By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamian architects yesterday urged the prime minister to focus on “the low hanging fruit” of the Building Control Department (BCD) in his efforts to “bulldoze red tape” following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Institute of Bahamian Architects (IBA), voicing fears that the lockdown has created a backlog of permit applications at the department, argued that this could have been avoided had it been digitised 15 years ago.
“Doing so will help the country in dealing with the current coronavirus crisis, and will ensure that in the future the country would be better prepared when another crisis, be it a virus, a hurricane or some other crippling disaster, closes the country down,” the IBA said.
“Under normal condition it takes between three to six months to get a building permit at BCD. The nominal time in our region is approximately two to four weeks, with most first world locations issuing permits for the primary type of construction done here in one to two days.
“Imagine what effect the lockdown is having on current permit applications and how the inevitable delays will impede construction revenue and employment as we now slowly come out of the crisis lockdown.”
The IBA added that digitisation of building control would make doing business in The Bahamas much easier, efficient and improve the country’s rankings in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Reports.
“Whilst the Prime Minister did not specifically mention the construction industry or, more importantly, the Building Control Department at the Ministry of Works, BCD’s outdated, outmoded and inefficient building permit process should have been and could have been optimised and digitised years ago,” it said.
“In fact, the IBA along with other entities in the construction industry have been making formal recommendations to Ministry of Works on BCD processes for years - from building permit processes to building inspections protocols, and had any of the recommendations been implemented would have made BCD much more efficient and it would have certainly digitised the plan submittal process by now.
“The IBA has being calling for the digitalisation of plans submittal and review for many years and, to be fair, so has past administrations. The present minister of works, to great fanfare in September 2018, had a well-attended workshop on the plans for BCD to start electronic plans submittal in early 2019. The minister’s effort, though well-intentioned, suffered from the same fate as past administrations attempts at removing red tape and implementing digitisation. To-date digitisation has not been implemented and bureaucratic red tape has increased.”
The IBA added that had the BCD implemented digitisation as late as 2019, the present shutdown “would have had a minimal impact on its plan review and building permit processes as reviewers would have been able to review electronic documents from home and could have had a number of building permits ready for when the shutdown ended”.
It continued: “Construction is going to be one of the important economic drivers once the current crisis passes, and so quick, efficient permits can greatly aid the country restarting its economic activity.
“Therefore, the IBA not only will enthusiastically welcome and support the Prime Minister in his ‘bulldozing of red tape’ and his urging that the country goes digital, but we implore him and his minister of works to start with the very low-hanging fruit of the Building Control Department.”a