Qatar’s unpaid World Cup 2022 contract in spotlight amid anger over Carillion collapse

A Carillion sign is defaced with the word 'bust' on a hoarding at the collapsed company's construction site at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, UK. (AFP)
Updated 17 January 2018

Qatar’s unpaid World Cup 2022 contract in spotlight amid anger over Carillion collapse

LONDON: Qatar’s refusal to settle a £200 million bill is said to have been one of the final nails in the coffin for UK construction giant Carillion, which went into liquidation on Monday.
Carillion claims payment is outstanding for work on a £500 million ($692 million) development deal related to the 2022 World Cup.
Rudi Klein, chief executive of the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ (SEC) Group, said the Qatar contract was among a small number of “big infrastructure projects that meant the end was nigh for Carillion.”
“The Qatari government will be now looking very urgently for alternative contractors to do this work and they may have to pay rather a lot more to do that,” Klein told Arab News.
The unsettled debt is the latest shadow to engulf preparations for the World Cup in 2022.
Controversy was initially cast over Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid when allegations of corruption emerged followed by reports of exploitation from the construction sites, where workers complained of inhumane conditions and unpaid wages.
Contractors then warned of delays to World Cup projects in June 2017 when Gulf countries began the ongoing boycott of Qatar.
The Qatari government now faces further complications with the collapse of Carillon, which was involved in the $5.5 billion Msheireb redevelopment of Doha’s Downtown ahead of the World Cup.
In October 2017, City A.M. reported that top Carillion executives were making monthly trips to Doha to persuade Msheireb, backed by the Qatar Foundation, to settle the outstanding bill.
Msheireb, however, says it is owed a significant sum for contractural obligations it claims Carillon has failed to fulfil.
Carillion is one of the largest contractors operating in the Middle East, with projects including the Dubai Canal and the Royal Opera House in Oman, mostly through joint ventures.
The fall in oil prices contributed to a slow down in construction spending across the region, prompting Carillion to start pulling out of Middle East markets.
Commentators criticizing Carillion’s construction delivery model in the wake of its downfall emphasized the danger inherent in its practice of outsourcing on a large scale, particularly when operating in overseas markets.
“In the Middle East, where construction works are delivered very site-labor intensively and with high proportions of unskilled transient migrant labor, the delivery failure risks in terms of cost overruns, delays and quality problems can be magnified,” said Mark Farmer, CEO of Cast, a real estate and construction consultancy.
“This undoubtedly creates heightened risk for those contractors that are not able to adequately supervise or control and manage the construction process.”
Klein said Carillion’s role as a “middleman” left the company ill-equipped to supervise projects, which could be more efficiently managed by smaller, regional contractors. Klein added, “95 percent of what Carillion did was outsourced; they never did a thing.
“Now is time to get rid of the middleman and to look at how we engage directly with the people actually doing the work.”
The collapse of Carillion was a dramatic unraveling of the UK’s second-largest construction firm, which employs 43,000 people worldwide, including 19,000 workers in the Gulf.
British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday defended the government’s decision to sign major deals with the company after it issued its first profit warning in July. Carillion has public sector and private partnership contracts worth £1.7 billion in the UK, including for services in the NHS and Ministry of Defense.
“We’re making sure in this case that public services continue to be provided, that workers in those public services are supported and taxpayers are protected,” May told MPs.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the British government of “negligence” over Carillon and called on May to “end the costly racket of private companies running services for the public.”
Carillion’s demise is being compared to the impact of the Lehman Brothers’ collapse on the banking sector as the reverberations reach further down the supply chain.
Brian Berry chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders warned that the “domino effect” is already underway.
“This is the biggest thing that’s hit the construction industry since I can remember; it’s got the potential to be a disaster.”
Thousands of suppliers are owed money by Carillion, many of which are having to lay off workers as banks call in their debts. Shareholders are also among those suffering severe losses.
Along with the Qatar contract, three UK joint public and private contracts are also being blamed for the collapse. Two were for new hospitals and another for a road project in Scotland.

Malaysia reviews China infrastructure plans

Malaysia’s former PM Najib Razak (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2018

Malaysia reviews China infrastructure plans

  • Malaysia's scandal-mired former PM Najib Razak signed a string of deals for Beijing-funded projects, including a major rail link and a deep-sea port.
  • New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has announced a planned high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Singapore will not go ahead as he seeks to reduce the country’s huge national debt.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has been a loyal partner in China’s globe-spanning infrastructure drive, but its new government is to review Beijing-backed projects, threatening key links in the much-vaunted initiative.

Kuala Lumpur’s previous regime, led by scandal-mired Najib Razak, had warm ties with China, and signed a string of deals for Beijing-funded projects, including a major rail link and a deep-sea port.

But the long-ruling coalition was unexpectedly voted out last month by an electorate alienated by allegations of corruption and rising living costs.

Critics have said that many agreements lacked transparency, fueling suspicions they were struck in exchange for help to pay off debts from the financial scandal which ultimately helped bring down Najib’s regime.

The new government, led by political heavyweight Mahathir Mohammed, has pledged to review Chinese deals seen as dubious, calling into question Malaysia’s status as one of Beijing’s most cooperative partners in its infrastructure push.

China launched its initiative to revive ancient Silk Road trading routes with a global network of ports, roads and railways — dubbed “One Belt, One Road” —  in 2013.

Malaysia and Beijing ally Cambodia were seen as bright spots in Southeast Asia, with projects in other countries often facing problems, from land acquisition to drawn-out negotiations with governments.

“Malaysia under Najib moved quickly to approve and implement projects,” Murray Hiebert, a senior associate from think-tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AFP.

Chinese foreign direct investment into Malaysia stood at just 0.8 percent of total net FDI inflows in 2008, but that figure had risen to 14.4 percent by 2016, according to a study from Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

However, Hiebert said it was “widely assumed” that Malaysia was striking quick deals with China in the hope of getting help to cover debts from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Najib and his associates were accused of stealing huge sums of public money from the investment vehicle in a massive fraud. Public disgust at the allegations — denied by Najib and 1MDB — helped topple his government.

Malaysia’s first change of government in six decades has left Najib facing a potential jail term.

New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has announced a planned high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Singapore will not go ahead as he seeks to reduce the country’s huge national debt.

The project was in its early stages and had not yet received any Chinese funding as part of “One Belt, One Road.” But Chinese companies were favorites to build part of the line, which would have constituted a link in a high-speed route from China’s Yunnan province to trading hub Singapore, along which Chinese goods could have been transported for export.

Work has already started in Malaysia on another line seen as part of that route, with Chinese funding — the $14-billion East Coast Rail Link, running from close to the Thai border to a port near Kuala Lumpur.

Mahathir has said that agreement is now being renegotiated.

Other Chinese-funded initiatives include a deep-sea port in Malacca, near important shipping routes, and an enormous industrial park.

It is not clear yet which projects will be amended but experts believe axing some will be positive.

Alex Holmes, Asia economist for Capital Economics, backed canceling some initiatives, citing “Malaysia’s weak fiscal position and that some of the projects are of dubious economic value.”

The Chinese foreign ministry did not respond to request for comment.


What is the "One Belt, One Road" initiative?

The “One Belt, One Road” initiative, started in 2013, has come to define the economic agenda of President Xi Jinping. It aims to revive ancient Silk Road trading routes with a network of ports, roads and railways.