Road projects in Saudi Arabia are being delayed because of Riyadh’s insistence on a three-year fixed timescale for all tenders regardless of the scale or complexity of the work required, according to contractors.

While the government’s strategy of contracting out projects over 36-month time slots has been in place for some time, the volume of projects now being carried out has highlighted the difficulties encountered by contractors.

“There is not one project that is not three years, whatever the project is,” says one Riyadh-based contractor. “Even if it is a two-kilometre stretch of road, it will be a three-year project. This way it enables the government to hold onto the money for longer.”

Contractors complain that the fixed timescale for projects means their resources can be tied up for longer than necessary and that some schemes that could be completed promptly are taking an excessive amount of time.

As they do not get paid in full until a project has been completed, contractors have been seeking ways to avoid committing resources to projects in their early stages.

Work that will only take a few months to complete is being left until the end of the three-year period before being done.

“We were awarded a SR12m project, and the timing for the ($3.2m) award was 36 months,” says the Riyadh-based contractor. “It was finished in four months.”

“It is 36 months for such projects, regardless of the length of the road or the complexity of the project,” says another local contractor. “Most projects we finish before time. We did a 120km stretch in Hail in almost two-thirds of the time.”

Some firms have suggested that the government is persisting with a three-year contract duration because of inefficiencies in the Transport Ministry.

“A lot of projects are sent out without a design,” says the local contractor. “Just a few words are given about building from here to there. It is not easy at all.

“Even though they have announced a project, they are not sure what quantities are involved, and they will not know that until we do the survey, calculate the quantities and come up with a new schedule.”

Contractors have previously complained that infrastructure projects in the kingdom are suffering from delays because of poor cost estimates and a lack of communication from the ministry.

In April, contractors estimated the cost of a 120km expressway linking the towns of Uqair and Salwa would double from origi-nal estimates.

“It is not necessarily inflation-related; it is ill-prepared tenders,” said one contractor at the time (MEED 18:4:08).

Despite the criticism by contractors, the ministry is not expected to change its policy in the near future.

“To get that you need a change of people, and I don’t see a change of people happening right now,” says the local contractor.

The Transport Ministry was not available for comment.