Anthony LeBlanc at the BCAD press conference on Thursday
Anthony LeBlanc at the BCAD press conference on Thursday

Dominican builders and contractors fear that there may be a famine in a period of plenty, as the Government of Dominica looks towards the regional and international markets for builders and contractors after Hurricane Maria created lots of jobs in the local construction sector.

That's what Anthony LeBlanc, the President of the Builders and Contractors Association of Dominica (BCAD) told a meeting of the private sector here recently.

"You just can't keep doing that," said LeBlanc. "We have to encourage the development of the local industry."

Leblanc was referring to an announcement last week by Housing Minister Reginald Austrie on DBS radio that government had contracted a company from St. Lucia to supply Dominica with a 1000 houses.

Austrie said: "We have sent out the invitations to companies both locally, regionally and internationally who believe they have a solution to housing that would withstand category five. We have invitations from Guyana; they're talking about using Greenheart for construction… there's one out of Miami, there's one out of Montserrat, a number of companies have been coming to us." Austrie added that he visited businesses in Barbados where the models have been used and he is satisfied that the systems meet Dominica's current needs.

"We have entered into a contract for the 1000 homes, for the construction of these houses," he said.

But Leblanc believes that Government is continuing to bypass local builders and contractors as it did after Tropical Storm Erika in 2015.

"We call on Government not to repeat the post Erika housing investment to involve the private sector more than it has," LeBlanc said. "Open the public sector housing market to the local private sector".

In a proposal presented to the Government of Dominica on 18 October 2017, the BCAD stated:

"The impact of Hurricane Maria places huge new demands and potentially increased market for construction services locally. There is immediate and short-term demand for clean-up and clearing services as well as temporary roofing and housing. There will be increased demands for construction services related to housing and infrastructure work, involving repairs, demolition and new starts or works.

He added: "This demands has resulted in increased short-term and medium term demand on existing capital assets in the local construction sector beyond its existing capacity. In addition there is need for renewal and expansion to take into account the expected increased load. In order to remain relevant and obtain a reasonable share of the clean-up, recovery and reconstruction work, the local sector needs major capital injection in heavy equipment, other capital goods, and in business assets in general.

"Hurricane Maria has significantly affected the housing stock island wide. We noted in our 28th June 2017, "that housing contractors are the backbone of the construction sector, in that, possibly 80¬ to 90% of local contractors rely on the housing industry for their survival". Therefore, Hurricane Maria can provide a significant means of economic recovery in the construction sector if public investment in the housing sector ensures meaningful participation of existing local businesses".

Leblanc continued: "While there may be a greater market for construction services post-Hurricane Maria, it will only enable growth and increased productivity of local construction businesses if they are afforded fair and transparent opportunities to access work. In recent past, this has not been the case. Growth and productivity of the construction sector will be most effective in an open transparent market driven by a transparent open competitive public procurement system that provides some advantage to the domestic players in the aftermath of the impact of Hurricane Maria.

"Even before the impact of Hurricane Maria, our presentation of 28th June 2016 recorded "an acute shortage of skills in the local construction sector ... ". The impact of Hurricane Maria will only exacerbate the construction skills shortage created wherein skills training in and for the construction sector has been minimal and grossly inadequate over the last decade. In addition to capital goods, the construction sector is in dire need of trained and skilled construction workers and continued programme of skills upgrade within the sector."