President of the Barbados Association of Professional Engineers (BAPE) Trevor Browne has issued a public apology to Minister of Housing Dr William Duguid for questioning the ministers’ decision to purchase low-income housing from China instead of having them built locally and for questioning the lack of consultation with the local engineering body.
However, the outspoken Browne, who is also the Chairman of the Council of Caribbean Engineering Organization (CCEO), maintained that there were skilled Barbadians on island who have, and were able to carry out major projects within budget and on time.
Since Duguid announced that he would be sourcing some 150 pre-fab houses from China, Browne questioned why BAPE was not consulted on the matter and if the houses being imported would be built to specification for the Barbados climate and to withstand hurricanes.
However, in a rebuke on Wednesday, Duguid said Government had no obligation to consult with BAPE on any topic of national interest, and he called on Browne to apologise for questioning the integrity of the homes that are to arrive on island by the end of next month.
“I am shocked and disappointed with the President of the Barbados Association of Professional Engineers and I think he owes the people of Barbados an apology to make it clear because he has put doubt in the people’s mind,” Duguid said.
In a statement on Friday, Browne said he sincerely apologised.
“It would be impolite of me to ignore a direct demand from no less a person than the Minister of Housing of Barbados, to apologise for daring to question his decision to import basic houses from China,” said Browne.
“I am indeed sorry – and I mean that sincerely,” he said.
However, insinuating that professionals in a given area should be able to question decisions made by policymakers without consultation, Browne added “As a country we seem to have fallen so far behind the days when we actually enjoyed leaders who truly thought, and spoke ‘for the people’, days when Barbadians benefited from that vision as I did over the past 40 years. We all should be truly sorry for this country if citizens are not fully aware that ‘where there is no vision, it is the people who will suffer…’”.
In fact, pointing to his years of experience across the engineering profession with local, regional and international firms, Browne maintained that there were many Barbadians capable of producing quality housing within budget and on time.
In disclosing that the 150 houses would come from China, Duguid had also stated that local artisans would not be able to produce the number of houses needed in the time required.
Following an assessment of damage done by Hurricane Elsa and a freak storm earlier this year, it was determined that close to 500 of the more than 2,000 houses affected had to be totally rebuilt.
However, also pointing to the book of one of his “favourite local personality” – I speak for the People: The Memoirs of Wynter Crawford, Browne said this book proved that improvements came about in at least one organisation after questions were raised by those knowledgeable of what was required.
“When we contrast Crawford’s vision with the current policy being executed by this ministry, one saying that Barbadians are incapable of building low-income housing at competitive cost and quality, and that therefore, we are somehow ‘better off’ by engaging Chinese people to facilitate us, the mind boggles, especially following the impressive work done by the very same local building sector to construct the much more complex North Point Isolation Facility in record time, within budget, and at high quality,” explained Browne.
“In the circumstances, I must accept Minister Duguid’s call for me to apologize to the people of Barbados. So, I Trevor Browne, do humbly apologize to the people of Barbados for the fact that in 2021, after 75 years of totally free education, after producing more qualified and educated citizens per thousand than almost any other country on earth, we can have representatives of the people who, rather than inspire us to great things, can look us in the face and tell us that we are incapable of building low-income houses for our own people,” he said.
Browne said: “I apologize for the fact that such a simple matter as fostering enfranchisement among citizens can be made to look like ‘pulling teeth’ in 2021, when Crawford, Errol Barrow, and Tom Adams made it look so simple decades ago – even at a time when there was almost zero local professional expertise available to them.”
“I apologize for the fact that this minister – who headed the ministry with responsibility for engineering, appears to be unaware of the role of engineers in complex projects,” he continued.
“That role is one of pre-emptive problem solving. It is one best done by discussion, examination of different viewpoints, openness to scrutiny and most importantly, by peer review examination.
“No savvy member of the public would consult a rogue dentist, doctor or lawyer who was unregistered, or who was not a member of the specific professional association – where peer review and conformance to ethical practices can be facilitated and mandated,” he pointed out. (MM)