The Mia Mottley administration is coming under more pressure for its decision to order prefabricated houses from China instead of using local artisans.
This time the criticism is coming from President of the Barbados Association of Professional Engineers (BAPE) Trevor Browne who said it is strange that Government would forego consulting with local professionals and seemingly “rush” to China for houses that may not even meet the local building code requirements and fail to endure certain conditions such as erosion.
At the end of August, Minister of Housing Dr William Duguid announced that Government will be purchasing some 150 houses for the victims of two weather systems – Hurricane Elsa on July 2, and a freak storm in mid-June.
More than 2,000 houses were assessed and it was found that close to 500 of them had to be totally rebuilt.
Dr Duguid has defended the importation of the 150 houses, which is said to be a joint scheme between East West Building Solutions (Barbados) and the National Housing Corporation (NHC), saying that local artisans were not able to deliver the number of houses needed in the time required.
However, suggesting that consultation, leadership and creative thinking were missing in the process, Browne said it seemed to be the norm for Government not to carry out certain due diligence.
“As has become the norm now, no information has been provided to the public confirming that the needed engineering questions have been asked and answered before we committed to such an expensive and unprecedented project. The Barbados Association of Professional Engineers continues to be amazed at the casual and offhand manner in which such projects are being executed,” said Browne.
“Most interestingly, it is passing strange that government officials did not see it fit to challenge local building professionals to execute this project, with specific requirements that are custom-designed for the local environment – and which could well have led to concepts that could be adapted for export to similar jurisdictions,” he said.
In fact, Browne said he was convinced that the $29 million price tag for the project would serve as a major incentive for local builders to produce “even better results” and “far better solutions”.
“This approach would of course have required excellent leadership, creative thinking and high-level strategic management. Perhaps this leadership requirement constitutes the root cause of our ongoing failures to execute such projects successfully,” he said.
He said while BAPE “wishes the ministry well” and hopes the project would be successful, the association was still disappointed that “meaningful” planning and discussion are not taking place, where professional associations of Barbados are invited to peer-review national initiatives prior to the commitment of scarce national resources, to ensure that it is done right the first time.
“The days of management by ‘trial and error’ and of ‘snagging’ and making excuses for basic mistakes are long gone. It is time for 21st century management practices to be established in our national institutions,” said Browne.
He recalled that BAPE had raised concerns regarding the $15.2 million West Coast Highway Upgrade Project that had phase one to be completed by Christmas 2020, but which had numerous delays and subsequent challenges.
“Almost a full year after this project was scheduled to be completed, we are seeing serious shortcomings, numerous complaints from the public, promises of ‘urgent snagging’, and of course, no end of predictable excuses,” he said.
Browne said it was hard to imagine that, in order to address an issue of housing shortages caused by storm damage, officials in this country could be “rushing” into a major housing investment project without serious consideration of local building code certification of the 150 units.
According to him, questions must be raised as to whether the 150 gauge steel frame “emergency” houses would be built to Barbados’ building code and if the location, topography and exposure were taken into account, or if they were meant to meet Chinese “or some generic building code instead”.
“The most serious challenge that tends to be faced with metal structures in Barbados is called corrosion. This is a daunting challenge across the island and is particularly so near coastal areas on the windward side of the island. One has to wonder what considerations would have been given to this potential liability,” said Browne.
“Metal frames are outstandingly resilient and dependable -once they can avoid oxidation issues. The expectation that low-income owners will be able to monitor and maintain the integrity of metal structures in the corrosive environments that represent large areas of Barbados, borders on wishful thinking,” he said.
The Democratic Labour Party and the United Progressive Party have accused the Mottley-led administration of sidelining small business operators by buying houses from China instead of using the services of local contractors.
The 150 houses, which are due to arrive in Barbados by November, are expected to cost some $29 million, and reports suggest that they could take just over a month to assemble. It is expected that local artisans will construct the foundations and will be trained to do the assembling at the desired locations. ([email protected])