By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet Minister yesterday said the Government faces a “dilemma” over whether it should intervene with foreign investors to secure Bahamian involvement on major projects.
Brent Symonette, pictured, minister of financial services, trade and industry and Immigration, asked a Bahamas Engineers, Architects & Allied Professionals (BEAAP) forum: “Is it the role of government or associations to make sure that planning has to happen?
“Quite often, that investor has his own professional he relies on in his own country, and when the Bahamian professional gets involved, where is that relationship headed? Do we then say: ‘Ok, I’m sorry developer, you have to make sure that before you come to the BIA (Bahamas Investment Authority) your plans are drawn up or you have engaged engineers, architects etc?’
“That’s the dilemma I’m facing as to whether this is the role of government or the association. Where do we go next? I’m trying to conceptualise how the Government can intercede at some point in the approval process that you have to go to the BEAAP.”
Mr Symonette also stressed the need to train Bahamians and encourage them to work within the various sectors related to the construction industry. He pointed to one case where an expatriate, who has been applying for a work permit every year for the past 20 years, has now applied for permanent residency. “
There are people that came here to develop Atlantis that are still here in a different role. They came here on work permits and may have joint ventured with a Bahamian or not,” said Mr Symonette.
“We have to find a way to train and make Bahamians willing to work in your industry. I am tired of giving out work permits for metal duct workers, for instance. Bahamians now aren’t carrying the blocks; forget mixing the cement to build the buildings. We have to find ways to train Bahamians.”
Mr Symonette’s comments came after BEAAP’s engineering, architect and construction industry members yesterday complained that they are being “bypassed or overlooked” for work on multiple-FDI projects, leading to calls for their greater involvement in the investment approvals process.
Sonia Brown, principal of Graphite Engineering, and BEAAP’s chairwoman, told Tribune Business: “For those of us who work in the engineering, architecture and construction industry, we realise that for a lot of projects that happen in the country we are being bypassed or overlooked.
“Many times we hear about a project when it’s being announced in the newspaper or when a developer comes with completed engineering drawings and say we need someone to sign-off.
“There is a difference between rubber stamping and being an engineer or architect of record, which is a legitimate function that requires that you do specific things. You have to review calculations and drawings, and should be familiar enough with a project that you can answer any questions or concerns.”
Ms Brown added: “We realise that we are not a part of the approval process, and we should be a part because there are laws on the books that say no one who is unlicensed should be doing engineering or architecture work. We have those Acts which have been passed.
“We think it’s a matter of enforcement of laws on the books, and introducing policies that place us in the right position within the approval process. I don’t think it’s a big ask to say to a developer that before you get your project approved, look at the list provided by the professional engineers and architects board and find a licensed individual who you can work with. You may already have your consultants you have done projects with around the world, but you need to identify a local consultant.”
Ms Brown conceded that Bahamian professionals must also sell their services, adding: “We would like to see some sort of minimum fee split agreement put in place but, even if that’s not possible, if we’re involved at the conceptual stage we are able to provide our portfolio of work and show what we are capable of and request that we become a part of the design process.
“Designing in The Bahamas is unique, and there are things that - as persons who live and work here - we are familiar with that others may not know or be familiar with. We also know all of the players because we work with them all of the time.”
Ms Brown said BEAAP, as a collective body, has been meeting since 2015 and was formally incorporated last year. She added that unlike other industry organisations, BEAAP is strictly for business persons who must be licensed and show proof of VAT compliance.