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The Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Works joined the Bahamas Contractors Association in welcoming regional contractors to the Caribbean members conference October 18 at the British Colonial Hilton.
Renward Wells, parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Works and Urban Development, told the contractors that the conference theme, 'Strengthening and Building Regional Ties' is most intriguing because the region is vast, beautiful and filled with many paradoxes.
"Our region captivates the minds and imagination of the entire globe and there is no place on earth filled with so much beauty," said Wells. "Yet we know that we have not come close to capitalizing on our full potential."
He said the islands are similar in geography and culture, yet each is distinct and has its own unique identity.
And he emphasized that despite the many similarities, they are at the same time very diverse.
"One thing we are all quite aware of, is that we are all on a constant quest for excellence. And when excellence is realized among us, we have the power to change the world," he said.
Wells pointed out that the Caribbean region produced world class talents like Sir Sidney Poitier, Derek Wolcott, Usain Bolt, and Bob Marley.
He said the same sense of revolution in the sports and entertainment world can be best applied where it is needed the most, where it can benefit the built environment to be improved and mastered.
"We indeed can be extremely revolutionary. It is up to us now to bring the same level of revolution to our construction and engineering sectors. We must find ways to pool our resources, to sharpen our skills and our contacts. This will result in larger projects that are controlled by Caribbean contractors within and outside our own home countries," said Wells.
He said there is opportunity for Caribbean contractors to become world leaders, because they have the talent. How it will happen, he said, is up for discussion.
"It simply calls more for cooperation and a greater pool of resources," he said. "And let me say, it is so important for this group of individuals and contractors to help address one of the major issues that we face on the globe today. And, that is one of energy security."
Wells explained that engineers and architects can design and add geothermal air conditioning systems, solar water heaters, permanent magnet motors, variable frequency drives on motors and can look at the size of electrical lines, and then design electrical efficiency.
They can also design piping and plumbing to complement the electrical design for sustainable efficiency.
"There are many things we can do to be able to help address the most pressing issue, I believe is important to the economy of The Bahamas, and indeed to many of the economies in the region. That is energy security and the price we pay for fuel and electricity and others," said Wells.
He added that engineers and architects can design with open designs and take the abstract designs they have in their imagination and put it on a blueprint.
He commended architects for having the skills to make abstract concepts a concrete reality for civic society. He said he believes that the regulation of this industry is important to that effort going forward. Being a mechanical engineer as well, Wells said he appreciates discussions about the built environment and how it can be improved to accommodate the unexpected challenges of urbanization.
The contractor selected for the $75 million Princess Margaret Hospital extension has brought on a number of subcontractors for the project, with infrastructure and foundational work marching towards completion.
Brought on earlier this month, Bahamian firms were hired by Cavalier Construction to take on the plumbing, electrical, mechanical and life safety aspects of the development.
A number of "big milestones" are now on the horizon, according to the project's lead consultant, and the job remains both on schedule and most importantly on budget.
"Right now you can almost begin to see the critical care block itself beginning to come out of the ground," Michael Diggis told Guardian Business. "A number of subcontractors were recently hired and they are fully engaged in the process. We are completing the foundation work and getting ready to put in the preliminary services related to that."
Richard Wilson, the managing director of Cavalier, estimated the work of at least 20 local subcontractors should comprise more than $20 million and create "in the region of 500 jobs".
He called the hirings "a big shot in the arm" for the Nassau economy.
The actual ground floor of the critical care block should actually be finished in around a month, Diggis estimated, and after that the frame will be erected.
One of the more "exciting" elements to this first stage has been coordinating with the Bahamas Electricity Corporation and the Water and Sewerage Corporation to work around existing infrastructure and services.
"The hospital was built many years ago. We are discovering many of the services that were not known. We are mapping out services and putting in new ones. As we discover things we huddle and make a decision," he added. "That's what is exciting about it."
The Public Hospitals Authority borrowed $55 million from the Royal Bank of Canada to pay for the construction of the block. The government will fund the outstanding $20 million.
The 75,000-square-foot unit will be a multi-story expansion to the current Accident and Emergency department of PMH. I t will include six operating theaters, 18 recovery beds, 20 intensive care unit rooms and 48 neonatal intensive care unit beds.
The groundbreaking for the project took place in November.
The Bahamian Contractors' Association (BCA) honored several of the country's top contractors during its second annual Christmas Awards Luncheon held on December 15 2011. Awards were given to contractors in four major BCA membership categories, which include building contractor of the year levels one through three and general contractor of the year.
Building Contractor of the year level one, which recognizes contractors certified to build single story structures up to 5,000 square feet, went to BJ's Cabinetry and Construction.
BJ's Cabinetry proprietor, Mr. Basil L. Neely, was on hand to accept the award.
The Building Contractor of the year level two, which recognizes contractors certified to build up to two story structures of up to 10,000 square feet, was awarded to D.H. Builders and Construction Company.
Company owner Dene Hales said that he was honored to receive the award.
Fast Track Construction received the building contractor of the year level three award.
BCA level three contractors are certified to build up to three story structures of up to 15,000 square feet.
General contractor of the year, which recognizes the large construction firms who build structures of three or more stories in excess of 15,000 square feet, went to Woslee Construction.
The highlight of the event came when James George Mosko, the 2011 recipient of the BCA's lifetime achievement honor, was welcomed to the stage with a standing ovation to accept his award.
The lifetime achievement award is given to members of the construction community who have made many years of notable contributions to the growth of the industry.
In 2001 Mr. Mosko was also awarded an O.B.E. for service to the construction industry. His construction company, Mosko's United Construction Co., was founded in 1958.
Another highlight of the luncheon was the president's address, given by Association President Godfrey Forbes.
Forbes mentioned a few of the many initiatives that will be developed by the BCA in 2012, which include expanded training and certification courses for contractors and the introduction of membership cards and the BCA member discount program.
Forbes also announced that in October of 2012 the BCA will host a conference of over 200 contractors from 20 regional entities including the Trinidad and Tobago Contractors Association, Incorporated Masterbuilders Association of Jamaica , Builder's and Contractors Association of Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines Contractors Association, and the Barbados Contractors Association.
This workshop will include guest speakers who will deliver presentations that will build greater awareness amongst participants on cutting edge procedures and practices within the various divisions of the construction industry.
It will also offer international exposure for our sector and networking opportunities for BCA members.
The awards luncheon, received good support from the construction community. The platinum sponsor of the event was Caribbean International.
Other sponsors included Commonwealth Building Supplies, National Plumbing, Tops Builders International and Oldcastle Building Products.
One luncheon feature, which was highly anticipated by attendees, was the give-a-ways and door prizes, which were provided by JBR Building Supplies, Tops Lumber, AG Electric Co., Henry F. Storr Electric Co. and John Bull Ltd.
BCA is a non-profit organization that was established in 1958 out of a need for the collaboration and organization of contractors, to promote the advancement of the construction industry through the adoption and regulation of good practices.
The co-author of a World Bank report measuring the ease of business said The Bahamas is "falling behind" other countries in implementing meaningful reforms, with its recent drop in the rankings indicative of inaction.
Jean Michel-Lobet, a key figure behind "Doing Business 2013", told Guardian Business that the country is not falling because the government is taking negative actions. Instead, The Bahamas is simply being passed by other nations taking proactive steps to attract business.
The report, measuring 108 countries, placed the country in 77th place in the ease of doing business, declining more than six notches. The country suffered a particularly low grade in the categories "starting a business" and "dealing with construction permits".
"This low grade is a consequence of inaction," he told Guardian Business from Washington D.C.
"We see globally a clear trend to simplifiction, in terms of sophistication to start a business and make it easier and transparent, and the reduction in the cost to start a business. In The
Bahamas, you have to interact seven times with different administrations and spend 31 days to get a business licence. In Canada, for example, it takes one interaction and you receive a license in five days."
The grim assessment from the report's author paints a more vivid picture of the challenges facing the government and private sector. In fact, The Bahamas has fallen 25 places since 2009, plummeting from 55th place to 77.
While The Bahamas might be behind nations like Canada, what is particularly concerning to Michel-Lobet is the country's place among more equivalent nations. In other words, developing countries around the world are stepping up their game and improving the ease of doing business.
"The world is moving very fast. We have recorded 2,200 reforms. At least two-thirds were dealing with simplifiction and reducing the cost of business," he explained.
Michel-Lobet said The Bahamas is falling behind. He cited another example regarding the transfer of property. It now takes four interactions and 122 days, especially taking someone nearly half the year to receive a property title.
"That is too long," he said.
Economies that reform tend to enjoy economic properity, he added. Mexico and Columbia have made strides in recent years, he told Guardian Business. The result is a 5 percent increase in new companies, which means more jobs and wealth for the county's citizens.
"I would say, right now, The Bahamas' regulations are quite cumbersome and not aligned with international best practices," Michel-Lobet revealed.
Dionisio D'Aguilar, a former head of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce, went so far as to say The Bahamas is "unfriendly" to business and in some respects "stuck in the 20th century".
Inflexible immigration laws, an onerous banking system and an out-dated judicial system are preventing the country from achieving its potential.
"We want foreign investors, but we don't trust them. We don't welcome people with open arms," D'Aguilar claimed. "It's a long and hard process to invest in this country. You could almost term it as unfriendly."
D'Aguilar, the president of Superwash and chairman of AML Foods, felt there are many factors that make The Bahamas an attractive place for business, such as proximity, its time zone and political stability.
But he told Guardian Business that the country must be careful and not display "arrogance".
He blasted the immigration laws, pointing out it takes far too long for foreign investors to get the assistance they need. D'Aguilar called the banking structure "onerous" and flooded with the need for too many documents and hoops to jump through.
And in terms of technology, The Bahamas "has a mindset that is too 20th century" in terms of government and business processes.
"The bureaucracy is too low and cumbersome. You have these bureaucrats that run it, but as much has politicians try, they slow it down too. The throw up barriers you don't see coming," he noted. "We will continue to slip until we get a grip. We are very arrogant and we're letting it slip away because we are not adjusting."
Steven Wrinkle, former president of the Bahamas Contractors Association (BCA), said the marked fall in the construction permits category stems from poor efficiency between departments and out-dated zoning techniques.
He identified a "tremendous grey area" in most communities on whether it is classified as commercial or residential, which leads to disputes and delays. In fact, Wrinkle told Guardian Business there is "no clearly defined database" for zoning, and what exists "has a lot of variation and inconsistencies".
The former BCA president noted how offices for construction permits do not enjoy synergy and close proximity to efficiently process requests.
Environmental services, required for plumbing permits, for example, is located somewhere else entirely from the Ministry of Works. This disconnect creates not only delays, but discrepancies and even lost paperwork as contractors seek approvals.
The Bahamas also fell three notches in both the "getting credit" and "protecting investors" categories. It actually improved by one notch in "paying taxes" and "enforcing contracts".
One of the single largest shipments of supplies for Hurricane Irene relief will arrive in Acklins this evening for the construction of 12 homes, according to National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Director Captain Stephen Russell.
The government approved plans last month to rebuild 19 homes destroyed by the storm on three Family Islands, according to Russell.
He said the 12 homes on Acklins will be built for just over $400,000 and two homes on Cat Island and two on Rum Cay will be built for roughly $200,000 in total.
Russell said all contracts for the construction of the homes in Acklins were awarded when he visited the island three weeks ago.
He expects the work on the one bedroom homes to take four weeks, and three bedroom homes 10 weeks.
"All of the material that is required to build those 12 homes are on this vessel, from footing, concrete, steel, all the way to roofing, shingles, roofing hurricane clips, bathroom and plumbing fixtures," said Russell during a press conference aboard the Lady Rosalind II at Potter's Cay Dock yesterday.
"Through Wednesday night and all day Thursday we are going to offload the supplies into Acklins and most of the items have already been marked for the appropriate contractors."
He continued, "The general public has been most generous to us in terms of the funds they have donated to the program."
According to Deborah Hanna, NEMA's accountant, the organization has received $3 million in funds for hurricane relief.
Members of the public donated just over $1.3 million and the remainder was donated by the government, private sector organizations locally and international organizations, according to Hanna.
She said NEMA has already spent around 95 percent of the funds.
"Those funds were provided for building material, various programs and initiatives to assist the Hurricane Irene victims and today we are well on target," Hanna said.
"The money has been used wisely and we can properly account for [it]."
Russell added that although some residents have been living with relatives since Hurricane Irene last August they are faring well.
"What really caught me is after the signing of those contracts in Acklins persons left that meeting, went to their property and started to clear the area with their machetes," he said.
"That is how excited they were to know this work was going to happen."
Operations at the Nassau Straw Market are progressing well, as the 500-stall facility is experiencing full occupancy, according to Chairman of the Straw Market Authority Hubert Chipman.
Chipman confirmed to Guardian Business that since officially opening the downtown facility in December, the authority has also taken over operations at the Cable Beach Pompey Market at the end of January.
"We are running two markets, the one downtown and the one located in Cable Beach. That market has space for 96 vendors and the downtown market can accommodate up to 500 spaces for vendors. Both of the markets are full at this particular time. There may be three or four spaces available," he noted.
Chipman pointed out that under the Straw Market Authority Act, the market's governing body has the authority to run all straw markets in The Bahamas. He is looking to add Fort Fincastle and Fort Charlotte to that list, but admits this won't happen anytime soon.
"This is going to take some time because major renovations are being undertaken at Fort Fincastle and the 16 stalls at Fort Charlotte have been having a rough time economically. Their business depends solely on taxi drivers bringing tourists there. As for the market on Paradise Island, most of the tourists who visit PI don't even know where that market is located," he added.
He admitted that there are still some issues that need to be ironed out.
"We've had some plumbing problems at both locations. Issues at Cable Beach have been resolved. Both situations have been due to low water pressure. Now, at the downtown market, there have been sewer problems," Chipman explained.
"The building is still under warranty so we are working along with the contractors and the subcontractors to have this matter addressed. So far, we have had meetings with the plumbing contractor."
Since then, Chipman noted to Guardian Business that the authority has permanently hired someone to take care of the plumbing situation on a daily basis.
"We are also dealing with Water & Sewerage Corporation (WSC) from a pressure point of view. These are usually problems that occur during the mid-day rather than early morning or at nighttime," Chipman said.
Other issues that are being looked at are the sale of counterfeit goods and outstanding fees.
He further noted how compliance officers have been placed on-site daily to ensure that only authentic items are sold at these facilities.
"So far, we have had one incident in the Cable Beach market and three instances in the downtown market. We suspended those concerned for a week and fined them. We have also sent out memos for everyone to revise that this will not be tolerated," Chipman shared.
"The act also states that you can be expelled from the market for selling counterfeit items. However, we are being a bit lenient since the market is new. But going forward I can assure you that this type of behavior will lead to expulsion."
Chipman added: "Vendors have made a great effort to pay their fees on a weekly basis. As with any normal business, you will have receivables. We are presently working on that situation because there are some delinquent vendors. But we will have a policy that will be communicated to the vendors that if you don't pay by a certain date, then your stall will be locked until the outstanding balance has been paid. However, our account system is up to date."
Going forward, Chipman said plans are in the works to further promote the markets and hopefully drive more business that will benefit all.
THE RT. HON. HUBERT A. INGRAHAM, MP
PRIME MINISTER OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS
CONTRACT SIGNING CEREMONY FOR
CONSTRUCTION OF THE MARSH HARBOUR AIRPORT TERMINAL BUILDING,
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL TOWER & FIRE/CRASH RESCUE FACILITY
THURSDAY, 1st September, 2011
ABACO, THE BAHAMAS