The re-establishment of a Cabinet committee dedicated to dealing with issues relating to the construction industry is a reflection of the vital role the sector still plays in the economy.
The move, which is a necessary and overdue one, will allow the State to better plan its affairs and implement much needed reform, particularly in the regulation of the quarrying sector. This committee should be seen as a building block towards this attainment.
The construction industry is vital to the economy. It employs thousands of people, with a 2016 Central Bank labour force bulletin estimating 100,000 workers in the sector. It is also key to development projects and supplies much needed taxation revenue.
Whenever the construction industry falters, the nation falters as well. Yet, the oversight which such an important economic driver requires has been sorely lacking. While some things have gone well, there is room for improvement.
Quarrying operations have been dogged with reports of illicit activity, State-funded mega projects have fallen afoul of environmental laws, pressures have sometimes been placed on limited foreign exchange reserves through the import of raw material available locally, health and safety requirements are sometimes breached, and profiteering and corruption have also been the name of the game.
The appointment, last Friday, of a procurement regulator will go some way towards fighting sleaze in the award of construction contracts by State enterprises. But equally vital is policy and political will — both of which are expressed by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s decision to chair the committee.
An urgent matter of reform is the need for more equitable arrangements in relation to quarrying enterprises. All such enterprises must comply with the requirements of their licences and State agencies such as the Environmental Management Authority must have enough resources to take action when terms and conditions are flouted.
We also welcome the Prime Minister’s signal that the royalty arrangements in relation to quarrying operations will be reviewed. When it comes to revenue generation, the State should ensure it gets a fairer deal. While there is a need to provide incentives for investment, there is also a commensurate need to ensure the leasing of State land results in profits for taxpayers.
Environmental standards must also be rigidly adhered to, or else we will damage sensitive environmental resources in pursuit of short-term gains.
But the revamped committee must not simply be a talk shop or a conduit for construction-sector interests to lobby the State in their favour. Dialogue is good, but it works both ways. That is what the construction industry must be willing to accept during these lean times. The industry’s needs must be balanced with the interests of the nation as a whole. Such a balance is essential in order to build a stronger, more diversified economy.