By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
WHILE the government remains committed to honouring the Heads of Agreement with China Construction America for The Pointe project, Labour Minister Dion Foulkes called the document “badly drafted” and blamed it for much of the Bahamian Contractors Association’s frustrations regarding workforce numbers.
According to Mr Foulkes, The Point has expressed a position that at any given time the Bahamian to foreign worker ratio will not reflect 70/30 as detailed in the HOA, especially at this current time where a maximum number of specialised foreign workers are being utilised.
The Minnis administration accepts this, the minister told The Tribune and is satisfied with assurances that at some point Bahamian worker numbers will exceed the specified 70 per cent.
Despite the contention drawn by this situation, Mr Foulkes said CCA is prepared to meet with Mr Sands.
“Now the issue about the composition and the percentage of Bahamians to non-Bahamians there is a view on that which I agree to,” the minister said yesterday when he was contacted.
“What The Pointe is saying is that at any given time there will not be a 70 per cent Bahamian 30 per cent non Bahamian split as the Heads of Agreement calls for.
“It so happens that at one point its going to be close to 83 per cent Bahamian which would be way above the 70 per cent and that will go on for over a period of a year that will make up for the earlier percentages in favour of non-Bahamians.
“And if you read the agreement carefully you can interpret the agreement that way. A lot of people are saying that it has to 70/30 end of story at all times. If you go out there now tomorrow every hour it has to be 70/30.”
He continued: “What China Construction explained to us is that through the super structure for the high tension concrete placement that their company around the world, the largest construction company around the world, they have a policy that for the super structure they have trained persons who are accustomed to the way the want it done. That is why the percentage is what it is today.
“When the super structure is done which is basically the main structure of the building, Bahamians will be hired to do all the other stuff - the brick laying, the sheet rock, all of the cement work, all the tiling (and) all the other stuff. That will be a very high percentage of Bahamians and at the end of the project it will be way beyond the 70 per cent that the Heads of Agreement calls for.”
“I think the Heads of Agreement is a badly drafted Heads of Agreement. If we were to do it all over again we would have made it very clear,” Mr Foulkes also said.
“But there are a lot of things in that Heads of Agreement that in my view are badly done. But government is continuous and we want to honour it once it is legal.”
Asked to further explain other aspects of the agreement constituting poor construction, Mr Foulkes said: “I don’t want to get into it because I don’t want to put a damper on what is going on. Our main effort now is for the project to move along and for them to meet their 2020 deadline.
“Five hundred Bahamians will be employed full time and even though we want maximum benefits for the construction industry we also want to get those Bahamians working full time.”
This comes after BCA President Leonard Sands said Tuesday government’s engagement with his organisation remained unsatisfactory. He also claimed the association had not been invited to a key stakeholder meeting last week despite numerous attempts to uncover these details.
Mr Foulkes took exception to these claims but said he would attempt to organise a third meeting.
He said: I met him (Leonard Sands) first at a public event. It wasn’t a planned meeting. Actually he saw me and he came up to me and I told him that my office was trying to reach him and that we wanted to setup a meeting between himself, his executive and the top executives of The Pointe. He agreed.
“I told him that we will reach him and that we will confirm it.
“My understanding is my office did confirm the meeting with him. However the first date that was given was adjourned. We didn’t meet that day. Neither did he show up at my office on that day.
“But it was adjourned to another date which The Pointe agreed to but it was because I had an unscheduled Cabinet meeting. The second meeting I’m told that my office confirmed that they contacted him. Now it is very possible that they did not (and) I don’t want to blame Mr Sands.
“But I am going to try a third time to bring the parties together, but The Pointe has agreed to meet with him. I am trying to be fair to them because they did make the commitment.”
Mr Sands has insisted The Pointe is in breach of labour ratio requirements in the Heads of Agreement. He said BCA members pressure him continually to advocate for greater inclusion of Bahamian workers on the project.
Mr Sands could not be reached for comment up to press time yesterday.