Dear Mr Plumber - Price fixing: companies confess and get fined

Dear Mr Plumber - Price fixing: companies confess and get fined

By Vollie Brink

There are other forms of misconduct in the building industry that are not named and also not addressed, such as unprofessional conduct and misrepresentation, in that people present themselves as ‘engineer’, ‘technologist’, or ‘plumber’, for example.

GoldenHandshakeSadly, unethical conduct has in many instances become normal business practice.
Image credit: Pixabay

I read in a newspaper that “Companies prosecuted for price fixing have admitted to having engaged in cartel conduct.”

This is not a new phenomenon but, for some reason, it was never identified and never addressed.

Some people will sign a project application form, having stated that they are competent and have the necessary qualifications, and indicate a club membership number instead of their registration number with a legal institution, as registered in terms of the Building Regulations Act.

As a registered professional person, you are not allowed to do work for which you are not qualified, much less an unregistered person. Imposture is an offence.

In terms of the National Building Regulations (NBR), you must be professionally registered in terms of the Engineering Act for engineering work, just as an architect needs to be registered in terms of the Architectural Professions Act to perform architectural work.

To state on any of the SANS forms that you are competent and give a so-called ‘registration number’ of a body that is not a legal body, registered in terms of an Act, is illegal and should be rejected by the building control officer (BCO) as ‘incompetent’ in terms of the NBR Act.

I once heard a BCO say that he just asks the designer whether he or she has done this kind of work before, and if the person says yes, then the BCO accepts the designer as competent. In my understanding, this does not comply with the requirements of the NBR Act and is not in the best interest of the industry.

Any professional registered person, such as an engineer or architect, quantity surveyor or project manager — and I suppose a PIRB registered plumber — is bound by a code of conduct, and if such a registered person does not carry out his or her professional work in compliance with this code, then such a person can be disciplined, expelled, and deregistered.

A person who is not professionally registered cannot be disciplined and expelled, and can just carry on working unethically.

A person who is not professionally registered, however, cannot be disciplined and expelled, and can just carry on working unethically.

Most of the codes of conduct of professional people do not allow such a person to do work for which they are not competent. Therefore, an electrical engineer is not allowed to sign off the design of a building structure, just as a structural engineer cannot sign off the electrical installation.

Contractual arrangements must be open, fair, and unbiased, and it must be legally sound. The practice where manufacturers and suppliers visit professionals and offer a ‘free design’ is in my view unethical; it does not hold a financial benefit to the owner but only for somebody else in the chain.

This practice stifles open and fair competition and is unfair to all the other manufacturers and suppliers. The practice of appointing engineers and other professionals have changed: in most cases, they have to tender for the work.

Due to the problem of a lack of competence and people who present themselves as what they are not, it has become necessary to compile a list of competent, reliable, preferred professionals to invite to tender; however, I do not know whether this could pose a problem.

In some instances, developers and owners want to standardise; they have a preference and want to specify certain equipment and materials. I believe owners, however, have the prerogative to decide what they want and if they want to standardise. Many hotels, for instance, have a design manual with their specific requirements and specifications of equipment and materials and the designer must design the systems accordingly.

Collusion, price fixing, and bribery have been covered up for too long. It seems that unethical conduct has become, in some cases, normal business practice. What a sad day.

Click below to read the November 2017 issue of Plumbing Africa

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