President of the Barbados Association of Professional Engineers Lieutenant Colonel Trevor Browne, who months ago criticised Government for ordering dozens of prefabricated houses from China, hopes this country’s decision makers have learned from their mistake.
On Monday, Lieutenant Colonel Browne said he had no feelings of vindication over the unfortunate turn of events following a statement from the current housing minister outlining reasons for the delay in completing the eagerly-awaiting structures.
“As professional engineers, we don’t feel vindicated. We speak to the situation as we see it. Some people like it and some don’t, but we only deal with facts as they present themselves to us as professional engineers,” Browne told Barbados TODAY.
“That is what we did and that is what we will continue to do. From the very beginning I said that we wish the ministry the best and that we really want this thing to work out,” he added.
Over the weekend, Minister of Housing, Lands and Maintenance Dwight Sutherland disclosed that the 150 houses imported for people displaced by Hurricane Elsa and a surprise ‘freak’ storm last year, would be delayed well into this year’s hurricane season.
In a recent press release, Sutherland suggested that 150 families who had been living in shelters since July last year, would be homeless for at least another four months.
He blamed a range of factors including the absence of technical Chinese experts arriving on island, the passage of two storms in China, the unusual design of the houses, the Christmas holidays, January’s General Election and the COVID-19 pandemic, for the delays. The minister also said some of the materials on the worksites had been stolen.
In September last year, Lieutenant Colonel Browne slammed government on the exclusion of local engineers in the joint initiative between the National Housing Corporation and the Chinese-owned East West Building Solutions. At the time he accused the government of operating in a “casual and offhanded manner”.
“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,” Browne declared in early September.
In a sharp rebuke, then Minister of Housing Dr William Duguid declared that there was no requirement on the part of the government to consult with the engineering association.
However, the BAPE president said today that the organisation had a vested interest in ensuring that taxpayers’ dollars used on such projects are used as efficiently as possible.
“We are not in the ‘I told you so business’, but at the same time, it is important that we learn from our mistakes to make sure that going forward, we don’t repeat the same mistake over and over again,” said Browne.
“There is a way to do things. You sit down and consult with people who understand what is going on and you make a plan and you execute that plan. That is the way you go about doing things.
“If you are going to build a building in Barbados, that is how you would do it. You would get some architects who would give you some plans, you would get people who understand things from an engineering point of view to make sure that it can withstand and exist after hurricanes and earthquakes and all of that, and then you collectively go ahead and institute that plan. You do not start to build first and run around doing things and realise that there is no plan. That is what we said from the beginning and that is what I would say now,” he added.
Browne neither confirmed nor denied whether locals would have been able to complete the job within the allotted time frame, but he invited doubters to consider critical projects that have been entrusted to local professionals.
“Specifically, for example, when there was the COVID situation, there was a need for a medical facility at North Point, during the midst of a COVID situation. All of our professional engineers were actually asked to undertake that almost impossible job. I invite you to look at the results,” Browne concluded.