The construction sector in the Middle East region has a long tradition of using the Fédération Internationale Des Ingénieurs-Conseils (FIDIC) suite of contracts as the basis of its building agreements.

Now, FIDIC has launched revised versions of its internationally recognised contracts, which includes a number of important changes that will have a significant impact on the key role of the engineer.

These are the first major amendments to FIDIC’s suite of contracts in 18 years, and have been drafted by engineers experienced in design and construction. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the role of the engineer has attracted major revisions.

The philosophy behind the latest changes is to enhance contractual project management tools and mechanisms so as to balance risk allocation; promote early dispute resolution; achieve clarity, transparency, and certainty; and to reflect current international best practices.

FIDIC has addressed a number of the issues raised by users since its previous version of contracts in 1999. The construction industry has changed, and as such, FIDIC’s contracts have evolved as well.

A key theme running throughout the revised contracts is the involvement of the engineer. The role of the engineer has always been pivotal in the administration of FIDIC contracts, and historically, the engineer had greater autonomy than they do today. The engineer’s role has become more complex particularly in the context of major international projects, and they must now follow very prescriptive procedures in the administration of the contract.

In addition, the engineer’s duties to the employer and the project have changed. In FIDIC’s 1987 Red Book contract, the engineer was considered as impartial – sub-clause 2.6 (Engineer to Act Impartially) stated that the engineer shall exercise his discretion “impartially within the terms of the contract”.

The 1999 FIDIC Red Book sought to bring about a fundamental change to the engineer’s role. Pursuant to sub-clause 3.1 (Engineer’s Duties and Authority), the engineer was “deemed to act for the employer”. This changed on-site dynamics, and the engineer was no longer considered to be impartial. In the Red Book 2017, the engineer continues to be deemed to act for the employer – however, there have been new provisions regarding the engineer’s ‘neutrality’.

As a further nod to the importance of the engineer in construction schemes, FIDIC has taken the much-welcomed step of providing enhanced requirements on the qualifications that the engineer must possess. These include being a professional engineer, suitably qualified and experienced, and fluent in the language of the contract, though it is unclear as to how compliance with such requirements will be policed.

The new contracts recognise the commercial realities of the engineer’s role being fulfilled by large corporate bodies, and do not provide an obligation to name an individual as the engineer. This is a disappointment, given the need for certainty in communications on projects. By way of concession to this, FIDIC in sub-clause 3.3 allows the engineer to appoint a “natural person” to act.

Clause 3 of the new FIDIC contracts outlines the role of the engineer and extends to eight sub-clauses. It provides that the engineer may appoint an ‘engineer’s representative’ (ER) and delegate to them the necessary duties and authority. The wording suggests that the ER is on site for the entire duration of the project, which is a welcome addition that allows the employer and the engineer to have increased overall understanding of how the project is progressing.

It is unclear whether the ER will have the authority to make determinations, but the assumption is that they will do so. Otherwise, there would be no substantial differentiation between an engineer’s assistant and the ER.

It is interesting to note that FIDIC at sub-clause 3.1(b) considered it necessary to provide that the engineer must be fluent in the language of the project. This reflects a theme that runs throughout the amendments – communication between parties is crucial to a successful project.

The engineer continues to be deemed to act for the employer, but sub-clause 3.2 states that – under the new sub-clause 3.7 – they are not required to obtain the employer’s consent before making a determination. This amendment should save the time and resources incurred on projects during the determination process.

Indeed, at sub-clause 3.2, the employer is prohibited from imposing the obligation to obtain consent before issuing a determination on the engineer.