School roof failure exposes Contractors Board absence


Tribune Business Reporter


The Bahamian Contractors Association's (BCA) president yesterday said the recent collapse of roof trusses at R. M. Bailey senior high school again exposes why the Government should “expeditiously appoint” the Contractors Board.

Leonard Sands told Tribune Business that the continued absence of the self-regulatory body, whose creation was given legal weight in the Construction Contractors Act 2016 (CCA), is the only tool that can ensure construction industry integrity via the licensing and certification of contractors according to their abilities and scope of work they can perform.

Describing this as important as a “medical licence”, he added: “Failure to ensure that you’re dealing with persons who have the capability and wherewithal to construct and do business in construction is just as important as you going to professional medical personnel to deal with your health.”

Prime Minister Philip Davis KC on Sunday said the roof trusses for R. M. Bailey's lunch pavilion collapsed when a worker, who was not being supervised, moved the brace that was holding them up. Bishop Anthony Roker, principal of A & M Construction, the contractor carrying out the work, took "full responsibility for what happened". He added that he has four decades of experience in the construction industry, and has done work for both FNM and PLP governments.

Mr Davis described the worker who moved the brace as an "agent", suggesting he was not directly employed by A & M Construction but by a third-party sub-contractor. The Prime Minister also denied that the R. M. Bailey construction contract was awarded due to "favouritism" or political connections.

However, what was not mentioned is that A & M Construction has also been awarded the $18m contract to upgrade Cat Island's New Bight airport. A review of Tribune Business files showed Mr Davis announced this contract award, for a key infrastructure asset in his own constituency, at last year's Cat Island Business Outlook conference where he mentioned Bishop Roker and the company by name.

Mr Sands, meanwhile, said: “The Construction Contractors Act is now an Act of parliament. It is now law. But the law cannot take effect without the Board in place, so the government of The Bahamas is in breach of the law which it established more than five years ago.”

It was also reported that A & M Construction did not have contractors' all-risk insurance in place when the trusses collapsed and also did not possess a written contract - only an oral one - for the work that was taking place. Questions are now likely to be asked over whether the New Bight airport work has a written contract and is covered by the necessary insurance.

"All I have to say on that is if the Ministry of Education is comfortable engaging individuals for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and possibly millions of dollars worth of work, on a verbal agreement, it makes me question if they should have education in the same phrase as ministry, because that seems to be a very unintelligent thing to do," Mr Sands said.

“This is one of the reasons why we feel that the Construction Contractors Act Board has not been appointed because then ministers or governments or politicians can determine when they want their friends to do work, to whatever advantage that is for the contractor, to the disadvantage of the agency because it is not regulated, governed or obviously doesn’t have any kind of oversight.”

The Public Procurement Act's section 22 mandates that where the value of a contract exceeds $50,000, but not $250,000, the tenders committee in the relevant Ministry where the contract is being executed can award it. However, if the contract is worth more than $250,000, then the Tenders Board will have oversight, and if it is over $1m approval has to come from the Cabinet.

Noting that contracts for school repairs, which reflect contracts of significant magnitude, must come before a Tenders committee at the very least, Mr Sands added: “I can imagine that work they have engaged is much more than $50,000, and no document can come before the Tenders Board by conversation. It has to be in written contract, it has to be reviewed,” Mr Sands said.

"It's not really the contractor’s fault. It was the people who engaged the contractor and everyone involved in that practice. This is not commonplace in The Bahamas, and it has never been.”

Arguing that awarding oral contracts is a “departure from the norm” and has “never been protocol” for any administration, Mr Sands said: “I have many, many contractors who have contracts with several ministries, and they have written and reviewed contracts, and none of them have a contract that is verbal to build a structure amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars and them to just go and build it.”


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment