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Contractor on new permit system: ‘What the hell?’

Former BCA president suggests prioritizing less costly reforms
  • Stephen Wrinkle.

Guardian Business Editor

Published: Oct 08, 2013

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A top contractor has argued that while potentially well-intentioned, any attempt to make the building permit application process electronic would be a “gargantuan” task that may risk further slowing an already inefficient process.

“What the hell are they thinking?” was the response of Stephen Wrinkle, owner of Wrinkle Development and former Bahamas Contractors Association (BCA) president, to the prospect proposed by the government of an online permit application process.

Responding to comments made by architects Marcus Laing and Amos Ferguson welcoming the initiative and by Minister of Works and Urban Development Philip Brave Davis announcing the plans, Wrinkle said that instead of seeking to “go online”, the government should look at streamlining the existing manual and paper-based application process.

Like Ferguson, Wrinkle suggested there may be “low hanging fruit” which the government could address in terms of improving the efficiency of the permitting process that would cost significantly less than introducing an electronic system at this time.

“We need to focus on the fundamentals on doing what we do better. I would prioritize the expeditious flow of paper documents before investing huge sums of money in electronic systems. If they want to go electronic, then good luck. I think it’s going to be a challenge in this archipelago of islands because it is not like a mainland continent and what works in Florida doesnt mean it’ll work in The Bahamas.”

He added that the transition to an online system, in which those involved in the building design process submit complex documents via an electronic system to the Department of Physical Planning and all other reviewing agencies, would present a major challenge to both the government employees and those in the construction industry in terms of skills, software and hardware required.

“They would need to train everyone in the system,” he added, noting that a previous attempt to install an online system failed in the past.

Last week, Laing and Ferguson said they were pleased to hear of plans afoot to take the inefficient building permit application process online, and suggested it could lead to speedier permit approvals as review agencies are allowed to examine documents concurrently.

Both pointed out that electronic submission of documents is becoming industry standard globally.

Wrinkle said he is concerned that the implementation of the system looks set to move ahead with “no input with the sector”.

“They need to talk to the engineers, architects and contractors, and formulate a plan that works; get a committee going. [The government has] got to at some point stop buying foreign consultants and start consulting with locals,” he said.

“We know the industry in The Bahamas; [consultants] do not know the nuances of doing business in The Bahamas and they cannot know the interests of local industry.”

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