Local Contractor and Member of the BVI Contractors Association, Greg Hodge is convinced that the time has come for the Territory’s construction industry to be properly regulated.
Mr. Hodge was at the time addressing the media at the contract signing between his company G-Unit Construction and the Government of the British Virgin Islands. In response to a question on the state of the industry he disclosed that the industry is going through a tough time: “Things are a bit rough. As you know the economy is down, in my opinion the construction market is a bit saturated, and I think the Government needs to pay more attention to regulating the industry.”
Mr. Hodge said that the Contractors Association made representation to government a few years ago, and noted that there is still room for improvement. In his opinion regulations should include a contractor classification system: “We have different contractors doing different size projects. We have petty contracts and major contracts. What I would like to see government do, just like how you have your driver’s licence which has different classes of drivers, I think we should regulate the industry to that standard as well. Then we will have different contractors that are licensed, not just by a trade license.”
In May, 2013 during a public meeting it was disclosed that local persons in the construction and related trades were facing competition from persons who obtained their trade licences through deceptive means, while others were employing people who did not have work permits.
The Premier told the panel of Government Ministers that some workers are using trade licences that have been improperly obtained. Others, he said, are on the job without any form of documentation.
In relation to the ‘pulling’ of trade licences, the resident claimed that a lot of females are involved.
“There are a lot of females pulling trade licence for guys to engage in plumbing, electrical, etcetera… You need to sit an exam; you have to know what you are dealing with when it comes to plumbing. Plumbing is a health issue – electrical is fire hazard and also health issue. If this is going on, I think it needs to stop…Is the government aware of the amount of people out in the construction field operating without a trade licence and who are on a work permit for someone else and is still out there soliciting contracts? If the government is aware, what step are they taking to solve this problem?”
In response to the resident’s query, Premier Smith stated that the Trade Department issues trade licences, but is not adequately staffed to monitor all sites to ensure that persons have proper documents.
He said: “Essentially, the Trade Department gives trade licences to whoever needs them whether in construction or whatever area. “The Trade Department is not staffed to the extent that they are able to patrol every work site, nor are they involved when work is going on at a particular site. Therefore, they are not able to know what is happening; if somebody who is not supposed to be working is working.”
Premier Smith further stated that persons with information on the offenders should not hesitate to report them to the Director of Trade. “If persons do observe others working without a trade licence or without a work permit, then it is quite ok and acceptable for you to make a report to the Director of Trade, and the matter will be followed up.”
Regarding the complaint about females ‘pulling’ trade licences for males, Premier Smith said his office is welcoming suggestions on how that may be addressed. He also noted that one recommendation is for the establishment of an organization to ensure that standards are kept.
During the last four years complaints have been made from various persons within the industry that “construction has slowed down.” However, the point was deemed moot by many with examples of various construction projects. The cry was however given credence which still holds today by Minister for Works, Hon. Mark Vanterpool who said that the industry is somewhat stalled.
Speaking on the NDP Radio Program on November 21, 2012 Minister Vanterpool announced that he was concerned about the apparent stall of the Territory’s construction industry and suggested some measures that can assist with the reinvigoration of that sector.
The Minister explained the reasons for his worry by reminding of the important role the construction sector plays. He said: “Construction is a major area and if we can get the construction industry moving it stirs up the economy.”
Via a press release Premier Smith highlighted some of the concerns mentioned to him which included discussions on the cumbersome application process for developments, use of influence by expatriate companies to expand beyond original agreements, import of specialist skills directly by developer, allowance of external bidding on large public service projects and insufficient transparency in the tendering process for Government contracts.
“We were brainstorming, exchanging ideas and proposing ways in which both the Government and private sector can collaborate to develop the local construction industry to make it an even more viable economic sector,” Dr. Smith said.