by Latoya Burnham and Roy R. Morris
Government is to blame for the demise of manufacturing.
In fact, rather than importing some $50 million in furniture per year, veteran manufacturer Mohammed Nassar claims that local companies could well provide most of what the island needs, especially for the school, if they could get the necessary support.
His comments came on the heels of those made by Minister of Education Ronald Jones today that he would like to see more local manufacturers coming up with designs and creating furniture for the schools, rather than having to import, as Barbados currently does.
Nassar said however, that at one point his company, Husbands Wrought Iron, located in a sprawling complex in the Grazettes Industrial Park, employed about 140 people, with its sister company, U & I Limited, employing another 40 and together they supplied all of the hotels, schools and Government offices in the country with furniture and metal work.
He charged though that it was Government who strangled the industry and watched as many of the veterans like himself went out of business, where once Barbados was king of furniture manufacturing in the Caribbean.
“I am saying that both parties are responsible, but this particular party seems not to understand that they should have capitalised on the [mistakes] of the last Government.
“What we have now is that all our highly skilled and technical people are being shut down or locked out and they are walking about talking how they would like to see this and they want to see that. They don’t want to; it is only talk. If they really wanted it, they would do something about it,” said the manufacturer, who went from having one of the largest companies to now working out of a home.
“We used to furnish every hotel and every school in Barbados. We used to furnish every Government office with some of the best quality furniture you could get in those times. For some reason, under the Barbados Labour Party, they destroyed Husbands Wrought Iron, and from the time they destroyed that company the entire metal industry has gone dead. The only thing that has happened in Barbados now is that you get the average guy who would build a wrought iron grill and a wrought iron gate, but there ain’t no technical nothing in that; there ain’t no skill in that.”
Most of the technically skilled workers in the industry, he said, were no longer there, and after the close of his company back in 1996, he has not been able to produce on the scale he once did, and certainly not for the schools.
Nassar said he had bought four acres in the Belle, St. Michael to relocate his plant, but after purchasing had found out that he could not move there because the area had been declared a protected Zone One water table. This meant that health regulations would not allow such a commercial entity to be located there.
“The Government’s interested in people’s health and if they feel that it should be a Zone One, I have no quarrel with that. But from then til now, if you come and see where we do all this work that we do, you would be shocked, because there is no place proper to work. So there is nobody to train workers no more.”
He charged that his company had supplied all the metal furnishings for the Restaurant at South Sea, as well as Champers Restaurant.
“If you see where we build it you would be shocked. So you have a Government who seem not to understand that the answer for developing this country, taking young people off de streets and giving them hope, is by making sure that manufacturing is back to where it was. There is a lot of talk, but they don’t believe what they are talking,” he declared.
He said with a location and about $1.5 million investment, he could be back up and running a successful company comparable to what he had before.
“Any amount of furniture that needed in Barbados for schools, we [local manufacturers] could produce. There was a time when we would manufacture for Barbados and Trinidad and we used to be exporting something like $8 million to $10 million in furniture a year. We used to furnish every hotel in Barbados. It’s true there weren’t as many as they are now, and each hotel used to carry about seven or eight different designs – bedroom, living room, dining room, patio, beach, and each one was a different design. We had to start from July and finish by December 15.”
Barbados should have an even more developed industry than exists currently, he charged, but there was no equipment and no encouragement to do so.
“Too many young brilliant minds in Barbados are being wasted… You need to combine your highly technical people with your academics. If you do that you will be successful; but we keep writing off and making sport at welders and joiners, carpenters and masons as nobody and then look at the lawyer and doctor as brilliant. The mistake we are making is that we need to learn to value all of our people.
“If Government or the two political parties really sit and think about developing this country, it can be done … [but] too many people looking to see how much they can get,” he contended. [email protected]; [email protected]