SINGAPORE — The contractor for the viaduct project that partially collapsed last month had won the bid because it offered the lowest tender price and had a “good track record” in completing many similar infrastructure projects over the past decade.
Or Kim Peow (OKP) Contractors’ overall score in the tender evaluation was the highest among the bidders.
However, it had the lowest quality score and was in fact given a low safety-performance score, Senior Minister of State (Transport) Lam Pin Min revealed in Parliament on Tuesday (Aug 1).
Dr Lam also told the House that investigations into the July 14 accident are expected to conclude in October, and a report will be made public “as soon as possible” thereafter.
Preliminary investigations indicate that the corbels — stone structures on vertical columns that help to prop up horizontal beams that roads are laid on — gave way.
Prior to the accident, the Government had started a review of its procurement practices for construction projects last year. The review, which is still going on, is coordinated by the Ministry of Manpower which is working with agencies including the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).
The MOM said the review is “still in its preliminary stages”.
On Tuesday, Dr Lam and Minister of State (Manpower) Sam Tan fielded questions from 10 Members of Parliament, who sought answers to the accident that killed one worker and injured 10 others. Among other things, the MPs wanted to know why OKP won the tender in November 2015, even though a fatal accident had happened at one of its worksites just two months earlier.
In the September 2015 incident, one worker died and three others were injured after the section of the platform they were standing on under the Yio Chu Kang Flyover dislodged, sending them tumbling to the ground. That year, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) tightened the tender evaluation process for construction projects, allowing contractors with poor safety performance to be disqualified on that count alone. Sixteen bids from 10 contractors have since been thrown out this way, said Dr Lam, adding that the LTA’s assessment on safety performance was more stringent than the BCA’s guidelines.
However, the authorities’ probe into the September 2015 accident had not concluded at the time the Government was evaluating OKP’s bid for the Upper Changi Road East project although, it was taken into consideration, Dr Lam said.
This resulted in OKP faring the worst in terms of quality which measures factors such as safety performance, including a firm’s safety records for the past two years, and its safety management systems.
The LTA’s procurement process for construction projects follows BCA guidelines, which take into account the price and quality of bids.
BCA guidelines for the price-quality ratio range from 60:40 for more complex projects to 80:20 for simpler ones. In the viaduct project, the ratio was 70:30, which is common for projects of such complexity, Dr Lam said.
If a bidder fails to meet minimum overall quality requirements, its price envelope “will not even be opened and his bid will be disqualified”, said Dr Lam.
Separately, firms with poor safety management are placed under the MOM’s Business Under Surveillance programme. Among other things, the ministry will supervise these firms closely to remedy all lapses.
After the September 2015 accident, OKP Contractors was not placed under the programme, since MOM inspections at all its worksites detected “no evidence of systemic safety lapses”, Mr Tan said. Previously, only firms with systemic safety violations were placed on the programme.
However, since May last year, firms with a stop-work order or fatality will come under it immediately. OKP was put under the it after last month’s viaduct accident, Mr Tan said.
The LTA has called 175 tenders for construction works over the last three years, said Dr Lam. Of these, 69 among the more than 1,100 submissions were from contractors which had serious lapses in workplace safety. Only two of these bids — which offered the lowest tender price and had the highest overall price-quality score — were successful.
Workers’ Party Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh asked if there a “vicious circle” exists, whereby contractors submit low price bids at “unrealistic” levels to make up for their price-quality score.
In response, Dr Lam said the LTA does not bar contractors which have had safety lapses or which have been blacklisted by the MOM from participating in tenders. “Their quality envelopes will still be opened and assessed objectively, and any safety lapses will then be penalised under the safety component accordingly,” he said.
Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng suggested that the tender-evaluation process gives more weight to incidents that occur “most recently”.
Dr Lam agreed on the importance of such a factor in evaluating bids. The LTA will have to seek the approval of the BCA, which sets the guidelines, if significant changes are needed, he said.
The MOM also began reviewing the Workplace Safety and Health Act earlier this year, examining areas such as raising the maximum penalty under the law’s subsidiary legislation for offences that could result in serious injuries or death.
More details will be released by the end of the year, Mr Tan said.
Since the MOM’s demerit-point system to deter unsafe practices was amended in 2015, the ministry has issued about 2,440 demerit points to 223 firms. Among these companies, 25 were banned from hiring foreign workers.
So far this year, there have been four workplace deaths in the construction sector. There were 24 fatalities for the whole of last year, and 27 in 2015.