Transport Minister Vít Bárta (Public Affairs VV) has gone public with further charges against the construction giant Skanska — the ministry’s largest contractor — accusing the Swedish-owned company Thursday of “cutting corners” by delivering shoddy work on a number of roads and motorways.
Bárta held a press conference on Thursday evening to explain the claims; this past Sunday, he said during the Questions of Václav Moravec program on Czech Television (ČT) that he intends to put pressure on the Swedish-founded company to make amends: In financial terms, the ministry’s claims amount to nearly Kč 1 billion, Bárta said.
Dan Ťok, the president of Skanska Czech Republic, called Barta’s comments on ČT “shocking” and suggested that he and the minister hold a round-table discussion with journalists in attendance. The transport minister didn’t respond to Ťok’s proposal and instead held the press conference alongside Road and Motorway Directorate (ŘSD) head Jiří Švorc to clarify the ministry’s claims.
“I’m aware that we’re taking an unconventional approach,” Bárta said at Thursday’s press conference, going on to say that the ŘSD has lodged claims about faults on four stretches of motorway built by Skanska — and that it’s standard business practice for a provider to do all in its powers to respond to a client’s complaint. ŘSD data shows that Skanska is the directorate’s largest contractor, securing contracts worth more than Kč 819 million in 2010.
Skanska’s management beforehand rejected any suggestion that the construction company was evading the transport ministry’s claims.
ŘSD data shows that Skanska is the directorate’s largest contractor, securing contracts worth more than Kč 819 million in 2010. Nevertheless, Bárta claims that of all the ministry’s contractors, Skanska provided the smallest price reductions; however, at the press conference he offered no figures or evidence to back up the claim.
Change of behavior
“Previously, the transport ministry and the ŘSD were something like dim wits who were easy to shake down. …. I’m not afraid to say that there was even a rule, whereby ‘the worse we build, the more business we will get and the more work we will get,’” Bárta told reporters. He went on to say that now he intends to squeeze out money wherever possible. “It’s logical that I start with the largest contractor,” the minister said.
It remains to be seen whether public disrepute of building companies is the best way to reduce the cost and improve the quality of motorway construction.
“Skanska must change its behavior in order for us to straighten out relations with our largest contractor,” Bárta said. When asked by Czech Position what exactly he meant by “change of behavior,” Bárta responded: “By this I mean everything that is a part of a quality relationship between an investor and a contractor, i.e., pricing policy, [effectively processing] claims.”
The question arises as to whether Bárta should have presented his demands directly to Skanka’s management instead of communicating them via the media. But the minister is not planning to hold a public discussion with Skanska boss Ťok. “We’re considering our next steps, about which we will inform the public very soon,” Skanska’s spokeswoman Lucie Nováková told Czech Position.