractors, and manufacturer start-up checklists provided by installing contractors for equipment and systems included in the commissioning scope. System Verification Checklists (SVC’s) ensure that systems have been installed properly, conform to the specifications and are ready for safe start-up. Contractors carry out point-to-point control checks and document their results. The Owner Representative and Design Team will review the Commissioning Plan for approval to distribute to all commissioning team members during a Construction Phase Commissioning Kick-Off Meeting chaired by BCC Project Manager while onsite.

The Commissioning Authority observes installation progress frequently to assess construction compliance with the OPR, specification requirements, and prevailing industry standards. The CxA conducts commissioning meetings in conjunction with regular progress meetings to discuss upcoming commissioning milestones, start-ups, resolution tracking form issues, and tests required for the project. A consistent onsite CxA/CxT presence during construction provides owners, contractors and designers an additional avenue for communicating design intent concerns.

The contractor is responsible for starting equipment and systems in accordance with the project specifications. The Commissioning Authority witness’s start-ups and documents the results using the start-up checklists and provisions in the commissioning plan. BCC writes and submits Functional Performance Tests (FPT’s) for Commissioning Team review for each system that details the tests to be undertaken to demonstrate correct operation under designed modes of control, specified sequences of operation, and the applicable pass/ fail criteria for compliance with the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR).   The Commissioning Authority verifies installation test results reported by the contractors, includes appropriate information in the Commissioning Report.

Acceptance Phase Commissioning

BCC reviews Operation and Maintenance (O&M) Manual submittals. With respect to O&M deliverables, BCC emphasizes the critical importance of accurate O&M Manuals and O&M Training through review of these contractor deliverables. BCC will coordinate with the contractors to enhance the Training Agendas prior to training of Owner Representatives. BCC will verify that specified training and manuals are provided to the Owner and that training is thoroughly documented and recorded per contract documents.

The Commissioning Authority (CxA) reviews and verifies the Testing, Adjusting and Balancing (TAB) agenda detailing the prescribed TAB procedures and TAB instrumentation planned for use on the project. During the course of Functional Performance Testing BCC will perform TAB verification with TAB Agency’s approved Final TAB Report, sampling 100% of HVAC equipment and 15% of air distribution to verify the recorded values are within 10% of the values on the submitted TAB report.

The contractor is responsible for preparing the O&M documentation and training program for the Owner in accordance with the specification requirements. The CxA will organize and manage the training for the O&M personnel such that each responsible contractor shall provide detailed training agendas for their representative systems. The CxA, Designer, and Owner will review O&M documents for acceptance. The contractor prepares detailed written and or electronic O&M documents and training materials to supplement verbal presentations and demonstrations, thus providing a permanent resource for Owner’s staff. The CxA will work with Owner Representative to develop a spare parts list and to verify these extra parts match the products installed, are packed with protective covering and identified with labels describing there contents or as applicable per specification requirements and other applicable extra materials as required.

The CxA is responsible for preparing and submitting the Commissioning Report to the Owner.  The Commissioning Report includes the documents noted herein and contains an Executive Summary addressing OPR conformance for all commissioned equipment and systems.  The report includes references to system documentation, and is organized and tabulated to facilitate access to specific information.  The Owner Representative and Design Team review the Commissioning Report to determine completion of the Commissioning Plan and may use this information to inform their decisions relative to acceptance and closeout procedures for the project.  Elements of executing the commissioning process and submitting commissioning documents will adhere to the requirements of plans, addenda, changes and specifications.

The CxA is responsible for preparing and submitting a systems manual, which include compiled training plan into a training manual to be turned over to the Owner Representative for each commissioned system on this project and in conformance with commissioning specification requirements.  These manuals will provide the Owner, building operating staff and other users the basis for operating and maintaining the  building systems. Post-Acceptance Phase Commissioning; BCC will organize and administer the necessary seasonal testing required for the equipment on the project. A review of the building operations serving tenant spaces will be conducted with the occupants and maintenance staff ten months after substantial completion of the project. A plan will be provided for resolving outstanding commissioning issues that are still present at the time of the walk-thru.

Disclosure meetings unveil the need for more technical support to Local governments

Scheduling and Sequencing Activities; The sequence and timing of the commissioning activities will be incorporated into the construction schedule through close coordination with the prime contractor.  The Commissioning Authority identifies the required activities and coordinates with all team members to facilitate the integration of commissioning into the total construction program. It is important to note that BCC will not be directly involved in interactions between the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) and the contractor to avoid confusing lines of authority, but the commissioning process will be closely involved with preparation for and mitigation of issues resulting from AHJ inspections for systems to be commissioned. Construction issue resolutions are documented by Resolution Tracking Forms (RTF’s). The RTF ensures that issues raised during commissioning are documented, addressed, followed up, and kept visible until resolved.

From the Engineer’s perspective, you can clearly see that commissioning is far from project hand over and merry dancing. It is a proof of work done and not done as per plan or contract. The citizens need to have this information to challenge the way things are done. It is important that the supply side of Government, and the industry get to do the right thing rightly and at the right time. Leaving risky infrastructure for the final beneficiary puts them to life time misery. In some instances, this has led to “Elephant projects” because people do not trust them and or have noticed some cracks or risks associated with any use of these infrastructures. It is important that at any stage of project delivery, the local person is involved and the responsible parties do their contracted work.

CoST Uganda

Olive Kabatwairwe

Programme Coordinator, CoST Uganda

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