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ETHICS IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

May 8, 2019

WHAT IS ETHICS?

Imagine a Client organization has received funding from well-wishers to construct a public building. The Client decides to use part of the funds for other activities with knowledge that doing so will make the funds insufficient to successfully complete the project as planned. The Client however instructs the Contractor to do “everything possible” to ensure that the project is completed with the available funds. In order to satisfy the Client’s wishes and also in order to make profit, the Contractor cuts costs by using substandard materials, cheap labour and compromising on certain processes. The project is indeed completed but the quality is very poor. The structure poses a life risk to the general public.

Several questions may arise from this scenario. Was the Client right to commence the project with insufficient funds? Was the Client right to request the Contractor to do “whatever possible” to complete the project or was the Contractor wrong to accept? Did the Contractor do the right thing to use substandard materials and compromise on certain processes? Did the Contractor have any other options? Were the Local Authorities not aware of this project? Could the general public have done something? Who exactly is to blame for the poor quality structure? All these questions are very valid and are essentially questioning the professional and moral conduct of all those concerned. The overall question would be whether the conduct of those concerned was morally right and acceptable in the eyes of human kind and their respective professions. Herein lies the essence of ethics.

NATURE OF THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

Construction industry plays a substantial role in a country’s national economy, irrespective of the country’s levels of economic development. Economic indicators show that this sector is indeed an important employer of a nation’s workforce as it employs between 2% to 10% of total workforce of most countries. However, the construction industry is characterized by operation of numerous small operators who compete for the available work. This structure has produced an adversarial culture, under-capitalization, and short-term focus relationships among others. These characteristics ultimately compromise efficiency and encourage the pursuit of “self-interest” through “clever ways” which often times involve unethical practice. More often than not, these “clever ways” eventually affect quality of construction. There is a perception that majority of quality-related issues are caused by human factor and this greatly hinges on ethical conduct.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PROFESSIONAL ETHICS AND QUALITY RELATED ISSUES

Several scholars have mentioned that quality is dependent on ethical behaviour, whereby quality and ethics have a common care premise which is to do right things right and it is a proven way to reduce costs, improve competitiveness, and create customer satisfaction. Studies have shown that unethical behavior by the construction industry parties impacts the quality of projects. Contractors and clients that are in the construction industry will try to get projects using whatever methods including unethical behavior that ignores morality and integrity. This is because they are willing to do anything to save costs and survive during the economic hardships. It is apparent that low ethical standards among construction professionals will lead to quality problems. Increase in unethical behavior will see a consequential decline in the quality of project performance.

WHICH PARTY IN CONSTRUCTION IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ETHICAL BEHAVIOUR

The issues of professional ethics within the Construction Industry affect a wide spectrum of population. Every person involved in the construction activities has a role to play in ensuring ethical conduct is maintained. The local authorities, public works department, client organizations, consultants, suppliers, contractors, developers and users of public infrastructure are all within the scope of professional ethics. All those mentioned have their own contributions towards the problems in hand, and issues of ethics and integrity in the Malawian Construction Industry. In the scenario above, the Client had a role to ensure that there is sufficient funds for the project and the Contractor had a role to ensure that he constructs a quality building. Each of them should not have commenced the project once they became aware that their roles have been compromised.

STANDARDS OF CONDUCT

Construction services have a direct and vital impact on the quality of life for all people. Therefore all parties engaged in the construction industry are expected to safeguard this quality life. The best way of achieving this is by ensuring that all concerned parties perform under a standard of behavior that requires adherence to the highest principles of professionalism and ethical conduct.

The National Construction Industry Council has a zero-tolerance policy for unethical conduct including criminal and corruption-related activities. To fulfill its mandate in protecting the general public, the NCIC expects a standard of integrity and honesty from individuals who conduct business in the Construction Industry and from the industry members whose work it regulates.

When conducting business in the Construction Industry—whether in the office, at a construction site or elsewhere— the concerned should, in their dealings with each other, observe conduct that would be in the interest of a healthy industry that delivers value to clients and society. Generally, they must:

  • Behave lawfully and honestly in all dealings pertaining to their work;
  • Respect the requirements set forth in the respective Codes of Ethics; and
  • Immediately report concerns of unethical or unlawful behavior by Council employees, industry professionals or members of the public to the Council or the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

The codes of ethics were therefore developed as a tool to safeguard discipline, professionalism and the ethical culture within the industry,

THE CODES OF ETHICS

Codes of Ethics are designed to delegate responsibility to both competing tenderers and the principal (client, owner) to achieve a balance between what is right and what is common-sense for each individual project. They are applicable both generally, to many of the traditional forms of contracting and to projects of a less standard nature or where risks involved, are hardly or difficult to determine. Codes of practice are implemented in the construction industry to treat ethical problems.

Sections 11 and 29 of the National Construction Industry Act, makes provision for the enforcement of discipline and gives the Council the mandate “to exercise disciplinary control over the conduct of any person engaged in the construction industry and practicing in Malawi”.

Fundamental Principles of the Codes of Ethics for Contractors and Consultants

Contractors and Consultants registered by the National Construction Industry Council of Malawi (NCIC) are expected to exhibit the highest standards of professionalism by among other means adhering to the principles enshrined in the code of ethics.

The overall fundamental principle states that “Contractors and Consultants shall conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically and lawfully so as to enhance the honour, reputation and usefulness of their services.” Specifically, Contractors and Consultants are expected to:

  • Give utmost consideration to the safety, health and welfare of their workmen and the general public;
  • Perform services in areas of their competence;
  • Build their reputation on the merit of their services and not compete unfairly with others;
  • Act for each employer or clients as faithful agents or trustees; and
  • At all times refrain from corrupt practices and avoid deceptive acts.

DISCIPLINARY

The NCIC disciplines all those that have been found to be conducting themselves contrary to the Codes of Ethics. Disciplinary action may range from a warning to penalties up to revocation of a licence. Any act of misconduct by a person engaged in the construction industry is investigated and dealt with once it is brought to the attention of the Council. It is therefore everyone’s responsibility to report any conduct that may seem to be unethical by a person in the construction industry.

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