Can architects be selected on L1 basis by Govt?

Can architects be selected on L1 basis by Govt?

‘The COA has prescribed various scales of remuneration for the architects for different types of projects and services involving varying scope of work and services. However, the big question is whether any government agencies adhere to these guidelines/codes while selecting architects for various government projects?’, says Harish Rao, sawdust

Can architects be selected on L1 basis by Govt

Can architects be selected on L1 basis by Govt
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The COA has prescribed various scales of remuneration for the architects for different types of projects and services involving varying scope of work and services. Code 3.01 of the Conditions of Engagement and Scale of Charges prescribed by the COA clearly says "In consideration of the professional services rendered by the Architect, he shall be paid professional fee and other charges in accordance with the Scale of Charges". The purpose of framing this norm is to avoid undercutting of fees and unethical professional competition among the architects based on fees

Recently our Railway Minister, Mr Piyush Goyal asked the architecture fraternity to help the government in redesign/redevelop the railway stations in the country. At the same time, he also stated that neither the Ministry nor the passengers are in a position to bear the additional cost which may arise due to redevelopment.  The Railways has an ambitious target of redeveloping around 600 stations in the country. The Minister has already hinted that the cost will be the main criteria in selecting the consultants/architects for these projects.

In other words, architects will be selected for these projects based mainly on the fees charged by them. There is nothing strange or new thing in this proposal as for most of the government projects fees proposed to be charged by the architects are the basis of selection.

On the other hand, recently, Council of Architecture (COA) a body that sets out standards of practice to be complied with by the practicing architects, has instructed all the practicing architects to strictly follow the conditions of engagement and scale of charges for their appointment while accepting the professional work.

The COA has prescribed various scales of remuneration for the architects for different types of projects and services involving varying scope of work and services. Code 3.01 of the Conditions of Engagement and Scale of Charges prescribed by the COA clearly says “In consideration of the professional services rendered by the Architect, he shall be paid professional fee and other charges in accordance with the Scale of Charges”. The purpose of framing this norm is to avoid undercutting of fees and unethical professional competition among the architects based on fees.

However, the big question is whether any government agencies adhere to these guidelines/codes while selecting architects for various government projects? It is hard to find any such cases where the government or its agencies selecting architects based on these norms. Take the case of Reserve Bank of India, Project Management Cell (NZ), New Delhi, which recently came out with an advertisement to prepare a Panel of Architects/ Firms of Architects for comprehensive Architectural services for the Bank’s own construction projects (Residential / Office Buildings/s Training Establishments/s, Holiday Home/s etc.) likely to be taken up at the Bank’s plot/s in Northern Zone. RBI has clearly stated that the Architect shall be selected from this panel for different work based on the fees to be quoted for specific work!

With a view to improving transparency in decision making in public procurement and reducing the scope for subjectivity, Department of Expenditure in 2006 had prepared a set of three Manuals on Policies and Procedures for Procurement of Goods, Works and hiring of Consultants, in conformity with the General Financial Rules (GFR), 2005. Over the years, these Manuals have served as a guide book for procurement goods and hiring of consultants/professionals. This manual was revised last year keeping in mind the revised GFR in March 2017. ‘Manual for Procurement of Consultancy & Other Services, 2017’ is issued by the Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance which is as operating instructions for hiring professionals in various government projects.

For selection of the consultants including architectural firms, normally, the employer adopts two stage procedure in terms of rules set out in General Financial Rules. In the first stage, the employer identifies the likely sources on the basis of formal or informal enquiries and by inviting Expression of Interest (EOI)through advertisement as per rules in GFRs. On the basis of responses received, Consultants meeting the requirement will be short listed for further consideration. In the second stage, the short-listed consultant will be invited to submit (Request for Proposals or RFP) their Technical and Financial Proposals. The consultant is selected based on evaluation of their Technical and Financial bids. Of the various types of contracts mentioned in the manual Lump-sum (Firm Fixed Price) Contract is the most popular one. “The Lump-sum (firm fixed price) contract is the preferred form of contract and under normal circumstances, the Procuring Entity shall use this form of contract,” says the Manual. In other words, lowest bidder usually has the highest chance of getting the contract.

If the Scale of Charges prescribed by the Council are made the basis for selection of architects for government projects, there is no need for financial bids in the selection process. But that has not been the case and Conditions of Engagement and Scale of Charges have remained only on paper having only academic significance.

Considering all these factors, COA has three options:

First, the COA should approach the government to change the selection model for selecting the architects for various government projects. COA should be able to convince the law makers that their norms are not in line with Council’s rules. Rules are framed after considering various factors and are in line with the rules followed by other professional bodies like ICAI. They are framed in the best interest of the profession and are aimed at upholding high standards of professional ethics. So, a meaningful dialogue with the government may be able to settle the issue amicably.

Second option is to re-frame the norms to align with the current practices followed by the government and its agencies. If CVC thinks that there is no need to change the selection norms for architects then there must be some logic behind that belief. Simply respect the wisdom of CVC and the government and follow government practice.

And finally, the third option is to let the market forces to decide the professional fees of the profession. When transparency in government actions is gaining ground, vigilance mechanism is becoming efficient and opportunities for the profession are abound, it’s prudent to allow the competitive forces to determine the professional fees. According to one practicing architect “it is highly competitive environment. Only fittest of the fittest can survive and should survive.”

In this era of urbanisation, smart cities and rising income level, demand for architecture profession will move in only one direction, that is, upwards. The Council too need to act fast to suit the changing situation to remain relevant.

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