Successful firm refused to join federation

Clyde_5.jpgWhen the Clyde Dam construction contract was awarded in April 1982 to a joint venture of W Williamson & Co of Christchurch and Ed Zublin AG of Stuttgart, West Germany, it represented a huge success for the Contractors’ Federation, tarnished only by the fact that Williamson was not a federation member. 

Williamson had been involved in previous international joint ventures – construction of the Manapouri tailrace tunnel and the first Wairakei geothermal power station. Zublin, one of West Germany’s largest contractors, earned 30 percent of its turnover overseas and had recently completed a dam in Austria twice the size of the Clyde Dam.

The winning bid was $102.6 million. The Ministry of Works’ original estimate was $156.4 million, later revised to $117.3 million. Seven tenders were received, the first six falling within $10 million of the successful bid.

It was believed at the time that the bid by a Downer-led consortium was below Williamson-Zublin’s price on opening and was only a few hundred thousand dollars higher after a tag was priced.

Though the federation was disappointed privately that the Clyde Dam contract had not gone to a member company, it did not say so publicly.

President Tony Mills commented: “The major cost saving is a result of contractors competing against each other for the work; competition forces them to seek the best, most efficient and most cost-competitive way of handling the job.”

Director Bob McKnight, a chartered accountant, said: “The competitive tender system…ensures an accurate cost figure and a complete accountability. The taxpayer will be saved $50 million because the Government had the courage to go out to competitive tender to build the dam.”

Though W Williamson & Co was not a member of the federation, that did not stop the organisation defending Zublin-Williamson in September 1984 in the face of public criticism over slow progress and rising costs on the Clyde Dam project. President Roger Douglas said geological faults were to blame and not the contractor.

Ten days later Douglas again defended Zublin-Willamson after works commissioner Bob Norman said on radio that the Ministry of Works had successfully mixed and placed on the Aviemore Dam concrete similar to that being used at Clyde and allegedly causing problems.

Douglas said the Aviemore materials were of a very different character to those at Clyde. And he revealed Zublin-Williamson was disputing the suitability of the ministry’s design for the Clyde concrete mix and was bringing in a European expert to help solve the problem.

Douglas’s double defence of Williamson was to go unrewarded. In mid-winter 1985, on a bitterly cold day, he paid a visit to the Clyde Dam site to try to persuade the company to join the federation, but came away empty-handed.

It was the only sour note at the end of what had been a glorious chapter in the federation’s history.

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What the Clyde Dam work entailed

Contractor Vol.32  No.9  October 2008
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