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Contractor Licensing Wait 'Not An Issue' For Dorian Rebuild

Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.

Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A Cabinet minister yesterday said the continuing wait to implement the construction industry’s self-regulatory licensing system will “not cause any issues” with post-Dorian rebuilding.

Desmond Bannister, minister of works, told Tribune Business that the Ministry of Works’ rigorous pre-qualification system, and knowledge of which contractors are capable of doing the required work, will provide the necessary safeguards against Bahamas Building Code non-compliance and shoddy workmanship.

Responding to concerns voiced by two former Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) presidents that the failure to properly implement the Construction Contractors Act, via the appointment of a board to oversee the licensing of contractors according to their ability, could undermine the rebuilding of Abaco and Grand Bahama, Mr Bannister said: “It’s not caused any issues with the post-Dorian rebuild.

“We have a pre-qualification system at the Ministry so there’s no challenge with the rebuild. We will be moving on that shortly. The Ministry of Works knows the contractors who are capable of doing different types of work, and we have a thorough pre-qualification system.”

Mr Bannister declined to comment on why the Board, which will feature both government and industry representatives, had yet to be appointed or when the process will be completed. “There are some matters that I have to look into. There are some things I have to do before that can be finalised,” was all he would say.

However, Tribune Business understands that the latest hold-up stems from the fact that the Act, which was passed by the former Christie administration in 2016, commits the Bahamian taxpayer - via Parliament - to financing the board’s activities.

It is thought that no funding was set aside for that purpose in the 2019-2020 budget, and finding the necessary monies is now a challenge given the $677.5m deficit - and $508m in extra borrowing - that the government is now expected to incur as a result of Hurricane Dorian. It is thought this Board is the only self-regulatory one where the government is financially committed by law.

However, both Leonard Sands and Stephen Wrinkle, the ex-BCA presidents, previously told Tribune Business that the absence of a licensing system exposed homeowners and businesses in the disaster-hit areas to potentially defective construction work during the rebuild, while also eroding the government’s ambition of ensuring all properties adhere to The Bahamas building code.

Non-compliance with the Code was cited as a major factor for why many structures collapsed so easily under Dorian’s category five winds, but both former BCA chiefs said the continued absence of the self-regulatory licensing regime threatens to cause a repeat during the next major storm as there is nothing to detect - or prevent - the participation of incompetent contractors in the reconstruction.

Messrs Sands and Wrinkle argued that the present situation leaves consumers and the government with little to no redress for shoddy workmanship, which the latter branded “a recipe for disaster” given that 7,339 homes across Abaco and Grand Bahama have been described as “severely damaged” in Dorian’s wake.

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