Consultants – Why?

A consultant is one who provides expert professional advice based on his sound knowledge and experience of the subject of his domain. One would find consultants in practically every area of human activity: engineering, medicine, surgery, management, HR, law, education, finance, estate, etc.

The significance of consultants of different trades greatly varies; the medical consultants being in the highest demand. And so are their professional fee. There’s quite an interesting anomaly between medical and engineering consultants in the matter of fee. Whereas everyone would like to go to the best doctor one could afford, when it comes to engaging an engineering consultant, one is tempted to go to the one quoting the lowest fee. In view of the huge and long-term repercussions that may accompany low fee propositions, they are void of any logic and call for a just and pragmatic approach.

A consultant brings wealth of valuable professional experience acquired over time from projects of diversified nature undertaken at various places and under different conditions. This coupled with his knowledge of technologies, good practices, standards, innovative products, etc. enable the consultant to provide tremendous value addition on a project.

Universally, the selection of consultants on engineering projects is merit based. This almost equally applies to projects of all types and magnitude. On medium and large size projects, consultant’s selection takes place on the quality of his technical proposal which, inter alia, includes consultant’s competence, past relevant experience, proposed methodology, proposed team, timelines, etc.

At times, the technical proposal alone decides the consultant’s selection. Alternatively, technical and financial proposals are jointly evaluated, generally giving them weightage of 80 and 20% respectively.

All international and national donor agencies which sponsor projects follow and advocate only merit based selection of consultants. The same practice has been adopted locally for public sector projects. To begin with it was Pakistan Engineering Council which did some pioneering work in this regard and then came the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority [PPRA] which quite effectively enforced the merit based selection. There could be some gray areas or loopholes in the enforcement of system, but the overall objective of merit is achieved to a fair degree. Whether merit based selection leads to quality construction and installation is a different matter. One would find glaring signs of corruption and kickbacks on many projects. As one can imagine, no one can indeed stop a political leader to play with the rules of business.

One would generally expect the private sector to be more quality conscious and thus follow the merit based selection of consultants. Unfortunately, this is not happening as a standard norm. On the contrary, often there’s totally unjust competition in the sense that well qualified and experienced consultants are equated to those who even don’t have the basic eligibility qualifications as prescribed by PEC. This deplorable situation combined with practically non-existing regulatory compliance is amply reflected by the poor construction and installation depicted at many of our buildings and industries.

Consultancy revolves around trust. A consultant is expected to act as a sincere advisor to the client and his engagement must lead to substantial value addition. Apart from his well-defined functions, the consultant must timely intimate the client of the impacts of any of the latter’s revised requirements, changes, etc. At the same time, the consultant must ensure that the proposed designs, products and systems would best cater to the present and projected needs of the client.

As they bring unparalleled value addition to any project, consultants are essential for the long-term techno-economic success of any project. Their selection must be done with utmost care and without falling into the traps of low fee propositions which could have devastating impacts on the health of projects.

Originally published in Engineering Review – July 16, 2017

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