AR-CO Conference – Discussion on Public & Private Procurement largely biased by focus on PPP

On 27th September the Conference organised by AR-CO (Insurance Mutual by/for Architects) in partnership with the G30 and the ORI (Engineers and Engineering Consultancies) did not produce all the expected results.  As a matter of fact while the announced theme was broadly quality and sustainability in public & private procurement the topic that dominated the presentations and the discussion was PPP and its variants.  The conference, attended by about 300 participants, was moderated by Marlène de Wouters, journalist.

During a first session several speakers addressed the issue of PPP with different angles, mostly with a critical point of view, including Piet Van Cauwenberghe (Abscis Architecten) who spoke about the experience of the “Scholen van morgen” project.  

After the presentations a round table discussion took place, also moderated by Marlène de Wouters.  The G30 President, Jacques Timmerman, took part in the discussion along with the previous speakers and representatives from the authorities and other actors from the construction sector.   Whilst underlining the specific feature of the architectural firms members of the G30, principally the fact that they have all adopted the form of an SME, J. Timmerman expressed the view that there are not only negative aspects in PPP and DBFM methods, but also positive aspects, i.e. under certain conditions.  In particular, certain principles must be respected such as, the independence of architects and their capacity to act also for the public interest – which is hardly the case at the present time.  He called for a review/actualisation of the Law of 1939 to take account of new developments e.g. the so-called “Loi Laruelle” that has opened the possibility for architectural firms to register as such.  In relation to PPP, JT stressed the necessity to maintain the intellectual independence of architects, which raises, at least indirectly, the question of the monopolistic reserved function.

Jacques Timmerman at AR-CO ConfĂ©renceThe question whether or not one should return to the traditional triangle: client-conception-construction for complex construction projects clearly arises.  Chantal Dassonville from the FĂ©dĂ©ration Wallonie Bruxelles supported this view and she pointed to the short-sighted view of politicians who want to use PPPs because they believe by “de-budgetising” construction projects it allows to move forward more quickly, in line with electoral concerns.  She also recognised that as a civil servant she is often placed in an uncomfortable situation whereby she advocated for quality criteria to be judged vis-Ă -vis the actual stakes of any important public project. See article.

Me Jean-Pierre Vergauwe, a Lawyer specialising in construction law, in an attempt to draw some conclusions recalled the background of the decision of the legislator back in 1939 to devise a function strictly reserved for architects, thus creating de facto a monopolistic situation, and he stressed the need of coherence between the actual evolution in the market, whereby for instance architects have, de facto, transferred their competences to several other professions; indeed other people than architects, including e.g. engineers and contractors, actually design buildings, and the initial intention of the legislator is twisted, one way or another. 

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