Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has defended his government’s decision to contract Barbadian company Preconco Limited to assist in post-hurricane reconstruction efforts.
Last September, category five Hurricane Maria swept across the island, causing significant damage to the housing stock.
Since then, agreement has been reached with the Mark Maloney-led Preconco Limited for an undisclosed financial sum to construct 1,000 homes in the hurricane-ravaged island. Critics have blasted the Skerrit-led government for awarding the contract to an overseas firm, while claiming that the decision deprived Dominicans of employment and training opportunities in key areas of the construction sector.
Critics also say the decision deprives Dominicans of the ability to supply the raw materials such as sand and stone used in the manufacture of homes.
However, addressing a press conference yesterday, Skerrit noted that Preconco was a Caribbean company with a proven track record, while arguing that there was no company in Dominica or the Eastern Caribbean with comparable capacity or experience in doing what the island needs to be done or within the timeframe needed.
The embattled prime minister also sought to explain that while 1,000 homes were to be constructed, the contract is for an initial importation of 20 homes.
“These homes will be in Dominica very shortly and from start to finish, will have taken just two months to construct, install and complete. The homes are not pre-fabricated homes. They are pre-cast, pre-stressed concrete homes, built specifically to meet the seismic requirements of our region, and will offer a safe and attractive home to Dominicans, with future benefits which will be outlined at an appropriate time,” he said.
Skerrit also touted the economic benefits of the project, citing port fees, hauler fees, and crane and equipment rental. He also reported that 50 Dominicans had also been employed to help construct the 20 homes.
At the same time, the Prime Minister announced plans for the establishment of a purpose-built concrete plant “to meet the required urgent and long-term housing needs of Dominica, as well as to assist with the building of other infrastructure needs for the public and private sectors”.
Additionally, he said, the contract offers Dominicans a unique opportunity to gain skills across sectors, such as electrical engineering and plumbing, welding, steel bending, specialty fabrication works, as well as machine operators and other similar skilled and unskilled labour.
“This contract will allow us to train Dominicans to ensure that we have a skilled construction sector, and if we must face another hurricane or natural disaster, we can do so knowing we have a labour force which can help us to rebuild once more,” Skerrit said.
“The homes that will be constructed in the plant here in Dominica will be built according to a master plan which will take into account the locations where the homes are needed; the infrastructure that these homes will need and in accordance with the highest seismic and wind safety requirements for the region, so that we are able to create sustainable housing communities which are thoughtfully designed and planned to meet the needs of those communities,” he added.
He further assured Dominicans that building materials such as sand, aggregate and stones would be sourced locally.
Skerrit also noted that given the widespread devastation suffered in Dominica, 1,000 homes was but a small component of the housing rebuilding effort on the island, which is now aiming to become the first climate resilient nation in the world.
“Therefore private sector interests in Dominica, rather than criticizing the start-up of this venture, should be actively pooling resources and acquiring the necessary technology and skills set to provide housing solutions of the strength and durability, and within the timeframe that is required,” Skerrit said.