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Casting an eye on building quality

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Photo by: Tracey Shelton

Build quality casts doubts on lasting value of projects.

BUILDERS and government officials are expressing serious concerns over the poor construction quality of housing and other public and private building projects, with many blaming lax regulations for the deteriorating situation.

Construction quality of homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure projects presented particular risk and were of great concern to representatives of the building sector.  

Im Chamrong, director general of the Department of Construction within the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, acknowledged that Cambodia lacked modern construction standards and continued to apply outdated US and Russian standards for construction projects with budgets of US$1 million to $2 million. Some of these standards date back to the 1960s, he said.

Proper planning needed

Improved standards would be based on strong fundamental designs with proper technical  criteria on steel structures, quality of raw material and other issues, Im Chamrong said.

The Ministry of Land Management has already urged that all office and other urban construction projects be inspected for quality, and a number of developers and engineering firms have agreed that standards need to be in place and properly implemented.

However,  Chhean Dara, an engineer and project manager of the Happiness City project, said, "I don't believe 100 percent in developers who build homes and apartments in the city because they don't respect rules on the quality of construction. If they build a quality project, they can't earn much money."

Developers, contractors and officials in the building sector were all aiming to earn a quick buck, he said, saying that the quality of building projects was 80 percent lower than what it was in the 1960s.

 

"When I think about the quality of construction here, it gives me a headache," said Chhean Dara. "It doesn't reach standards at all."

A construction project, he said, must respect the master plan and pass four additional planning stages, including the approval of a foundation plan, architectural plan, and electrical and water plan. Projects needed to have qualified engineers and architect to monitor and control projects.

The authorities, he said, needed to do more to enforce these planning requirements, as a basis for ensuring a quality project.

Lan Sinnara, deputy director of Cambodia Estate Agents, said that few building projects around Phnom Penh were in compliance with building requirements and that many infrastructure projects such as roads and parks were completed by unskilled workers and were not up to standards.

A threat to progress

"In the next 10 years, Cambodia will have a big problem because construction is poor quality and substandard," Lan Sinnara said, noting that poorly built projects could threaten economic progress, the national budget, and people's lives and safety.

Construction engineer Seun Sambath said the best quality construction projects currently were mainly large-scale buildings built by foreign companies, but homes, apartments and smaller-scale construction projects were generally lacking.

"If we looking at the smaller projects like homes and flats, poor quality is widespread," Seun Sambath said, saying that many such buildings lack the quality to last beyond 10-15 years.

Compare this, he said, with older, better quality buildings that could last 100 years or more, noting that standards require a building to hold up for at least 50 years.

Architect Chan Thon agreed that current build quality in Cambodia was poor, with many smaller buildings likely to deteriorate in only five or 10 years. "I don't mean the large buildings which are built responsibly," he said.

He said many residential projects were substandard due to contractors cutting corners on construction materials. He said many builders were focused on profit. "They don't think about the problems in the future."

But, considering the possible compromises to safety, Chan Thon said, "their lives are also our lives! So, we need to do more to ensure better build quality."

Cam Cal Construction Co Ltd CEO Bou Puthy admitted that the quality of current residential construction was mostly of very low quality and would lead to future problems in the sector.

Contractors were out of control, he said. "If I had money, I wouldn't want to buy a flat in Cambodia because I wouldn't be able to feel confident about it," Bou Puthy said.

Tear 'em down

Kang Chandararot, director of the Cambodia of Institute Development Study, said the government has been too lax in enforcing regulations. But, he said, the government had a duty to protect the public.

Bonna Realty Group president and CEO Sung Bonna predicted that much of the substandard housing currently being built would have to be torn down and rebuilt with an decade or two.

"I think that, over the next 20 years, our country will develop and these housing projects will have to be destroyed and be rebuilt," consistent with rising property values, Sung Bonna said.

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