Developing a Nation

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-By John Boley

RMS Engineering & Construction provides general and specialised civil and construction services in sewerage infrastructure, earthworks, roadworks, bridgeworks, subdivisions and concrete structures. Significant building projects are undertaken in Darwin and East Timor.

The company started when Richard McDonald decided to move on from his previous company and create his own business. Richard has some 35 years of experience in all aspects of business ranging from supervisory and management to managing director roles.

The company makes something of a speciality of projects in East Timor, as Darwin manager Craig Burgemeister told us. Mr Burgemeister spent more than 20 years with the Department of Defence before becoming a construction works superintendent, then in office management and contracts management.

The nation of East Timor was formed in September 1999 and is an emerging country that is still confronting the challenges of widespread poverty and subsistence life styles for the local population. According to Craig, speaking to us in Darwin, the challenges of working in East Timor, which is just across the Arafura Sea and doesn’t seem so far away, are “many and varied. The main challenge is the language, that’s a huge issue, and the cultural differences between Australians and the Timorese.”

There is also the matter of different standards – in quality, for example. However, “the majority of work we have done is through the World Bank or the Australian government, which require certain set standards.” RMS has also done some work for the US government through its embassy, and other distinctly blue-chip clients including the New Zealand consulate in the capital Dili.

Aid poured into East Timor after it gained its independence from Indonesia, but it remains one of the very poorest countries on earth. Or does it? Craig is guarded, but he suggests it’s the people, rather than the country, that are poor. “I would consider it pretty rich with the royalties it’s getting out of oil and gas. They have lots of money, they just don’t have the technical knowledge or skill as to how to actually spend that money.” For obvious reasons Craig won’t discuss money matters, but it is generally known that there are issues regarding transparency and payment in territories such as this.

There’s an art to working in countries that feel – and truly are – ‘foreign’ and Craig recognises this, having spent two years living in Dili. “I think it’s a mixture of experience, workforce and quality – our personnel in country have extensive knowledge of overseas working… Our expat supervisors are very skilled and have gained a great deal of knowledge in what’s required in terms of lead times.”

There’s also the level of interaction with the locals: “The workforce over there varies with projects but (generally) we’d have about 65 people working in Dili in various capacities, of which 10 or so are expats. Some 10-15 are Filipinos who tend to be the go-betweens between the expats and the locals, you might say, in that they can speak their language well and understand their culture more than we do. Also, they have certain skills that we acknowledge and use – most of the Filipinos are supervisors and they help the local guys with training.

“Doing the projects up there is very satisfying for the guys that are there doing it day after day – especially when they look back on all the issues they have had to overcome to achieve their results. It’s a bit similar, if I may throw in an analogy here, to working in Australia with our own Aboriginals, our own natives – we face the same sort of social issues over there, though to a lesser extent in Dili. On the other hand, I don’t want to stereotype these people – they are a beautiful population and the majority of the people really do want to move forward.”

Naturally, civil construction projects in such a territory require that much of the equipment is brought in. “A lot of the equipment that is there is old but we have our own equipment up there that we have procured in Australia and Southeast Asia and delivered to Dili, where we are based. Shipping leaves Darwin every week so there are plenty of chances to get stuff up there.”

Closer to home in NT, RMS recently completed the Mamaruni Cyclone Shelter on Crocker Island. This started off being a covered open learning area project using federal government Building the Education Revolution funding.

Before commencement, the plans were torn up in the wake of Cyclone Ingrid which had gone through the township of Minjilang. As a result several buildings of the Mamaruni School had to be rebuilt and there was no actual shelter area purpose-built for the occupants of the island. RMS assisted in the development of working drawings for the establishment of a cyclone shelter which incorporated a covered open learning area as well.

Construction commenced in November 2010 and has just recently been completed. A special effort was made to ensure all building materials made their way to the island in a timely manner, having the roof over the construction site prior to the Christmas break and the close interaction with the local community, and where possible providing employment opportunities to the local indigenous members of the Minjilang community. All works were conducted by qualified tradesmen.

RMS used local shire facilities, ensuring that the community could benefit from using the local labour force.

The schoolchildren were closely involved during the construction phase with RMS and as a show of appreciation, a concert and BBQ were put on with the children presenting drawings and thank you cards to the Site employees for constructing the shelter area. The facility was constructed throughout the wettest wet season ever recorded and was completed on time.

Will East Timor continue to be a source of projects for RMS? “Honestly? It’s slowing down. There will have to be a lot more interaction with the Timorese government if we are to maintain what we do over there. So far we have stayed away from Timorese government works, mainly because of issues concerning payment.

“However, the government has just received a new loan from the World Bank and when you get money from that sort of organisation there are certain procurement principles you must follow, so we feel a little bit more confident about government work.”

RMS also has ongoing work maintaining embassies in Dili, not least for South Korea, “but the major infrastructural work for the Australian government is slowing down.”

Richard and Craig are looking to replace the East Timor work with other projects, although they specialise in the Townsville and Cairns area and Northern Territory. “If the opportunity arises we will go over to the west, though Richard is wary of expanding too far too fast or spreading the company too thin. But if opportunities arise we will definitely have a good look at them!”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

June 1, 2020, 6:03 AM AEST