Integrity

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith

POSTED ON NOVEMBER 12, 2011

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Recently, the front page lead story in the Toronto Star concerned allegations of kickbacks and hidden charges against a Toronto construction company on a federally funded project. Let me say clearly that I have no idea whatsoever whether or not those allegations have substance.

But let’s all of us acknowledge that these kinds of questionable practices occur in our industry – it is all too common for General Contractors to bid ‘open book’ Construction Management projects at unrealistically low fees, with the intention of earning unacknowledged profits from hidden charges (at best) or taking kickbacks from subcontractors on inflated bids (at worst). We have all seen it; it is disgraceful and taints us all.

So, let’s all agree that it is time to make every effort to get rid of these practices, once and for all. Of course, people who are determined to engage in unethical behavior will do so, and they can be found in every industry. But surely there are concrete steps we can take, as an industry and as individual contractors. I propose here a couple of ideas, but I am sure other people will have better ones – it’s time for substantive, clear progress.

I think we could draw up a General Contractors Code of Ethics, with crystal clear promises. Of course, it is just words, but worded strongly enough, and signed by the CEO of every company, I believe it would be a powerful disincentive. And if every Construction Association insisted on such an undertaking by company CEO’s before membership would be granted, that would only be a good thing.

Secondly, we could embark on an education/advice campaign of all our clients, letting them know how to structure their tender calls so as to minimize the opportunity and incentive to engage in questionable behaviour.

Just a couple of ideas, and more suggestions and broader initiative on this issue are desperately needed. We need to do this together. But if the ‘collective’ will cannot be found, then individual leadership can also go a long way to get the job done, and we will undertake that.

Important PS: This message was motivated by a conversation that I had through a chance meeting with one of my equally upset competitors this past week-end. I think that both of the above ideas are his, and would be happy to follow his leadership. (Credit where credit is due.)