Editorial | Construction concerns
The latest numbers for the construction industry are encouraging, with the Bank of Jamaica pointing to positive growth for the June-September quarter. Details of this performance should make encouraging reading for the Holness administration, since construction is a key economic driver.
The central bank attributed the healthy construction performance to infrastructure development and an uptick in residential housing. Added to the mix are several expansion projects in the tourism sector that are near completion. These will drive growth in related businesses and also bode well for the unemployed, particularly those with construction skills.
It is tempting, in the face of this good news, to ignore recent reports of accidents on at least three tourist sites in western Jamaica. Although the one fatality in May was ruled a 'freak accident', other incidents must be seen as justifiable cause for concern. It is critical, therefore, that the Ministry of Labour, municipal corporations, and bodies such as the National Environment and Planning Agency use their inspection apparatuse to exert vigilance over these sites.
In reacting to the latest accident reported this week, Labour Minister Shahine Robinson gave the narrowest of hints that there may be a push to complete construction.
It may be convenient to pour scorn on our call for vigilance, but even though Jamaica is anxious to have enough rooms to accommodate all visitors, this ought not to blind our eyes to any breaches, nor should there be any shirking of the Government's duty to provide workers with the protection they deserve.
Where breaches are detected, including variations to approvals, action should be swift and appropriate. The practice is usually to issue a warning. However, depending on the magnitude of the breach, stronger action may be required.
Environmentalists who have been keeping a sharp eye on some of these projects have reported that safety standards are regularly ignored and have, in the past, cited instances where approved plans have been altered by the developers. These should be investigated and dealt with, because to ignore them may result in serious safety problems in the future.
Focus on infrastructure improvement
The construction sector's outlook will brighten further if the Holness administration places greater emphasis on infrastructure improvement in the year ahead by fixing broken roads and wobbly bridges.
To that end, work is progressing along the Mandela Highway. However, despite the presence of a few sleek new highways, the fact is that underinvestment has resulted in poor infrastructure, which has been a drag on Jamaica's development.
Additionally, the infrastructure deficit has been the source of great angst in many inner-city and rural communities. We regularly see angry demonstrators, including taxi operators, venting their frustration in the media as they seek intervention to repair or overhaul ramshackle roads.
Based on recent announcements made by Transport Minister Mike Henry, it seems that the resuscitation of the railway is also in the pipeline. Reviving those rusting railway tracks would certainly provide employment and business opportunities for many persons, including those involved in the transportation of freight and heavy-duty goods.
From roadways to airports and seaports, infrastructure plays an important role in economic development by moving goods and people around, but without proper and consistent maintenance, they will crumble.