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Letters to the Editor

Building Codes
Ever since the earthquake in Haiti
earlier this year, we have been
hearing a lot about building codes.
As people continue to talk, natural
disasters become more frequent
and development increases across
borders, I feel compelled to ask
“what are our governments doing
to ensure that the quality of construction
from contractors, consultants
and suppliers meet the basic
requirements of a suitable and
adaptable building codes adequate
for all potential hazards?”
One question leads to another, i.e.
even if building codes are developed
or are in existence, “how do
we implement such a policy?”
I would think that the answer is
very easy, get your government
engineers to start working. Do not
rush into projects without a proper
plan or strategy. First things first,
get your local contractors certified.
Once a contractor has achieved
certification they must display their
certification seal on their jobsite,
vehicles, uniform etc. I strongly
believe that contractor certification
and the yearly renewal of their
certificate is an easy way to start
the process rolling.

Some Hidden Reasons for Cost Overruns.

There are a number of unemployed construction professionals throughout the Caribbean and the truth is, there aren’t much work for us “average price” consultants. Most of the grand projects (private & government) are “given” to certain key, high priced professionals and they are the ones who have benefited from the boom. Therefore, we can say that they are the ones responsible for most of these cost overruns in large projects. They are the ones who refused to hire subcontract locals because it is difficult to negotiate “under the table” deals with us, since the market is so small. Today, while they are enjoying an extended or even a lifelong vacation, we are left to sort out their mess and at the same time trying to make an honest living.

As professionals within the construction industry we cannot walk away blameless for the mess which the industry has once again found itself in. We are all aware that the cost of construction has more than doubled over the past 8 to 10 years, yet what have we done to sensitize and educate the general public? Perhaps, more importantly, why do we continue to make basic construction mistakes and accept mediocrity from our contractors? By so doing, we continue to fail our clients.

Recently, I ran into an old friend who was in the process of looking for a building contractor to finish his project and time correct the works performed by the original prime contractor. He persuaded me to conduct a site visit. Maybe I should have been surprised at the condition of works but strangely I was not. The workmanship and designs were basic and lacked taste. What is even worse is that the site is conveniently located with no immediate construction or design challenges.

One of my immediate questions to my friend was, “why is the project only 60% completed and 50% above the original construction cost estimate? He just could not answer. However, he did mention, without me having to ask that the architect, engineers, quantity surveyor and project manager were all qualified and belong to various professional bodies – both locally and abroad. My final question to him was “why do you think that your consultants failed to identify these problems prior to construction?” He answered “they are only interested in collecting their fees.” He then admitted that he should never have allowed another man to manage what does not belong to him. I guess he was a bit frustrated and felt that his consultants had failed to perform their duties. In the end, both my friend and I agreed that the problems were quite basic and it is much more cost effective to solve problems before the commencement of construction.

All in all, I was saddened by the experience since; I can safely guess that there are a number of persons who feel “cheated” by professionals within the construction industry. Perhaps the most disturbing thought is that there are a number of respectable construction professionals, who have now been painted with the same brush.”

Neville E. Fullerton (Trinidadian residing in Boston, USA)

Building Codes

Ever since the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, we have been hearing a lot about building codes. As people continue to talk, natural disasters become more frequent and development increases across borders, I feel compelled to ask “what are our governments doing to ensure that the quality of construction from contractors, consultants and suppliers meet the basic requirements of a suitable and adaptable building codes adequate for all potential hazards?”

One question leads to another, i.e. even if building codes are developed or are in existence, “how do we implement such a policy?” I would think that the answer is very easy, get your government engineers to start working. Do not rush into projects without a proper plan or strategy. First things first, get your local contractors certified. Once a contractor has achieved certification they must display their certification seal on their jobsite, vehicles, uniform etc. I strongly believe that contractor certification and the yearly renewal of their certificate is an easy way to start the process rolling.”


Another Reason for Caribbean Pride

Congratulations on your pioneering efforts with CCD. I read the first 2 issues from cover to cover since I realized it is the only real construction magazine available to the construction sector and public, throughout the English speaking Caribbean. I am happy to see the magazine developing with each new issue.

I especially enjoyed “The Zero Carbon Challenge” and Strategies for Surviving the Economic Crisis”. Both were great articles. I must say, I also liked that “The Zero Carbon Challenge” complemented “Sustainable Design in the Caribbean Context”. With our Caribbean people being showcased, CCD is providing us with a great reason to be proud of something 100% Caribbean. I wish you best of luck in garnering more support and contributions from the rest of the Caribbean.”

Wayne Phillip (Guyana)

Dreaming of Proper Roads

I am stumped trying to understand the logic behind the construction of roads throughout the Caribbean. I believe that we would all welcome better roads but more importantly roads which are properly constructed. I am tired of seeing substandard work, where the quality of the final product leaves a lot to be desired.

Since this subject is my major peeve, I have done some considerable research on the matter. My research shows that newly constructed roads, lack proper supervision and is generally poorly constructed. To start with, we fail to prepare a proper subgrade, which must ultimately carry the overall road (pavement) load, which incidentally should be undisturbed soil or ought to be well compacted fill. Additionally, the base, immediately below the asphalt surfaces, should be a foundation of well-graded and properly compacted aggregate that evenly transfers the road load onto the sub-grade. In the case of highways, heavy-duty loads may require an additional layer, a subbase of coarser aggregate such as crushed stones. I have been in construction for more than 25 years and I have never seen anything like this before. I honestly don’t think our contractors are properly supervised. In fact, very rarely I would see a density gauge on site. Believe it or not, but I recently saw a contractor in Trinidad laying asphalt during an extremely heavy downpour along the Churchill Roosevelt Highway. Very embarrassing and what was even worse was there was no one from the Ministry of Works on site to record the actual tonnage being delivered and it’s final temperature. What a big joke.

Whenever I try to speak with some of the more decent employees from within the various ministries throughout the Caribbean, they just smile; one guy said to me that, “government engineers, technicians, consultants and the contractor belong to the same drinking club.” Another employee said – “that is the culture around here – difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, we just don’t want to change.” Sadly, but I honestly can’t say whether we would ever be able to cure this disease. According to an article I recently read where someone referred to government employees, in this case just those involved in road construction, as being “no good bastards” too bloody lazy to work for their pay cheque”. But then again, do we really want any change which will dictate that we change our habits?”

G. Smith (Trinidad and Tobago)

Implementation is the Key

“Strategies for Surviving the Economic Crisis” and “The Caribbean’s Construction Dilemma” both provided some real solutions to the construction industry’s present dilemma.

However, we all know that more than anything, our real predicament lies in the implementation of any of the solutions suggested by the writers.

Caribbean people are known for our “talk” and although it is encouraging to see our thoughts put to paper, it will do us no good, if nothing is implemented. I hope our leaders will finally realise that “massa day done” and really listen to the needs of the people instead of following through with misguided “pie in the sky” projects. If at all levels, we all learn to focus more on “doing” than “talking”, together we can all work together to make the Caribbean the jewel that it is.”

– V. Maharaj (Trinidadian & Student at UFT, Toronto)

“I think that it is a great idea for it has been so frequently leveled at Caribbean people that we like to talk but we do not like to write things down.”

– Dr. Vincent Cooper, Lecturer, University of the West Indies

“As an old construction professional, I am pleased to see that you are taking an initiative that should benefit the construction industry and its users. As TTTI Chairman, I note that some of your planned topics are ones in which we have great interest, therefore, I wish to support your initiative, in principle.”

– Victor Hart Chairman, Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute

“The publication of a Caribbean Construction Digest is a timely magazine geared towards a  specific sector that provides not only job opportunities but also contributes to the economy of the Countries in the Caribbean. I am all for it.”

– Fernando Sopot, President and COO of Global First Financial Partners, Inc. (GFFP)

“Congratulations! I received my copy of CCD and must say that it is a very good and balanced publication. I write to say that I would also like to provide additional editorial stories on projects and so contribute to your magazine. I would be pleased to hear from you on subjects or topics that you might like Arup representatives to write up for you, at the same time I think we will propose a few subjects and stories that I think your readership might be interested in. Congratulations again on a great publication, I think its broad appeal is reinforced by the fact that you have been able to cover design, construction, procurement, contract law, economics and business. I think this holistic view on the construction industry in the Caribbean will be beneficial to many of us. I applaud your idea and effort in getting it to publication. Well done.”

- Craig Covil (Principal) Arup, New York, U.S.A.

“Congratulations on the publication of Caribbean Construction Digest. We support your efforts and would contribute to future publications of the Digest. We have also directed the Head of our Research and Technical Services to prepare an article for your third issue. We take this opportunity to wish you success in this undertaking.”

- Wayne Wood, Chief Executive Officer Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago (1978) Limited

Commission of Enquiry: Our Latest Soap Opera

I have been following the Cleaver Heights Enquiry (Trinidad and Tobago) and the so called irregularities being  reported by the local press. I am now convinced that probably this is the first time where we have seen the most amount of nonsense being talked and written, more intellectual and emotional energy and most importantly honest, hard working tax payers dollars being expended in vain to support this foolish Commission of Enquiry involving UDECOTT and HDC. We know virtually nothing for certain about the discrepancies, irregularities, procedures and leadership issues, when they were written or addressed verbally, to whom they were addressed, under what circumstances they surfaced and whether these issues are assembled in even remotely the correct order/sequence.

We will almost certainly never know the truth and in any case, perhaps do not need to. I for one believe that knowing the truth would add nothing to the public’s satisfaction. It seems rather silly to spend so much time on conjectures which cannot be proven true or false. We all know that the Commission’s findings will be presented in a nicely bound document, which will be put to collect dust until there is a change in administration. We all know that this Enquiry is just our latest soap opera and a waste of taxpayer’s money. Have we run out of things to spend our money on?”

- Jan Thorpe (Expat), Glencoe, Trinidad

Top 5 Excuses Why Contractors are Not Paid

Congratulations on the publication on Caribbean Construction Digest. I am happy to have a medium whereby we can document our concerns for the region and rest of the world to see. As a small contractor who has been in business for the past 15 years, I seriously think you should start a column called “You must be joking”. Maybe we can use this to highlight the problems we face on a daily basis. Some of the issues we have to deal with must really be a big joke due to the excuses we get from those in authority. I will give you an example based on my current situation. I was awarded a government contract to carry out some rehabilitative works on a building.

The Engineer sanctioned the execution of the works whilst the contract documents were being signed (we had received a Letter of
Award). We completed the works. We sent in our claim for payment. Twenty months ago.Since then I have heard every excuse imaginable whenever I call regarding payment. I will list the top 5:

  1. The formal contract was not signed.
  2. The CEO is reviewing your contract.
  3. The cheque has been prepared but the person who has to sign it is on vacation. Call back next month.
  4. We are waiting on releases from Central Government.
  5. The Engineer responsible for that job is on vacation. Call back next month.

I have since written to the line minister, however, I have not even received an acknowledgement to my letter. I don’t know how to pursue this matter further since legal fees are beyond my budget. I can only pray that someone in authority will read this letter and have mercy on small contractors.

- Frustrated Contractor, Scarborough, Tobago