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Overhaul vetting of building permits - Byles - Reform could unlock billions in investments

Published:Friday | September 13, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

CO-CHAIR of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee, Richard Byles, has urged the Government to implement radical reform to spur growth in the construction sector.

"We need an overhaul of the process for construction permits," Byles said on Thursday as he addressed stakeholders at an economicreform conference in downtown Kingston.

Don Mullings, a member of the Incorporated Masterbuilders Association of Jamaica, said successive administrations have given only lip service to a speedy approval process. He told the conference that although the Government has committed to approving developments in 90 days, this is not happening.

"We have been stifled over the last 10 years," Mullings said, while adding that it was taking three years to get the go-ahead from the Government.

"Who is going to invest in the construction sector unless you are assured bankable timelines?" Mullings quizzed.

Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips said there was a commitment on the part of the Cabinet to find a way to ensure that the procedures in the various parish councils are standardised to simplify the process.

"There are billions of dollars worth of investments that are being held up in the government apparatus somewhere which, unlocked, would add a per cent or two to our growth rate, and we just need to do that," Phillips said.

"I anticipate that in the next six to eight weeks, Cabinet will be able to say something more definitive on that issue," he added.

Developers must play their part

Kingston Mayor Angela Brown Burke said there were issues for the Government to address but said that developers must play their role in speeding up the process.

She suggested the hiring of "reputable professionals who are not looking for special favours" as one critical adjustment that must be made. Brown Burke also said the developers should not "encourage alternative internal processes" and that they respond promptly to the local authorities for additional information on incomplete applications.

But Christopher Zacca, the president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, said the fingerpointing was not helpful.

"What we should do is sit down as public/private sector to unlock the billions and billions of dollars that have been tied up in a totally inadequate and inefficient process to approve construction projects," Zacca said.

He added: "It is one of the biggest problems facing us right now."