Tomasz Żuchowski, acting General Director for National Roads and Motorways: It is important for me that we are able to take care of the balance of interests

The new law provides opportunities and challenges for road processes. What do you thing about future of Polish road investments? In your opinion, does the new act provide appropriate tools to make the purchasing process more effective?

Everything depends on our approach, because no regulations or laws will function properly if the entire decision-making process, which is the source of all concerns, does not change. Working for many years in an official mode, and then switching to the operational mode represented by General Directorate for National Roads and Motorways, I still see two worlds – legislation and practice. A golden mean must be found where a rational approach to legislation is essential.

We have a system overregulated in many areas, which does not make it easier to achieve the goal. What’s more, there is also a lack of various types of soft tools that are so necessary in normal business cooperation. I think that is the key from the perspective of this type of regulation. Today we are in a better place than a few years ago, but many things still need to be improved. The calendar of the investment process is burdened with many variables and one of them is the time necessary to obtain a complete set of documentation. To determine the final route of the road, it is necessary to obtain an environmental decision, and it seems to me that this is the Achilles’ heel of the entire system.

Administrative procedures related to environmental issues significantly lengthen the investment cycle. So, the changes to the Environmental Act, which came into force in mid-May and extended the powers of environmental organisations, may be a challenge for the entire industry. A challenge that we will have to cope with. We also have to be aware that the timing of the work may be affected by the struggle of contractors for contracts. Laws, including the new Public Procurement Law, give them specific tools, the use of which will result in longer investment processes. Since the act came into force, the National Appeal Chamber has noted an increased number of appeals, which we also observe in our contracts.

It is also worth mentioning that we have an indexation mechanism in the act, which we have been working on together with the industry and which we have been applying since January 2019. This show us, how the legislative process should proceed. First, practitioners worked out a valorization model, and after two years it was transferred to the act. This is an example of legislative maturity and a good sign for the implementation of such mechanisms in the future.

The modernization of the construction industry in Poland introduces many changes not only to the stages of project implementation, but also to the working conditions of employees. This is not the same model that was used before. In your opinion, do the adopted changes exist? Will they really strengthen the effectiveness of the goals?

I am concerned about the staffing issue, because it is already difficult to find a person on a construction site after 6 p.m. We are in a different place than, say, a decade ago, and we need to start discussing this. Work-life balance has changed so much in Poland that it is difficult to find an employee who will be willing to work more than 8 hours or take up a two-shift job. The second issue is the capacity of the entire market, because the number of contracts requires the coupling of forces. In infrastructure investments, it is clear that time is money. Therefore, the decision-making process must also be improved. I hope that the good practices and models which are being created now will become the basis for mature cooperation between the ordering party and contractors in the future.

Can we see the increased supply as an opportunity for Polish local contractors or are these development opportunities over and we have to reckon with foreign contractors capturing these contacts?

We already have enough experience that we do not divide the market into Polish and foreign contractors. The key is whether these contractors are reliable or not. It is important that companies with equipment and potential enter the market with all their knowledge and motivation to act. On the other hand, there are often contractors who, having neither experience or equipment, count on taking advantage of the structure of a market which they do not recognize very well and obtain subcontractors who will execute the contract for them. We are lacking a verification or certification mechanism of the kind that already exists in many European countries. It should not be the case that companies first declare their potential, and at the implementation stage it turns out that there is a problem.

General Directorate for National Roads and Motorways was working on clauses long before the new regulations entered into force – did the new act force your contract templates to go even further and do they meet the contractor’s requirements?

The inspiration to work through the terms of the contract was, among others, the new Public Procurement Law. For several months, we had a dialogue with representatives of the engineers and contractors community on this matter. The final result will, of course, never meet the expectations of everyone, but we must take into account that it is not possible to perfectly adjust the applicable conditions to the expectations of both parties. Such is the specificity of infrastructure investments that in terms of finance, we have a discrepancy in interests between the contracting authority and the contractor. But we’ve definitely worked through what was possible.

It is important to communicate with each other and clarify any doubts that arise on an ongoing basis. The key is to work together and for a team of several thousand people to know where they are heading. With such complex contracts, you can’t create a good team when the team is broken. I am dependent on us approaching these issues maturely and being able to balance interests.

Tomasz Żuchowski

General Director of National Roads and Motorways. Enjoys challenges and teamwork as well as strategic thinking and flexible approach. He has gained professional experience in many fields of engineering work – from his own business to public administration.
Since August 2018, he has been heading the General Directorate for National Roads and Motorways.

Last Updated on July 6, 2021 by Karolina Ampulska