The provisional sum loophole in the Middle East

Provisional Sums or Problematic Sums! There is no widely accepted definition of the term “Provisional Sum”, but generally it refers to an estimated lump sum amount included in a contract for work that is not fully specified in scope or not specified in scope at all, which may or may not be instructed to be expended during the course of construction.

In the UK, there are two distinct types of provisional sum, if the Contract uses Bills of Quantities regulated by the Standard Method of Measurement (SMM7), titled “Defined” and “Undefined” provisional sums. For a sum to be classified as “Defined” pursuant to General Rule 10.3, the nature, location and scope must be known and the base specification and approximate quantity must be stated in the Tender Bills and the Contractor will then be deemed to have allowed in his Tender for the necessary Preliminaries (site based on-costs) in terms of cost and allowed programming/ planning time within the programme to complete the work within the Contract Period.

In contrast, if the provisional sum is stated to be “Undefined” then the scope still requires to be designed and settled or the sum is contingent in nature then such sums are deemed not to be included in the programme for the Works and no “Preliminaries” or other costs are deemed to be included in the Contract Sum.

From recent experience when using the FIDIC Red Book (1999) Standard form of Contract, there is a significant lacuna when applying Clause 13.5 – Provisional Sums. The FIDIC Red Book does not make any distinction between so called “Defined” and “Undefined” provisional sums, but does at least provide a definition of what a Provisional Sum can contain and how they are to be valued.

Once the Engineer has issued an instruction to expend a provisional sum, there may be an element of uncertainty concerning the time allowed within the programme to carry out these Works. This begs the question of what if the Contractor does not include any time within his programme for a provisional sum; will he be entitled to an extension of time when the Engineer instructs the expenditure of that sum?

Finding the answer in the Middle East

Experience in the Middle East offers no conclusive answer, and there remains a doubt as to whether expenditure of a Provisional Sum can bring entitlement to an extension of time. The FIDIC Red Book at Clause 8.4, the extension of time clause, does not specifically mention Provisional Sums as grounds for an extension of time. Is the inference therefore that the Contractor has accepted the programming risk of such expenditure. Possibly so in that Clause 4.11, Sufficiency of the Accepted Contract Amount, states:

“Unless otherwise stated in the Contract, the Accepted Contract Amount covers all the Contractor’s obligations under the Contract (including those under provisional sums, if any)…”

This quotation is under a clause heading of “Sufficiency of the Accepted Contract Amount.” Whilst clause headings are not definitive, the phrase “the Contractor’s obligations” may be sufficient inference that Provisional Sums are intended to be deemed included in the Contract Period.

But what is to happen where a stated value for a Provisional Sum proves to be understated? For example, what if an AED 2 Million Provisional Sum is let at say AED 5 Million. Whilst it may be that a change in material accounts for the difference and the scope is similar then arguably the time will not be affected, but if the additional cost is a result of additional work then what is the Contractor’s position. The answer may well be the use of Clause 8.4(a) which lists grounds for extension of time and states: “a Variation… or other substantial change in the quantity of an item of work included in the Contract”.

The practice of inserting provisional sums into contracts is commonplace but doing so introduces risks for both parties.

If a delay can be proved to result from the additional expenditure, then arguably the Contract should provide a remedy, and it is likely that Clause 8.4(a) may be applicable.

Provisional sums are expended by engineer’s instruction, and it is presumed that if the approved programme for the Works includes the expenditure of provisional sums, then it is implicit that the Engineer must instruct the expenditure of such sums in accordance with the specified dates in the programme. If he fails to do so then clause 1.9, Delayed Drawings or Instructions, may apply which provides the remedy for the Contractor of both additional time and cost if the Engineer issues late instructions which can be proved by the Contractor to delay the completion date.

The practice of inserting provisional sums into contracts is commonplace, but doing so introduces risks for both parties, and it is time (no pun intended) that the contractual provisions in FIDIC were amended to introduce clarity into the use of provisional sums. The alternative is to make amendments in the Particular Conditions to ensure that the matter is addressed to remove any potential dispute.

Experience in the Middle East offers no conclusive answer, and there remains a doubt as to whether expenditure of a Provisional Sum can bring entitlement to an extension of time.

Daniel Rimmer, Managing Consultant

About the author

Daniel Rimmer is a Managing Consultant with HKA, based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He has over 10 years of experience working within multidisciplinary teams on large, complex projects as a commercial manager and quantity surveyor for both contractors and subcontractors. Daniel is a qualified quantity surveyor with an MSc in Construction Law and Dispute Resolution, and is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators

Daniel has developed extensive technical and commercial knowledge from experience accumulated when working for both international and domestic clients. His commercial management experience ranges from pre-contract to post contract work in terms of procurement, cost reporting, valuation of variation accounts, general contract administration, amending of contract documentation and the drafting and negotiation of final accounts. Daniel has primarily dealt with standard form contracts such as the FIDIC Red Book, JCT and NEC throughout his project experience in the United Kingdom, South Africa and the Middle East.

This publication presents the views, thoughts or opinions of the author and not necessarily those of HKA. Whilst we take every care to ensure the accuracy of this information at the time of publication, the content is not intended to deal with all aspects of the subject referred to, should not be relied upon and does not constitute advice of any kind. This publication is protected by copyright © 2024 HKA Global Ltd.


Follow HKA on WeChat


HKA WeChat