Over the last few years, the local construction industry has seen an employment nosedive of over 30 per cent, according to former President of the Bahamas Contractors Association (BCA) Stephen Wrinkle.
“The construction industry is in a depressed state,” Mr. Wrinkle said in an interview with Journal Business recently.
“The numbers are down a lot and that is mainly because of the reflection of the housing industry. Although companies like Cavalier has gotten a lot of people employed at the hospital and Woslee has a lot of people employed out of the airport…you have got this tremendous void because of the low income housing market. It employs about 60 to 70 per cent of people in the construction industry. So it is absolutely crucial that the government and BCA come together to try and find a solution to the vexing problems that we have in the construction industry.”
Mr. Wrinkle said the association did see some effort on the part of the Ingraham administration to stimulate the construction industry.
“We were fortunate with the past administration because there were a number of large projects that were undertaken in Nassau and the Family Islands,” he said.
“But I think this government has taken the position that it is going to be more of a social government with regards to the masses of the Bahamian population and so hopefully that will be able to open the housing market, which is crucial to success of the construction industry.”
The former BCA president said the association is hoping to push forward the licensing and regulation of the construction industry.
“We have a huge problem with the foreign contractors performing work that Bahamians can do, particularly behind these gated communities. They hide in there and they go from one building to the next on a referral and Bahamian contractors are kept out of the loop entirely,” Mr. Wrinkle said.
“That needs to be looked at because the construction industry directly employs labour with pieces of work and material and contractors directly put their money into the economy every Friday afternoon. These foreign operators are illegally taking on work and are only here to take profits away. The Contractors Bill speaks to and makes provisions for this. We are really going to be pushing this as the representatives of contractors in this country.”
Mr. Wrinkle added that the government should also look to create consumer protection for homeowners.
“At the moment, you have no protection for defective work in your homes and with the Contractors Bill, there is provision and it speaks extremely specifically to defective work to qualifying people to work in your home and to ensure that the Bahamian people have some recourse when they have a problem. So it is a very important piece of legislation that the former administration did not manage to get to,” he said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Perry Christie has promised to launch a mortgage plan for struggling homeowners so that they can keep their investment.
Part of the plan is to have a discussion with banks to reduce the interest mortgagees would owe and also convenience banks to introduce a 120- day moratorium.
While admitting that he was skeptical about the details of the plan, Mr. Wrinkle said that he hopes the government gives a hand up rather than a handout.
“Significant consideration needs to be given to mortgage relief. I am not a big subscriber to government subsidizing private enterprises. But I don’t think that it is fair for all tax payers. That is not fair and equitable. I have a problem with that aspect of it. However, if the government can find a way to help alleviate the burden of the mortgagees so that they can remain in their homes and pay down in their loans then I think it is worth exploring.”