Unveiling the Veil: The Complex Role of Superintendents and QS in Construction Projects

By Dr Samer Skaik

In the intricate dance of construction projects, the roles of superintendents and financier-appointed quantity surveyors (QS) are central yet often enveloped in complexity. These roles are critical in maintaining contractual integrity and financial oversight. However, their independence and impartiality are subjects of ongoing legal scrutiny. This post delves into the delicate balance these professionals must maintain, guided by insights from landmark legal cases.

The Facade of Independence: A Closer Look at Financier’s QS

Typically, a financier’s appointed QS serves to safeguard the financier’s interests, providing reports and recommendations on the project’s financial health. However, their role does not extend to certifying progress payments in accordance with the contract. This was notably discussed in Peninsula Balmain Pty Ltd v Abigroup Contractors Pty Limited [2002] NSWCA 211, where it was emphasized that the QS acts as an advisor and agent to the financier, not as an unbiased or independent certifier of progress claims.

The Superintendent’s Balancing Act

Superintendents or principal representatives administer the building contract between the principal and the builder. Their role is to perform contract administration functions, including the certification of payment claims and variations fairly, reasonably, and in good faith. The necessity for impartiality and fair dealing in this role has been underscored in multiple cases. For example, Scheldebouw v St. James Homes (Grosvenor Dock) Ltd [2006] BLR 113 established that under such contractual arrangements the principal’s agent or partner acting as a superintendent is prohibited. Similarly, Kane Constructions Pty Ltd v Sopov [2005] VSC 237 provided a set of criteria indicating potential interference with a superintendent’s independent certification functions, including undue influence or control by the principal.

Intersecting Duties and Conflicts: Real-world Implications

The real-world implications of these roles are far-reaching, especially when individuals find themselves wearing multiple hats within the same project. The dual role of a principal representative and developer, for instance, raises significant conflict of interest concerns. This conflict was analogously addressed in Walton v Illawarra [2011] NSWSC 1188, highlighting the inevitable bias in certification and the real possibility of conflict. The case serves as a poignant example of the challenges faced when maintaining neutrality in complex project environments.

Judicial Guidance and the Path Forward

The courts have consistently provided guidance on these contentious issues, ensuring that the roles of superintendents and QS are executed with the utmost integrity. For instance, Vestas – Australian Wind Technology Pty Ltd v Lal Lal Wind Farm Nom Co Pty Ltd [2020] VSC 554 illuminated the risks associated with conduct that might compromise the superintendent’s duty of independence, emphasizing the importance of transparent and independent certification.


The roles of superintendents and financier-appointed QS in construction projects are fraught with challenges, demanding a high standard of professionalism and ethical conduct. By examining landmark cases and understanding the judicial guidance provided, professionals can navigate these roles more effectively, ensuring fairness and integrity in construction projects. It’s not just about legal compliance; it’s about upholding the trust and dependability that is foundational to successful construction projects.

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