SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) – Minister of VSA Emil Lee shared feedback from the construction sector meet & greet event that was hosted by the Ministry of VSA on March 19.
The event catered to companies that are active in the local construction sector. Government aimed to get feedback on the current state of affairs in the construction sector. Several topics were presented and discussed, including: the demand for local skilled labor, availability of construction work, Government permit processes and the tender processes of the recovery projects funded by the World Bank. Speakers included Minister of VSA – Emil Lee, Mr. Andrew Budike – Head Inspector of Labor and Mr. Claret Connor – Head of National Recovery Plan Bureau.
“Rebuilding without having local workers and companies involved is not what I consider a true recovery. A recovery process needs to be inclusive to rebuild our economy as well as our physical structures in our economy.” – Minister Emil Lee, VSA
Minister Lee was proud to announce that about 90% of the recent graduates of the construction training program that is facilitated by NIPA and MIC-IT, have already transitioned into the labor market, many with full-time employment. The graduates were participants of the Ministry of VSA’s Emergency Income Training and Support program that offers unemployed and underemployed residents free skills training for construction and hospitality sectors, a stipend as income and medical insurance.
The successful transition into the workforce is another milestone of the Ministry’s program, which is funded by the World Bank. Representatives of the NIPA and MIC-IT were present at the session and able to take the feedback provided on the requirements of construction companies for skilled workers. This feedback will be considered for further implementation in the training programs.
The event was well attended, and participants were very engaged, establishing a good dialogue on the topics addressed. Minister Lee reported that there were mixed reactions as to the prognoses of future work in the local construction sector. Attendees expressed that with current contracts nearing completion, the possibility to obtain contracts for new jobs is uncertain, as the projected ‘big’ projects have not yet started.
On the financial side, limited funding was brought up as a challenge. For individuals or companies that have the situation where insurance monies or personal savings has been depleted before a job is complete, this of course poses a big a challenge to complete jobs. This same financial issue was identified as an obstacle for new construction jobs to commence.
As it relates to Government services, attendees provided feedback that the waiting time for building permit requests to be approved by the Ministry of VROMI posed a risk to their operations, for some delaying the execution of jobs. The process and procedure to obtain working permits from the department of Labor was also criticized to be “too cumbersome and too difficult”.
To which Minister Lee responded that the Ministry could do better in explaining the process and the requirements for work permits. While pointing out that the requirements are defined in the legislation and there is the obligation to follow the law. The current general processing time of work permit requests that are submitted correctly is 2-4 weeks’ time.
Minister Lee said that he sees that the majority of work permit requests that are properly submitted are being approved in a timely fashion, the processing of the work permit requests should not be an obstacle. Companies who encounter difficulties with the work permit request procedures are encouraged to come in to the Ministry for clarifications and assistance.
All participants echoed the desire to the National Recovery Bureau that the projects need to be accessible. There were complaints that tender documents are 80 pages long, ‘a daunting book’ that hampers participation.
In the presentation given by the National Recovery Bureau, it was indicated that there will be training opportunities organized about the tender application process for projects funded by the World Bank. Minister Lee was happy to see this being included in the plans as it stimulates local participation.