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Build first to ensure quality

10/11/1999 NST: Editorial Voice

Shoddy workmanship, poor finishing and structural defects are some of the headaches many hapless house buyers have had to endure over the years. The shortcomings in the quality of the newly-built houses were a phenomenon that first appeared, widely, in the late 1970s and early 1980s when developers went on a construction binge.

The demand was there and the builders, some with only an eye focused on sales, not pride in their work, hastily provided the supply.

Owners, after moving in, had the thankless task of chasing down developers to undertake remedial work. The lament then was: They don't build houses like they used to.

The same litany continues to be voiced these days, especially by buyers of low-cost houses. The problems, though not as widespread as in the past, are still manifest today. Otherwise the Minister of Housing and Local Government Datuk Dr Ting Chew Peh pronounced that all housing projects, especially low-cost dwellings, will be strictly monitored hereafter to ensure that they are built to professional standards. Ting is reported to have said that his Ministry will direct all State Governments and local authorities to ensure housing projects are undertaken to meet the standards spelled out by the guidelines stipulated in the Country and Town Planning Act and Minimum Building Requirements of the Uniform by-laws.

Ministerial pronouncements are fine. But the crux of the issue is whether this sermon from the pulpit would be effectively carried out. Ting appears to look at the big picture of building houses. And so he says that his Ministry would ask the Housing Developers' Association to co-operate to ensure all housing projects are monitored to prevent shoddy workmanship and structural defects. Engineers and architects of each project will be asked to monitor work to ensure the built-up houses are of good quality.

It appears that the Minister seems to be unaware of three salient facts that place possible limitations on the quality of finished housing. One, the professionalism of craftsmen and artisans that contractors can call upon. The skilled among these workers command premium wages. The question is whether many of them are still around in construction sites. Filling their jobs are huge numbers of foreign workers, most illegal and whose construction skills are best questionable.

Two, asking consultant engineers and architects engaged by property development managements to monitor building standards is tantamount to fitting the boot on the wrong foot. Despite the ethics of their professions they are, ultimately, beholden to their paymasters. not the house-buyers.

Three, the final arbitrators of the quality of the completed housing are the engineers and architects employed by the local authorities. They attest the stamp of approval whether houses are fit to be occupied. But the question is whether these professionals can possibly or do inspect every unit of every project under their jurisdiction.

Clearly then, the only solution that might possibly ensure solid houses, free of defects of any kind, is to have developers build first then and then sell houses. True, the concept might entail more in costs and higher prices. But buyers would pay for quality housing.

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