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More than 50 percent of the thousands of construction workers in the country will be ill-prepared to capitalize on billions of dollars in opportunities if the Contractors Bill is not soon finalized.
President of the Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) Stephen Wrinkle asserts it's never been more important for the country to ensure this bill - proposed to license and regulate the industry - gets passed. His comments come as Baha Mar revs up construction and Atlantis gears up to go ahead with a multi-million project.
"Clearly we're not prepared to accommodate Baha Mar and Atlantis with the labor we currently have without additional training," he told Guardian Business on Monday. "Both are extremely prestigious for the industry and the country and it [speaks] to the [need for the] passage of the Contractors Bill and a training program, otherwise (we will) be faced with huge imports of skilled labor.
"We certainly need to get our own house in order to accommodate these giant projects."
Wrinkle said the Ministry of Works is presently finalizing the draft of the bill in order to submit it to Cabinet, after input by the BCA, insurance representatives and the Attorney General's Office.
As far as he sees it, there should be no further impediments to passing the bill. However, there has been one delay after the other in recent years as construction workers, in the meantime, grapple with myriad issues.
Wrinkle argues it is even more important for contractors in The Bahamas to be up to international standards with regards to licensing and surety obligations ahead of the economic turnaround projected. The bill proposes to do just that, as well as ensure that Bahamian contractors are considered first for projects.
The introduction of the bill coincides with one of the biggest economic slumps the nation has ever suffered through, stemming from a U.S. housing and credit crisis that has zapped consumer confidence and dried up prospects for commercial developments.
To date, a number of these projects have been delayed or canceled altogether, with restart dates only now being offered.
Just Monday, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham confirmed that the shelved Hurricane Hole project was now back on track at mega-resort Atlantis.
"Kerzner International expects to commence the development of its new timeshare resort and expansion of the Hurricane Hole marina this year," read Ingraham's speech on the Budget debate 2011/2012.
Wrinkle yesterday welcomed the news, saying it would speak to employment opportunities for construction workers.
"The BCA will continue to lobby on behalf of contractors for better positions," he said.
A $225,000 program signed into effect two months ago is expected to make the local construction industry more competitive internationally over the next 18 months. Called the "Strengthening of the Bahamas Contractors Association", the project is funded with a $150,000 grant from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and $75,000 from the BCA.
NASSAU, Bahamas - Training, education and strengthening of the construction industry in The Bahamas has risen to higher levels due to a special technical assistance Grant from the IDB to the Bahamian Contractors' Association (BCA). On April 13, 2011, the signing of a contract between the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Bahamian Contractors' Association for the "Strengthening of the Bahamian Contractors' Association" project took place.
The Grant of $225,000 (IDB contribution of $150,000 and the BCA contribution of $75,000) was made available through the Multi-Lateral Investment Fund (MIF) that provides technical assistance grants for micro, small and medium sized enterprise development in Latin America and the Caribbean.
"This is a historic occasion not only for the construction industry," said Stephen Wrinkle, President of the BCA, but also for all stakeholders within the sector throughout The Bahamas. Wrinkle also stated that they are the first contractor association to receive an IDB grant and it speaks to the dedication, integrity and purpose that the BCA Council has demonstrated in successfully obtaining the Grant.
"The idea in the "Strengthening of the BCA Project" is to promote and support initiatives in transitioning the BCA to a modern, internationally recognized association, so that its members can derive the significant benefits of being a part of it. Also, the construction industry in all the Islands of The Bahamas can be supported in bringing their standards, qualifications and skill resources to levels which will allow Bahamian contractors to have greater access to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and other opportunities in The Bahamas, elsewhere in the region and in the international community," stated the IDB.
Currently totaling almost 400, the BCA membership will benefit from the IBD/BCA Strengthening Program. Membership within the BCA is currently comprised of 300 regular members and 100 associate members. Approximately 10% (25) are large or prime general contractors while the balance of the membership is made up of individual, small and medium building, sub or specialty contractors. There are local chapters in Grand Bahama and Abaco with the formation of local associations in Eleuthera and Great Exuma underway.
Nassau, Bahamas - Governor-General Sir Arthur
Foulkes (right) is presented with a book by Dr. Emmanuel Francis -- Manual of
Junkanoo Costume Construction, A Beginners Guide to Junkanoo Design -- during a
courtesy call at Government House September 19th, 2011.
This book is a step-by-step guide to the basics in design and
construction of costumes for Junkanoo parades in the Bahamas. Junkanoo
is a competitive street festival which resembles carnival and is
highlighted by colorfully costumed musicians and dancers who perform to
the pulsating sounds of Junkanoo music, and to the cheers of their fans.
These annual parades are very popular among Bahamians ...
The $250 million Rockwell Island development on Bimini has broken ground on its first residential properties.
RAV Bahamas, the same developer assisting in the upcoming 10,000-square-foot casino at Bimini Bay Resort, is spearheading a combination of 105 beachfront estate homes and 28 resort keys. Homes are expected to sell for between $2 million and $4 million.
According to Leslie Bethel, chief operating officer at RAV Bahamas, the project has already made considerable progress since groundbreaking in April.
"The development is coming along nicely. We have five homes under construction and we are almost to the second story level on some of those homes. There are going to be additional employment opportunities there. We are excited about the opportunity to become a world-class resort destination. So, the first phase of construction on that project is moving along fairly nicely," he explained.
He estimates that approximately $10 million has been invested into the project so far. The hefty price tag mostly includes the infrastructure necessary to prepare the site for construction.
Tennis courts and a restaurant are just some of the amenities that are being offered at Rockwell Island.
Top hoteliers on that island have shared with Guardian Business the need to create more traffic into the island in order for their businesses to succeed.
Michael Weber, the general manager at the Bimini Big Game Club, emphasized the importance of having a direct ferry service into Bimini from South Florida.
Weber pointed out that it has been more than two decades since Bimini had a direct service come to the island.
"The role of the ferry is huge. We can do what we can with tour operators and such, and going after the corporate and wedding market, but those just coming just for a couple of days, that's not available. But for Bimini, it's so close, and they can really spend the day here," he added.
In addition to the ferry service, tourism minister Obie Wilchcombe also confirmed to Guardian Business that his team has been in talks with a number of airline carrier, in an effort to increase more traffic into the island.
Bimini, located just off the U.S. coast, reportedly sees an average of 50,000 visitors annually. However, Bethel is hoping the new ferry service from Florida can attract up to 1,000 visitors daily.
NASSAU, The Bahamas - Construction on the new $11.2 million straw market is progressing on schedule and should be ready for occupancy in late August.
Public Works and Transport Minister the Hon. Neko C Grant made this announcement during a tour of the downtown Nassau Market on April 3. Accompanying him was various stakeholders in the project including the Hon. Lawrence Cartwright, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources; David Johnson, director general in the Ministry of Tourism; Vaughn Roberts, managing director of the Downtown Nassau Partnership and Robert Hall of Cavalier Construction.
Minister Cartwright said the Bahamas Agricultural Industrial Corporation (BAIC) has been working feverishly throughout the islands in training Bahamians to produce indigenous products for the market.
He said there are persons from every island in The Bahamas who are producing outstanding coconut shell jewellery, marine shell jewellery, and straw craft that should be placed in the straw market that has international exposure and a good reputation for producing indigenous products.
"I endorse the view that whenever this market is reopened that some of these products will be brought in here to show to the world the good products that are being produced in this country from shells, straw and coconut shells," said Mr. Cartwright.
Mr. Johnson said the market has been the place to showcase products that Bahamians have been known to produce and sell.
Nassau, The Bahamas - Construction on the new $11.2 million straw market is progressing on schedule and should be ready for occupancy in late August.
Public Works and Transport Minister the Hon. Neko C Grant made this announcement during a tour of the downtown Nassau Market on April 3.
Accompanying him were various stakeholders in the project including the Hon. Lawrence Cartwright, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources; David Johnson, director general in the Ministry of Tourism; Vaughn Roberts, managing director of the Downtown Nassau Partnership and Robert Hall of Cavalier Construction...
There are serious deficiencies within the construction industry, according to the president of the Bahamian Contractors' Association (BCA), as no legislation exists to properly govern the sector.
Stephen Wrinkle shared his disappointment with Guardian Business after news broke in the House of Assembly that contractors were reportedly overpaid by $600,000 to $700,000 for their work in the development of landfills throughout the Family Islands.
It was in October 1999 when the government had secured a $23.5 million loan in from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to carry out the development of 18 landfills in 10 of the Family Islands.
The government's contribution in the project was $10 million, bringing the value to $33.5 million.
Wrinkle said these findings are particularly disturbing because they are coming to light more than 12 years after the contracts were awarded.
"I think there is a serious deficiency in the accounting if this is just coming to light after 12 years. The fact that it takes them 12 years to find out that they have overpaid contractors for a job makes me wonder. There are two sides to every story. The contractors haven't said that they were overpaid," according to Wrinkle.
He pointed out how situations like these create an even bigger problem for the country's construction industry. At the end of the day, Wrinkle said the lack of transparency in the tendering process is a huge issue that the government needs to address immediately.
"That's one of the main problems that we have in the country, the tendering process is not transparent," he explained. "Normally in government contracts there is an independent committee that's charged with the oversight of tenders and they ensure that the bidding is fair and competitive."
The BCA chief is calling on the government to adopt the IDB's process, as he claims the organization has certain standards and guidelines that must be adhered to during the procurement and contract stages of any project. Wrinkle believes it is a very good template to adopt, because as it stands, there are serious deficiencies.
This is why Wrinkle said the BCA has been pushing for the Contractors Bill to be passed.
"Until such time the legislation is passed, there will be no accountability for contractors or the industry as a whole in The Bahamas," he said.
Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and Member of Parliament for the Bain and Grants Town constituency Dr. Bernard Nottage, addressed the overpayment of contractors issue yesterday in the lower chamber.
The Department of Environmental Health Services had commissioned two engineering firms, (The Engineering Group and Shepard U Management), to conduct a review of the project to determine whether the government had received value for the public funds, Nottage said.
"The engineering companies had concluded that there had been a large disparity between what should have been paid out and what had in fact been paid out. The firms also determined that there had been overpayments to the contractors to the tune of $600,000 to $700,000."
In that report, Nottage told parliamentarians that the auditor general had determined that the Department of Environmental Health Services attempted too many projects at one time and did not have adequate staff to oversee the projects, and this inadequacy had resulted in a complete breakdown of internal controls.
It was also determined that at the end of the day, only 14 of the landfills have been completed.
The renewable energy firm seeking to build two power plants on New Providence will hire locals for the construction and maintenance of the facilities, Guardian Business can reveal, as The Bahamas stands to be ambassadors for an emerging technology.
Executives from Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation (OTEC) addressed the Bahamas Society of Engineers yesterday to present the concept and take questions.
Ted Johnson, senior vice president of OTEC Programs, announced the opening of the firm's Nassau office that will service the entire region.
He believes the country is on the brink of an energy revolution.
"The moment we throw that switch and OTEC works, the world is changed," he told Guardian Business.
"From then on you know what your cost of energy is. It's not like oil where you are subject to swings in prices. It's clean and secure."
Back in September 2011, the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) signed a memorandum of understanding to produce ocean-powered electricity for the general public.
The commercial-grade plants, costing into the tens of millions, would be financed and designed by OTEC. In return, BEC would enter into a power-purchase agreement to buy the renewable energy for the grid.
In an earlier interview, Michael Moss, the chairman of BEC, speculated the technology will take care of 30 percent of the country's energy needs up to 2030.
He further noted that BEC would become the first public utility company in the world to enter into such an agreement.
"We are talking with other Caribbean nations and have signed MoUs," Johnson confirmed. "I can't go into details as to which countries have signed, but it's a number of countries."
OTEC and BEC are now in the midst of a feasibility study to decide the scale, design and nature of the power-purchase agreement. The first plant, he said, will be built on land beside the existing Clifton Pier facility.
Johnson predicts it will be at least two or three years before the first 10-megawatt plant reaches completion.
In addition to establishing a cheaper, cleaner and more reliable energy source, he added that OTEC is prepared to use local labor wherever possible for the construction.
"The idea is to use local labor. Equipment would be delivered in pieces and locals would do the trenching and building the plant. We also want to work with engineers here and get the university involved," he told Guardian Business.
OTEC now has a physical presence in Nassau with the establishment of an office under Susan Larson, the senior vice president and executive director of Bahamas Operations.
"Both entities are moving forward and sharing more information to put together a plan and make this a reality," she said. "We do hope to get the power-purchase agreement finalized in 2012, and from there that will be the everyone start their engines moment."
For Baha Mar, the engine is already purring. Also in September 2011, the rising mega resort came to an agreement with Ocean Thermal Engineering, the parent company of OTEC, to build a seawater district cooling plant that will provide the resort's air conditioning needs.
The $100 plant, financed entirely by the firm, is expected to reduce the electricity bill for air conditioning by up to 80 percent.
Also on the radar for OTEC is the release of its first initial public offering. While funding is established for activities in The Bahamas, the firm will seek an equity injection to finance a variety of projects in the region and the Far East.
Johnson told Guardian Business the IPO should occur by this summer.
Indeed, during the executive's presentation, he identified no less than 99 countries or territories where the technology could be applied. Other applications for OTEC plants include producing drinking water, water for agriculture or fisheries and even the cultivation of algae.
The algae, he explained, can be used as a basis for biofuel.
CARICOM Secretary-General, Edwin Carrington has called on labour ministers and labour organisations to marshall troops in support of our brothers and sisters in Haiti, a country in the throes of restoration, after the January 12 earthquake, which devastated its capital, Port-au-Prince.