I have heard the queries of several Barbadians concerning the progress of construction of the 150 steel-framed houses which were imported into Barbados by Government last December to fill a need for emergency shelter for 150 families whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Elsa last July.
Accordingly, I wish to provide this update and to assure those families, and Barbadians in general, that despite several unforeseen challenges we have encountered, we are fully committed to ensuring that every affected Barbadian promised such a house will receive one within the next four months.
On August 10, 2021, the Ministry of Housing, Lands and Maintenance signed an Agreement with East-West Solutions (Barbados) Inc. for that company to import 74 single unit houses, 9 quads (36 housing units) and 20 duplexes (40 units) on an emergency basis, as a result of the destruction caused by Hurricane Elsa. These houses, which would include solar photovoltaic panels on their roofs, were to be shipped from September, 2021, and delivered and installed by December 31, 2021, at a cost of $22.6 million. This was seen as a competitive and affordable housing solution which could respond to the need for urgent housing in a quick turnaround period. Indeed, we dearly looked forward for persons impacted to have been restored to their new homes by Christmas last year but unfortunately this has not been the case.
Regrettably, the timely completion of this project has been affected by unforeseen circumstances which have resulted in delays. For example, due to two strong storms in China, the cargo only arrived in Barbados on December 6, 2021. It was therefore clear that the December 31, 2021 deadline could not be met.
In addition, as part of the contractual arrangement, it was expected that key technical personnel, including engineers, would have formed part of a team to be sent from China to provide the technical expertise needed to assist with the erection of the houses and at the same time, facilitate the transfer of critical knowledge to local personnel. This, however, did not occur since these persons were not granted visas to facilitate their travels into Barbados. Only two of the technical team were eventually able to acquire the visas needed and these persons were then required to contract a local firm and provide the training necessary for the local workers. This project has accordingly resulted in the generation of employment opportunities for many Barbadians, as local labour is currently being used in the assembly of the houses. In fact, to reach our new deadline in four months’ time, Prime Minister has agreed that we should retain and train 200-300 more local workers in order to complete the job more quickly.
Another factor hampering progress was the fact that it was found that on a whole, the steel-framed houses were actually designed to much higher quality standards than would normally apply in Barbados. The local teams accordingly had to make the necessary adjustments, which created a steep, but invaluable, learning curve for local personnel.
It therefore required some additional effort on the part of the local contractors to familiarise themselves with the design requirements and to ensure that they were meeting the standards required both for preparing the foundations, as well as with the assembling of the actual structures. The plumbing and electrical plans furthermore took a while to be assessed. Added to this was the fact that the units were comprised of many components which called for greater care being taken with the assembly.
The process was further prolonged with the intervention of the General Elections, Christmas breaks by the contractors undertaking the work, as well as the COVID pandemic. Added to these, the contractors on the project were faced with repeated incidences of theft of materials at some of their work sites, requiring police intervention. All of these circumstances combined to unfortunately extend the time anticipated for the erection and delivery of the houses.
Let me be very clear. We have no issues at all with the quality of the imported houses. In fact, many persons have expressed positive feedback so far about the first house that was completed in Scotts Gap, Brittons Hill, and others that are currently in various stages of erection across the country. And I digress to add that the Prime Minister in her Budget Statement has already indicate that we will continue to forge a partnership in this regard.
But first our priority is on rushing these 150 houses to completion before we move too far into the upcoming Hurricane season. I anticipate that at least 75 of these houses will be assembled by the end of June 2022, with another 55 being completed by the end of July 2022 and the remainder by August 2022.
I deeply regret the length of time that it has taken for these affected Barbadians to be able to return to their homes. As I said before, however, Government is fully committed to accelerating progress in order to ensure that every affected citizen who was promised a house will receive one.
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