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Ex-Bca Chief's Concerns Over 'Political Activist'

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Stephen Wrinkle

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A former Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) president yesterday questioned whether a controversial political activist is "the best candidate" for a key role in regulating construction.

Stephen Wrinkle, pictured, told Tribune Business it was unclear whether Omar Archer, the newly-appointed Contractors Registrar, has the necessary industry expertise to oversee and administer a critical industry for the Bahamian economy.

Mr Archer's outspoken political activism, especially on social media, has resulted in several run-ins with the courts and law enforcement in recent years. He was convicted of threatening to harm a senior police officer in 2017, an incident which came after he jumped from a second storey window at the Magistrates Court complex two years' earlier in a bid to avoid arrest.

He returned to public prominence at the weekend after Leonard Sands, the now-former BCA president, accused Mr Archer of being behind the "sinister and unprecedented" political pressure that forced him to resign to for the Association's greater good - a claim that the Registrar subsequently denied to Tribune Business.

But Mr Wrinkle, echoing concerns voiced by Mr Sands and others, also suggested that Mr Archer may be "not the best candidate for the job" given that the construction sector required a Registrar with the necessary experience to help complete the crafting of regulations that will accompany the Construction Contractors Act.

"I would have hoped that the Ministry would have appointed someone with experience in the industry, at least at the organisational level, to help work out the details for the regulations that have to be put in place," Mr Wrinkle told Tribune Business.

"If Omar Archer has any experience in construction or related industries that would be immensely helpful to work out the regulations to go with the Act. He's a political activist: Does he have any construction or engineering expertise?

"That's very relevant to the situation so he can relate to people within the industry. He may be a competent negotiator, but I hope the Ministry has appointed someone who can guide Mr Archer. It's critical because they're setting up the regulations for the Act."

Mr Archer's appointment coincides with a vital time for the Bahamian construction industry, given that the decades-long campaign for it to join all other professions in being self-regulated through an Act of Parliament seems set to bear fruit imminently.

The Government and industry are working together to complete the final tasks necessary to bring the Act into effect, and Mr Archer will have a pivotal administrative and regulatory role in overseeing an industry where contractors will be licensed according to the scope of works they can perform.

Mr Wrinkle, meanwhile, told Tribune Business it was virtually impossible to "segregate" major industry and trade associations from political influences, which were all-pervasive in a small society such as The Bahamas.

"The truth of the matter here is that everything is related to politics," he said. "Every industry, every association, every agency is politically influenced. It's a very small country; we're limited in our personnel and resources, and are always going to be bucking up against the Government and wishes of the Government.

"Opposition to the Government is not a good and wise place to be when representing an industry. Mr Sands, I think, recognised that. He could see they were not getting anywhere, and decided to let someone else have a go."

Mr Wrinkle is known to have upset the last Ingraham administration when he held office as BCA president, with his advocacy style similar to the public outspokenness of Mr Sands. He, though, said he was unaware of the politically-motivated pressure cited by the latter as the cause of his resignation.

Mr Sands previously told Tribune Business he had no choice but to obey the "ultimatum" given to resign by 12pm on Sunday, after the BCA was warned it faced "dire repercussions", and exclusion from efforts to improve and regulate the industry, if he remained in his post.

Describing this alleged interference with an independent industry association as "exceptional", Mr Sands said that while the pressure came directly from Mr Archer, he found it hard to escape the suspicion that the Contractors Registrar would not have acted without support from Desmond Bannister, minister of works.

The Minister vehemently denied this to Tribune Business, saying he was "dumbfounded" and "lost for words" over Mr Sands's allegations. However, the two clashed publicly in February this year over the Board that will oversee the Construction Contractors Act, with Mr Bannister saying he "detests" the ex-BCA president's habit of going to the media before speaking to him.

Mr Wrinkle said this, rather than Mr Sands' lobbying for greater Bahamian contractor participation at The Pointe project in downtown Nassau, was likely to have been the origins of the dispute that led to his resignation.

Backing Mr Bannister's version of events over the Board, Mr Wrinkle added: "I know the names put forward for membership of the Board from the BCA, my understanding was they [the Government] wanted more diversity.

"The BCA had submitted too many general contractors and they wanted some sector-specific contractors. That's the last I heard about that. Whether new names were resubmitted I don't know."

He said the issues leading to Mr Sands' resignation appeared to be "of a personal nature" between him and the Ministry of Works. While acknowledging that a president' decisions do "reflect on the BCA and the Board of the BCA" to some extent, Mr Wrinkle said the controversy was unlikely to cause any "interruption" in the Association's relationship with the Government.

"What affects you affects your organisation and vice versa," he added. "It's difficult to segregate the two, and difficult to segregate politics from business. One has to tread very carefully; I've been there, done that.

"Mr Sands probably thought without him in the position, the BCA Board would have a better opportunity to resolve the situation with the Ministry. Although he's upset, I'm sure the main reason was to protect the BCA.

"From all indications he bit the bullet and made the decision to step aside to preserve the future of the BCA. It's not to say he's not a good person or did not represent the BCA in a good manner. In the circumstances, he must have felt it was best to proceed without him."

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