Being fully prepared for the event would mean that Qatar has seized the opportunity to build an infrastructure that would truly benefit the small country in the long term. But is this really the case? Not necessarily, as Qatar’s authorities seem to be stressed by the deadline and making poor choices that may ultimately have a terrible impact.
The struggle to get Qatar ready for the World Cup has made recent headlines, usually attacking Qatar authorities about the living conditions of the migrant workers who are building up the infrastructure for the 2022 game. In May of last year, under scrutiny from Fifa, media and human rights organizations, Qatar pledged to reform the restrictive kafala system of sponsorship - in which employers effectively own laborers and control their freedom to leave the country - and promised to implement changes really quickly. In December, the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani admitted that there had been ‘errors and problems’ regarding migrant workers in the construction process, but that the authorities were ‘working seriously on improving the situation’ (1).
The Khalifa International Stadium will remain one of the milestone venues for the World Cup. The standards are high. All eyes are on the new stadium and workers benefit from good accommodation and soft regulations. Based in the municipality of Al Rayyan, the stadium was started in 2014 and is estimated to be completed by 2017. A joint venture between Midmac Contracting and Six Construct is in charge of the construction and seems to be trying to show a good image of Qatar by the work that is being done and by the final product to be delivered.
But when looking at Qatar’s infrastructure projects, the reality may be a bit different. In the North of Doha, the brand new city of Lusail that is being built entirely for the World Cup and to be finished in time, seems to have become the main goal, despite of the quality of the buildings themselves. The clock is ticking, causing the contractors to feel real pressure to complete the task in a timely manner, leading them to not respect basic safety regulations or normal standards for their migrant worker welfare.
Last year, the Lusail Real Estate Development Company (LREDC) awarded Al Jaber Engineering a contract to construct the infrastructure of the Seef Lusail North and Waterfront Commercial districts of Lusail City. Commenting on the contracted work Engineer Essa Mohammed Ali Kaldari, Chief Executive Officer of LREDC, stated, “Lusail endeavors to work with the local contractors who adhere to the highest safety and quality standards within the construction industry. Therefore we chose Al Jaber Engineering due to its commendable reputation, extensive expertise, and previous delivery.”(2)
However, the reputation of Al Jaber Engineering still needs to be proven. The local development authorities of Lugsail knew they were taking a risk by hiring the young company from Abu Dhabi. Since then, Al Jaber Group had to fire its finance chief ahead of a disciplinary process and the company is facing major financial restructuring, which worries Qatar as they are still expected to complete ‘the city of the future’ on time with the same standards that were originally discussed.
On some other construction sites, Qatar’s public work authority called ASHGHAL opted for companies who were clearly on the cheap side and who had bad public records for their lack of professionalism. Indian-based firm Larsen and Toubro was awarded several contracts by ASHGHAL, including the design and construction of the Al Wakra Bypass road connecting Mesaieed to Doha City, as well as the Al-Shamal Sewage Treatment Works, and could very well keep working with ASHGHAL on the major re-sewerage project in Doha called IDRIS (3). Larsen & Toubro is not known for the quality of its public works and has faced many scandals lately. Among them, the incapacity for Larsen and Toubro to finish several key projects on time, including the major railway in the Indian city of Hyderabad, which turned into a disaster after Larsen and Toubro said it had to “re-look at the viability of the 141.3 billion-rupee project because of holds-ups in acquiring land”(4). Larsen and Toubro may have lowered their prices drastically in Qatar, but it could end up being an unwelcome surprise for Qatar as the country is on precise timeline.
Finishing the projects on time is doable for Qatar, but the question is how they will be finished. If the infrastructure is rushed by low quality firms working day and night with migrant workers in poor safety and living conditions, the World Cup will be a catastrophe. If Qatar manages to take advantage of the newly built infrastructure in the long term, the possibilities could be great for the country.
In 2022, all of the real costs of the buildings, the stadiums, the infrastructures, etc., will be exposed by the media. The final results will be assessed, not only by Qatar’s government, but by the entire world whose eyes will be closely watching the World Cup. If the contractors lack quality, it will be easily recognized just by the final product, indicating that Qatar rushed the construction. For now, Qatar must hope that the contractors hired for the job get it done the best way possible… the answer will come in 2022.
(1) The human struggle to get Qatar ready for the World Cup, BBC Sports, February 24th 2015
(2) Lusail awards infrastructural contract to Al Jaber Engineering, Lusail City Press Release, June 22nd 2014
(3) Signing New Design and Construction Contracts for Infrastructure Projects with a Value Exceeding QR 5 Billion and 533 Million, Asghal, Qatar, March 12th 2014.
(4) L&T may ‘re-look’ at $2.8 Billion India Rail on Land Delays, October 25th 2011, Bloomberg Business