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Editorial – Issue 4

Using Knowledge from Lessons Learnt To Build a Better Future

Steve J. Rajpatty, Editor-in-ChiefAfter you’ve done a thing the same way for two years, look it over carefully. After five years, look at it with suspicion. And after ten years, throw it away and start all over.

~Alfred Edward Perlman, New York Times, 3 July 1958

Among other laudable objectives, CCD aims to promote “the rules” and “conduct” of the construction industry to both internal and external audiences. With this in mind we acknowledge that our occasional non-academic approach to articles and features will never be a convenient excuse for the misuse of industry-related terms and expressions. As the construction sector remains in integral component of our economies throughout our region, we have witnessed many instances of misuse of various terms and expressions. Whilst some will argue that stakeholders within the industry are becoming increasingly knowledgeable, we have considered that maybe the use of certain jargon could be all about interpretation as a result of our diverse Caribbean culture and values which are reflected in the interesting parallels and differences amongst our individual states.

These parallels are frequently a reflection of the fact that we have grown accustomed to our way which is sometimes not the right way (or perhaps we have grown accustomed to doing things which are not the right things). For example, during an interview for one of my professional memberships (outside of Trinidad & Tobago), I remember being asked by the Chairman of the panel of assessors “What building codes are used in Trinidad and Tobago?” In all fairness, this was a straightforward question which required an equally simple answer. However, I must admit that I had to answer sincerely, apologetically and with no small measure of embarrassment that we do not have any formal building codes in Trinidad and Tobago. As I launched into an explanation of what was “generally used”, it was somewhat disconcerting to look at the surprise etched on the foreheads of the four assessors sitting across the table from me especially since I had already sensed their obsession with building codes. Upon reflection, I remain amazed by the fact that an entire industry within the region, operates without proper building codes. Subsequent to my interview and a few major natural disasters within the region, building codes are becoming an essential prerequisite prior to and during the execution of construction related projects. However much more needs to be done, if we are to really make a difference with the use of these codes and I sincerely hope that we maintain interest in developing and implementing these codes.

Apart from the use of rules, terminology and codes, the industry’s lack of initiative, innovativeness, and creativity is a worrying factor. This is compounded by the fact that we do not operate within a vacuum. One must therefore ask whether our Caribbean leaders are keeping abreast of recent policy changes around the world and the likely effects on our vulnerable economies. It would appear that they may have been keeping their fingers on the pulse whilst others continue to ignore indicators of Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC). Earlier this year, Russia was discouraging construction and other major businesses from hiring outside workers. China had reduced its lending to the external market significantly as they kept a watchful eye on accelerating inflation. On the other hand, India’s Central Bank had raised reserve requirements and Brazil’s Fiscal Stimulus Package was being phased out.

Within the European Union (EU) we saw where Greece indicated to the EU that they were in the red. Similar worries awaited Spain, Ireland and Portugal. Maybe this is why the G7 leaders and the big emerging economies of BRIC were slow in responding to the supply of aid and technical assistance to infrastructure projects in helping to rebuild Haiti. The developed world seems to have ignored the cries of Haiti.

One is therefore left to wonder if our Caribbean leaders are prepared to admit that the developed world has once again demonstrated that they are not particularly interested in helping the people of the Caribbean. Perhaps some may agree and others may choose to disagree. Regardless of our differences, what is certain is that Haiti remains to be rescued. The same applies to Chile, Hawaii, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and other recently affected countries. How we in the Caribbean help ourselves whilst we lend a supporting hand to our neighbours may be challenging but with the help of everyone (not only governments but also all citizens) we can make a difference.

Post 2009, there is no doubt that there is much rebuilding and perhaps more restructuring which needs to be done to revert our Caribbean economies on a path of growth and development. We should be guided by the actions of those nations which are on the part of prosperity, stability and emergence, they are tightening their belts. In this regard, recent indicators of recovery can be misleading and should be interpreted based on the facts. What then do we do?

My advice to our regional leaders is to rethink their financial agenda, spend on what is absolutely necessary; be innovative; we continue to operate in turbulent times, perhaps we should carefully consider focusing our attention to some of the finer details such as the establishment of a single Caribbean building code, proper procurement strategies and training and development plans. These can make the difference between project success and failure in the long term. To this end, we at CCD are doing our part; we are currently engaged in discussions with similar type organizations with a view to establishing a framework to support these and other similar type initiatives.

We have all heard the phrase “good quality practices” used throughout the construction sector yet our projects continue to be plagued by inefficiencies and declining skill levels. World class projects demand world class leadership and management. Our future depends on the implementation of projects which can demonstrate integrity even in the face of unforeseen disasters. We have learnt some expensive lessons in the recent past, we must use the knowledge from these lessons to pave a brighter and better future, after all, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” George Santayana (1863-1952).

Steve J. Rajpatty