The rapid spread of COVID-19 has disrupted global commerce, destabilized the world’s leading economies and affected businesses and projects across industries. The construction industry is no exception. COVID-19 has materially impacted construction projects worldwide.
Since many of the construction projects are being delivered under FIDIC standard forms of contract, the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (“FIDIC”) has recently published its COVID-19 Guidance Memorandum (see here) outlining provisions in FIDIC’s various general conditions of contract relevant to different likely scenarios that may arise as a consequence of COVID-19.
The purpose of this Client Alert is to highlight the main take-aways from the Guidance Memorandum – the importance of notices and maintaining contemporary records (i), extension of time (ii), changes in laws (iii) and Force Majeure (iv).
Importance of notices and keeping track of contemporary records
Whatever issues Contractors or Employers worldwide might be facing, it is critical that contemporary records are maintained (preferably describing and documenting the ongoing situation and issues at hand) and notice obligations are fulfilled (describing the issue at hand in sufficient detail). This will be important for any negotiations between the parties or any other amicable solutions to a claim or a dispute, as well as any formal dispute resolution proceedings between the parties.
Extension of Time
Depending on the circumstances of each case, if a Contractor suffers from difficulties in mobilizing personnel due to health and safety concerns and/or obtaining Goods due to issues in the supply chain, it may resort to the remedies foreseen in Sub-Clause 8.4(d) of the Red Book 1999, the Yellow Book 1999, the Silver Book 1999 and the Pink Book, or Sub-Clause 8.5(d) of the Red Book 2017, the Yellow Book 2017 and the Emerald Book, and Sub-Clause 9.3(d) of the Gold Book. Namely, a Contractor may request an Extension of Time (“EoT”). No financial remedy is foreseen or guaranteed, and the entitlement to a financial compensation will depend on the circumstances of each case. To be entitled to an EoT on the basis of the listed provisions, the relevant FIDIC conditions of contract require that shortages in the availability of personnel or Goods are:
- the Contractor has diligently followed the procedures laid down by the relevant public authorities;
- these authorities delayed or disrupted the Contractor’s work; and
- the delay and disruption was “unforeseeable”.
Changes in Laws
One of the reasons a Contractor might be entitled to an EoT is a change to the Laws of the Country where the works are being carried out (Sub-Clause 13.7 of the Red Book 1999, the Yellow Book 1999, the Silver Book 1999 and the Pink Book, or under Sub-Clause 13.6 of the Red Book 2017, the Yellow Book 2017, the Silver Book 2017, the Emerald Book and the Gold Book). These provisions also provide for an adjustment of the Contract Price if in particular the following prerequisites are met:
- a change in the Laws of the Country (where the Site is located; where the Permanent Works are to be executed) after the Base Date (the date 28 days prior to the latest date for submission of the Tender);
- affecting the Contractor in the performance of obligations under the Contract;
- the Contractor suffers (or will suffer) delay and/or incurs (or will incur) additional Cost as a result of these changes in the Laws; and
- gives notice to the Engineer/Employer/Employer’s Representative (depending on the respective FIDIC standard form used).
The definition of Laws in the FIDIC standard forms of contract is quite broad and covers a wide range of legislation as well as regulatory actions from “any legally constituted public authority”. It therefore can apply not only to acts of parliament but also e.g. to decrees, rules or municipal orders.
Given the numerous health and safety measures by national governments and local authorities to tackle COVID-19, it might be worthwhile for Contractors to determine whether they are entitled to an EoT and/or an adaption of the Contract Price as a result.
Force Majeure/Exceptional Event
The existing situation caused by COVID-19 (but of course – depending on the specific circumstances of the case) might also qualify as a Force Majeure as defined under Sub-Clause 19.1 of the Red Book 1999, the Yellow Book 1999, the Silver Book 1999, or the Pink Book or Sub-Clause 1.1.14 of the Gold Book 1999 or an Exceptional Event as defined under Sub-Clause 18.1 of the Red Book 2017, the Yellow Book 2017, the Silver Book 2017 or the Emerald Book or under Sub-Clause 1.1.37 of the Gold Book.
A Force Majeure or an Exceptional Event is an event or circumstance which:
- is beyond a Party’s control;
- the Party could not reasonably have provided against before entering into the Contract;
- having arisen, such Party could not reasonably have avoided or overcome; and
- is not substantially attributable to the other Party.
Sub-Clause 19.1 and Sub-Clause 18.1 provide a list of examples, which do not include pandemics or measures by governments and local authorities. However, it is important to note that the list is non-exhaustive. Therefore, depending on the particular circumstances, COVID-19 still might qualify as a Force Majeure or an Exceptional Event if the above conditions are met. If there is no outright ban on construction activities, especially the third criterion might be difficult to meet. When the relevant health and safety measures are implemented, construction works might be more difficult albeit not impossible so that the COVID-19 event could be considered as overcome.
In case the above prerequisites are met, the affected Party – upon proper notification – is excused to perform obligations which are prevented by this Force Majeure/Exceptional Event (pursuant to Sub-Clause 19.2 of the Red Book 1999, the Yellow Book 1999, the Silver Book 1999 or the Pink Book, or Sub-Clause 13.2 of the Green Book 1999, or Sub-Clause 18.2 of the Red Book 2017, the Yellow Book 2017, the Silver Book 2017, the Emerald Book or the Gold Book). The notice has to be given within 14 days after the Party became aware (or should have become aware) of the relevant event or circumstance specifying it as well as the obligations/the performance of which the Party is or will be prevented.
The Contractor may also be entitled to an EoT for any resulting delay as per Sub-Clause 19.4 of the Red Book 1999, the Yellow Book 1999, the Silver Book 1999 or the Pink Book, or Sub-Clause 7.3 of the Green Book 1999 or Sub-Clause 18.4 of the Red Book 2017, the Yellow Book 2017, the Silver Book 2017, the Emerald Book or the Gold Book. Financial entitlements on the other hand seem less likely (except potentially in the Green Book 1999) since this requires that the event or circumstance is of the kind as the first four/five sets of examples in Sub-Clause 19.1 of the Red Book 1999, the Yellow Book 1999, the Silver Book 1999 or the Pink Book, or Sub-Clause 18.1 of the Red Book 2017, the Yellow Book 2017, the Silver Book 2017 or the Emerald Book. These only cover man-made events such as wars and terrorism whereas the COVID-19 pandemic would more likely qualify as an event similar to a natural catastrophe as described in the last set of examples in the respective provisions.