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Construction needs stimulus package

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The article in the T&T Guardian on January 3 by Urvashi Tiwari-Roopnarine makes an interesting connection between rising crime and the collapse of the construction industry.The construction industry is huge, so the potential for unemployment is directly proportional to the lack of construction activity. The industry isn’t just labourers (though they make up a large number). It’s also made up of construction professionals, suppliers, contractors, sub-contractors and manufacturers and, by my estimation, could be approaching 200,000 citizens that have families to support. What needs to be understood here is the cycle of construction and how it affects unemployment.

At this point, unemployment has not fully affected labourers, contractors and sub-contractors, who are still completing projects that are in the field and may continue to wind down until ongoing projects are completed.
However, the current collapse of the industry has severely affected the construction professionals who are normally involved in the upfront stages of construction. Let us be clear: the slowdown for upfront design of new projects is currently at a near complete standstill with virtually no new work on drawing boards. Apart from scores of professionals and their staff being unemployed and the adverse effect on their families, what else does this mean for the industry?

For one, it is an early warning of an impending nightmare ahead, unless the current administration can manage to put in place a stimulus package for the industry. Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner, who seems to acknowledge the potential enormity of the looming crisis states that the San Fernando/ Point Fortin Highway project—designed by foreign consultants—will provide employment, but then quickly announces that 65 per cent of the projects will be awarded to foreign contractors. Apparently, in his mind, this is acceptable because the project will employ “masons, carpenters and other people.”

The point I am making here is that this highway project, touted to assist the industry, will do very little for the construction professionals because infrastructure projects are considered capital intensive rather than labour intensive and, thus, any positive effect on the industry will, in fact, be nominal. What we need from this government is a well-considered, sustainable plan to stimulate the industry with short-, medium- and long-term plans. Let’s start with the short-term plans, but, please hurry; time is running out and construction professional firms are on the brink of closure. Simply informing construction professional firms to look towards the Caribbean for work is to abandon them and will do nothing to avoid a crisis in this country. Wake up and implement a comprehensive and sustainable stimulus package, or else, face a crisis.

Brian Lewis
Registered architect


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