In donating to the Asian tsunami appeal, generosity is tempered by cynicism over how contracts will be run. But at least the World Bank has found some answers

They will rebuild it all, you know. The walls, the roads, the rails, the houses, the villages, the towns, the hotels and the resorts. Some will even be insured. For others, you and I will give. It might be via a few bob to the Disasters Emergency Committee or via Her Majesty’s Treasury. The World Bank will play its role, as will the United Nations and the European Development Fund. But when I and my kin gave a measly few bob on the coat-tails of our Christmas Bolinger, fresh salmon, pud and vintage port, I embarrassed them. I heard myself arguing for a donation of just half the sum suggested at the feasting table. What was bugging me was that damned question of “Where is this cash going to end up?” Was some spiv going to be on the receiving end? Will the rebuilding be above board or riddled with fiddles?

Hell, what a way to help! You, with all your top-quality UK management skills, resources, experience, craftsmen, tradesmen, plant equipment – get up and go! Whether manager, contractor, builder or subcontractor, you could get things built and rebuilt. But what about running up against those UK-style disputes?

The same ingredients apply. The job abroad starts out at a price and then goes haywire. Not so much by way of variations, more wholesale “fathom the whole lot out as you go”. As for programmes, extensions of time, disruption, loss and expense, it’s 10 times more fun than in the UK.

But if the World Bank is involved, it will insist that its Guidelines for Reconstruction and Development are applied (May 2004). Two key points immediately jump out. The bank wants to instill confidence in folk such as UK contractors when they venture abroad. It knows as well as you do that disputes crop up, so it insists that the standard form construction contract called FIDIC is used. FIDIC provides for high-speed adjudication using dispute resolution boards, much along the lines of what we have in the UK. Also, it is enthusiastic about mediated or conciliated dispute machinery. In other words, it is realistic about the likelihood of that most ordinary of hazards, the dispute.

In addition, the World Bank has gone to town on fraud and corruption. Any borrower or bidder or supplier or contractor or consultant that runs smack into the bank’s code of ethics will be named and shamed, and barred from any World Bank-financed project. It has something called the Department of Institutional Integrity, which defines, corrupt, fraudulent, collusive and coercive practice. I took a peep at the current enterprises “found to have violated the fraud and corruption code”. Indonesia is the league leader, and the UK has not escaped the list. Do take a look to see if you are included.

East, west, probity's best
East, west, probity's best

The more I read of these new World Bank guidelines, the more impressed I became. When procurement is at a more leisurely pace, the enterprise that intends to borrow from the bank must procure the building work exactly as the bank requires. Every inch of the building process is cross-checked by the bank, as is every bidder. Eligibility to do the job requires a contractor to prove its suitability to the bank as well its client. Bidding is strictly via the bank’s rules and the choice of successful contractor is down to the bank. It evaluates bids, it recommends, and even reviews the contract documentation. No, the World Bank is not a contract party: the contract is strictly between the borrower and the contractor, supplier or consultant. But the World Bank has become a hands-on watchdog, watching from the outset instead of sweeping up the debris when it all goes wrong. The bank will not loan money to the employer under the building contract if it is bent, half-baked or barmy. For Mr UK contractor or consultant, that is a hell of a good start to working beyond our shores.

And when it comes to hellish events – the Asian tsunami, hurricane Ivan, or the Iran earthquake – the post-disaster endurance phase needs builders, engineers, surveyors and architects to work with the World Bank to build confidence that coaxes doubters like me to dig for the other half of that donation.

Indonesia is the league leader of countries found to have violated the fraud and corruption code, and the UK has not escaped the list