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.


US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

Updated 10 December 2019

US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

  • Two years after starting to block appointments, the US will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body
  • Two of three members of Appellate Body exit and leave it unable to issue rulings

BRUSSELS: US disruption of the global economic order reaches a major milestone on Tuesday as the World Trade Organization (WTO) loses its ability to intervene in trade wars, threatening the future of the Geneva-based body.
Two years after starting to block appointments, the United States will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body, which acts as the supreme court for international trade, as two of three members exit and leave it unable to issue rulings.
Major trade disputes, including the US conflict with China and metal tariffs imposed by US President Donald Trump, will not be resolved by the global trade arbiter.
Stephen Vaughn, who served as general counsel to the US Trade Representative during Trump’s first two years, said many disputes would be settled in future by negotiations.
Critics say this means a return to a post-war period of inconsistent settlements, problems the WTO’s creation in 1995 was designed to fix.
The EU ambassador to the WTO told counterparts in Geneva on Monday the Appellate Body’s paralysis risked creating a system of economic relations based on power rather than rules.
The crippling of dispute settlement comes as the WTO also struggles in its other major role of opening markets.
The WTO club of 164 has not produced any international accord since abandoning “Doha Round” negotiations in 2015.
Trade-restrictive measures among the G20 group of largest economies are at historic highs, compounded by Trump’s “America First” agenda and the trade war with China.
Phil Hogan, the European Union’s new trade commissioner, said on Friday the WTO was no longer fit for purpose and in dire need of reforms going beyond just fixing the appeals mechanism.
For developed countries, in particular, the WTO’s rules must change to take account of state-controlled enterprises.
In 2017, Japan brought together the United States and the European Union in a joint bid to set new global rules on state subsidies and forced technology transfers.
The US is also pushing to limit the ability of WTO members to grant themselves developing status, which for example gives them longer to implement WTO agreements.
Such “developing countries” include Singapore and Israel, but China is the clear focus.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Reuters last week the United States wanted to end concessions given to then struggling economies that were no longer appropriate.
“We’ve been spoiling countries for a very, very long time, so naturally they’re pushing back as we try to change things,” he said.
The trouble with WTO reform is that changes require consensus to pass. That includes Chinese backing.
Beijing has published its own reform proposals with a string of grievances against US actions. Reform should resolve crucial issues threatening the WTO’s existence, while preserving the interests of developing countries.
Many observers believe the WTO faces a pivotal moment in mid-2020 when its trade ministers gather in a drive to push through a multinational deal — on cutting fishing subsidies.
“It’s not the WTO that will save the fish. It’s the fish that are going to save the WTO,” said one ambassador.