By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Bahamian contractors yesterday said they are getting impatient for the “flood” of construction work promised by the government’s $515m capital works budget as projects dry up amid COVID-19.
Jacob Fowler, owner/operator of C-Jays Building Construction, told Tribune Business: “Let me say this: I listened to the minister of works (Desmond Bannister) some two or three weeks ago on one of the talk shows, and what he said is that they are getting ready to flood the market with construction work for contractors.
“I haven’t done anything for at least two years. I’m doing a small project now, and it has been about two years before I got this small project, and this is not a government project.”
Mr Fowler said he has “a lot of animosity” over the way the government is handling the situation just two weeks into the 2020-2021 fiscal year, and added: “I want to see if the minister is going to be a man to his word, because he said that this flood is going to happen this month.
“They said that it is not going to be politicised, and it doesn’t matter if you are an FNM (Free National Movement) or PLP (Progressive Liberal Party), but everybody is going to get this work once they have the proper documents. I really want to see what’s going to go on in this matter. If anything doesn’t happen within the next two weeks, I will call you back and we can have a better discussion about this.”
Mr Fowler added that he has not encountered any issues with persons not wanting to work, and clients not wanting to be around persons for the fear of the COVID-19 virus. A lot of the workers are going to Abaco and Grand Bahama,” he said.
“I was trying to get certain workers who work with me in the past. I tried to get them to come with me on this current project, but I was told that they were in another island. Abaco hasn’t started anything sensible yet. There has not been anything structural; no sensible, structural subdivision going up, because if Abaco is going to be ‘Abaco’ again they need to build at least one sensible subdivision.
“What they were giving the people for the homes for roofs and things like that didn’t make any sense. The highest amount they were giving was $7,000, and that hardly could pay the contractor, because if you are looking at repairing a roof the very least you are looking at is $12,000-$16,000, because that’s material and labour and then you are looking at equipment.”
The government is looking to its capital works budget, of which $151.097m has been allocated to the Ministry of Works, to help support the fragile economy by creating construction work for contractors and their employees. This, in turn, is designed to boost income circulation amid “grassroots” businesses as employees spend their weekly pay cheques.
While many contractors were able to return to job sites following the easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, the industry’s primary concern is whether there will be further projects to go to once their current task is finished.
Dwight Pratt, owner/operator of DBM Enterprises, said: “Things have dried up in the country in every area. There is nothing really going on. There aren’t any loans going out, and if there are loans going out they are going to maintain. The banks are only lending to maintain the one or two clients they have, and they are not doing any new business. Construction has dried up for now.
“If there are projects, we are only seeing projects in the media. Developers are bringing in their labourers, so right now it has been like how it’s always been for the industry and Bahamian contractors or workers.”
Mr Pratt said he sees “nothing within the next six months”, addimg that the country is obligated to “make things happen”. He said: “Just as people can come here and have visions and dreams to develop our country, and they would get loans from foreign banks as well as here to do it, Bahamians aren’t given that golden opportunity and - if it is given we are not partaking in it.
“We are hindered by not being able to access funds, and only foreigners could access the land and the funds that are available here for developing.”
Dennis Dean, owner/operator of AD Construction, said: “Things are a little slow, but we have some projects in the making within the next six months for both residential and commercial.
“We can’t predict what’s going to happen right now because this epidemic is whipping us. Everybody is afraid to start anything. That’s the whole idea. It has nothing to do with manpower; it has to do with interacting with one another. The clients are afraid to interact with my workers.”