Barbados has been fortunate through the years to avoid significant damage from acts of nature. Until Hurricane Elsa and a freak storm struck Barbados last year, one had to go-back to hurricane Janet of 1955.
Many will argue with justification Barbadians were lulled into complacency, observing weather systems veering from Barbados year after year. The consequence is that a touted Building Code was not followed or enforced with any rigour. The reality is that the quality of the local housing stock is questionable, one that includes a high number of chattel buildings owned mostly by the low income segment.
In 2017 the then leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley stated … “one man cannot get a $24 million contract at Valerie, $28 million housing contract at Grotto; a $42 million molasses storage tank, 20-year contract in the Barbados Bridgetown Harbour… Coverley which is over 1,100 houses at which the government is only receiving less than $2.50 a square foot on the land there; 2,300 lots at Bushy Park that have been committed to in an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] but mercifully the contract has not been signed [by] the National Housing Commission to give them the lots”. See BU blog – Mark Maloney Take Your Advice, Guhlong.
Why is the reminder down memory lane important?
When Hurricane Elsa destroyed and significantly damaged houses in Barbados, it was an opportunity for government to spur economic activity, especially in an economy decimated by the pandemic. The reason then Minister of Housing William Duguid gave the country for purchasing 150 emergency (light gauge steel) houses from China instead of contracting local artisans was- it would be a quick solution. It was expected assembly of the prefabricated steal houses would have been completed in 3 to 6 months. It has been nearly 18 months and the majority of the steal houses have not been installed. If reports are to be believed, the project has been stalled because of stealing of components and mismanagement. What about the promise of Barbados becoming the hub for manufacturing steal houses coming out of the project?
Imagine if the opportunity to build the emergency houses was contracted to local artisans, the positive message it would have sent to the country regarding government’s sincerity to assist small business AND local economy. It is not surprising Duguid was rewarded with a promotion to Senior Minister responsible for projects in a system where accountability is never a priority!
The Mottley administration has come in for high praise in many quarters for the boldness it attacked many of the problems on assuming office in 2018. However, there are many who have been critical of the poor execution in policy making and implementation of projects. Either the Mottley administration is being advised by incompetent technocrats or she has been ignoring good advice. Perish the thought!
It definitely highlights an unacceptable level of incompetence at a time resources are scare, the economy is precariously positioned in an environment where Barbadians are suffering from economic and social fatigue. Some may refer to is as post lost decade syndrome.