Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, has sought to justify the government’s decision to grant a major housing contract to a firm in Barbados in the wake of the passage of Hurricane Maria.
In late November, information emanating from Barbados indicated that the Government of Dominica had awarded precast and construction firm Preconco Limited a contract to assist in the housing reconstruction effort following the hurricane.
However, the news was not welcomed by some, with the Builders and Contractors Association of Dominica (BCAD) issuing an open letter to the Prime Minister to record its concerns about the procurement and the award of the contract. BCAD said the open letter was issued when Skerrit failed to respond to the organization after a letter was delivered to him through the Cabinet Secretary and after several follow up emails. (See the full letter below).
In a press conference on Tuesday, December 19, the Prime Minister laid out the criticisms and concerns as follows;
1. The contract awarded is for the importation of 1,000 prefabricated homes,
2. The contract awarded deprives Dominicans of a significant opportunity for employment
3. The contract awarded deprived Dominicans of a significant opportunity to receive training in key areas across the construction sector which is important for the growth of the sector and the development of young people and our resilience to future natural disasters
4. The contract awarded deprives Dominicans of the ability to supply the raw materials such as sands and stones used in the manufacture of homes as well as other materials and
5. The physical planning division has not approved the construction of the 1,000 homes
6. No information as to the ability of the proposed homes to withstand hurricanes and other natural disasters
According to Skerrit, the government’s response is as follows:
1. “The contract is for the initial importation of 20 homes and not 1,000 homes. These homes will be in Dominica very shortly and from start to finish will have taken just two months to construct, install and complete. The homes are not prefabricated homes. They are pre-cast, pre-stressed, concrete homes built specifically to meet the seismic and wind requirements of our region and offer a safe and attractive home to Dominicans with future benefits which will be outlined at the appropriate time but that have been critiqued and gone over with the Ministry of Housing and the technical personnel.”
2. “Upon the arrival of these homes in Dominica, there will be an immediate benefit to the economy through port fees, hauler fees, crane and equipment rentals and persons working on the various aspects of the construction. In addition, 50 Dominicans have already been employed to help construct these twenty homes and to work and to work on the completion of all the finishing in these homes.”
3. “Following the arrival of the initial 20 homes, the contractor will be establishing a purpose-built precast concrete plant in Dominica to meet the required urgent and long-term housing needs of Dominica as well as to assist with the building of other infrastructure needs for the public and private sectors.”
4. “There will be a handful, meaning five or less, foreign skilled labour employed in the plant and all other employees will be Dominicans.”
5. “This contract will offer Dominicans a unique opportunity to gain skills across the sectors such as electrical engineering, plumbing, welding, steel bending, speciality fabrication works as well as machine operators and other similar skilled and unskilled labour.”
6. “This contract will allow us to train Dominicans to ensure that we have a skilled construction sector and if we must face another hurricane or natural disaster, we can do so knowing we have a labour force which can to help us to rebuild once more.”
7. “All materials which can be sourced locally from Dominica will be sourced in Dominica. This has been a key condition of the contract from the start and all parties are committed to ensuring this goal. To this end, all aggregates, sand, and stones that we produce here in Dominica, and which is some of the best in the world, will be used in the construction of these homes which will be constructed here in Dominica.”
8. “The homes that will be constructed in the plant here in Dominica will be built according to a master plan which will take into account the locations where the homes are needed, the infrastructure these home will need and in accordance with the highest seismic and wind safety requirements for the region so that we are able to create sustainable housing communities which are thoughtfully designed and planned to meet the needs of those communities.”
9. “In total 1,000 homes will be built in order to meet the urgent needs of Dominicans but these homes will be built in Dominica by Dominicans using Dominican raw materials and supplies. In the process of building these homes we will be training a workforce and providing our young people not just with employment opportunities but the skills needed to ensure to ensure we continue to recover from Hurricane Maria and that should we face another hurricane we have the collective skills and resources to rise once more.”
10. “The company contracted to coordinate this work is a Caribbean company with a proven track record. There is no company in Dominica or the Eastern Caribbean with comparable capacity or experience in doing what we need done in the time frame that we need it to be done.”
11. “One thousand homes is but a small component of the housing rebuild effort that will need to embark upon in Dominica if we are to realize our goal of becoming the first climate resilient in the world. Private sector interests in Dominica rather than criticizing the startup of this venture should be actively pooling resources and acquiring the necessary technology and skill set to providing housing solutions of the strength and durability and within the time frame that is required.”
12. “The government of Dominica is keen to have meaningful, constructive dialogue with its social partners but it will not be deterred or distracted by the noises of elements in the society whose professional interests and ambitions maybe mired and marked by partisan political considerations. We have a very serious task at hand and the government welcomes any criticism but his criticism must be constructive and they must be done in the best interest of the citizens.”
Open letter to the Prime Minister below from BCAD.