Lascelles Dixon | Building up straw men
Most Jamaicans would have been aware that the new National Building Code is soon to become law under what will be referred to as the Building Act 2016. There are indications that all is not well on some fundamental issues.
At the centre of the strong disagreement with the minister is his decision to introduce a new group of what is considered to be unqualified persons within the building and construction industry to be known as building practitioners. The qualification of such persons, based on the content of the bill document, would lead one to believe that this is a group of small contractors.
Hold your breath! These persons (who will be granted licences), believe it or not, will be afforded professional responsibilities. To begin with, notice to this effect has already been put in place by the St Ann Municipal Corporation that this group can now submit applications for approval for their building projects. It is to be noted that this is an activity in which, when one considers the complexity of today's building and construction projects, such submissions ought rightly to be the responsibility of registered professionals such as architects, engineers, and planners.
The Jamaica Institution of Engineers and and the Jamaica Institute of Architects' members maintain that the new Building Act is intended to enhance the protection of life and property, particularly during periods of national disaster. These days, we are finding that too many disasters are taking place outside of national ones, when one considers the number of collapses that have taken place involving hotel projects under the watch of municipal corporations. Questions must, therefore, be asked of the honourable minister in charge as to why he would wish to legalise unqualified persons to undertake design and other works they are not trained to do.
PROTECTING LIFE, PROPERTY
Local architects and engineers believe that should this group of unprofessional persons be allowed to carry out design, and, in many cases, the undertaking of complex building work, it would not be in the interest of the protection of life and property. Indeed, this would have been much to the contrary.
Now, with the introduction of this new group of building practitioners, all one needs to do to be so designated is to apply to a special board for licensing. The bill document, on Page 2, states that "building practitioner means a person other than a building professional or a building official, who is licensed under Section 71". This section deals with the licensing of a building practitioner. Accordingly, the selection process does not specify upfront the minimum qualification for applicants to become practitioners but instead will require that the selection of these persons be carried out by a board to be referred to as the Building Practitioners' Board.
According to the bill document, a building practitioner will become involved in carrying out building works in keeping with Section 66 of the said document that declares building work as defined (in Page 3) "means the design, construction, erection, alteration, repairs, extension, modification, demolition, or removal of a building and all activities related thereto ...".
The bill document carries a list of buildings that the building practitioner will be allowed to undertake under the heading of 'building works', inclusive of design and construction as may be approved by the relevant minister of the day.
It is to be noted that the Office of the Contractor General (in association with the National Contracts Commission - NCC) has already been carrying out a comprehensive classification of contractors into their respective grades. The grading is based on data collection but is not limited to their record of past performance, their current capability, qualifications, financial capability, etc.
The grading of the contractors goes from one through five or six, with grade one being the highest showing greater competence and capacity to perform.
This being the case, there are two very basic questions to be raised as follows:
1. What are the justifications for the establishment of the new entity, building practitioners?
2. Why should these persons to be embodied under this new entity not be brought under the grading system currently in place at the OCG?
In an attempt by the minister to further clarify what buildings may be accommodated under the heading of 'warehouse-class' building work, reference is hereby made to Part One of the bill document (preliminaries). Page 3, item (g), states, "Work of any kind declared by the minister to be building work for the purpose of this act:"
'Building of warehouse class' includes a warehouse, factory, brewery, distillery, foundry, garage, and any building designed or used for the storage, manufacture, fabrication or assembly of goods, materials or products, that is neither a public building nor a domestic building.
The above building types are, in fact, industrial-type buildings and they ought to be classified as such. The minister is hereby advised that these buildings may be very large and equally complex. Any of these buildings could occupy several acres of land as may be seen in Miami and other cities within the USA and elsewhere. In terms of complexity, contemporary assembly plants are deeply involved in such technology as robotics and other forms of computer application. To design and build such facilities would require consultants (architects and engineers of the highest calibre - education and experience).
Why then should the minister wish to permit 'BPs' (who in the first place are non-professionals with nebulous qualification) to undertake the design and construction of such complex building works?