Time to Wake Up!

The Government has indicated that a significant amount of the planned $2.5B new debt is to be used to build new infrastructure.  Before spending any of this money on new infrastructure, let me suggest that the Government meaningfully regulate the construction industry.

Having trained over 500 construction personnel around the Caribbean, I can confirm that much of our infrastructure is indeed substandard.  I have spent the past 15 years providing explicit evidence supporting the accurateness of this claim, and while some countries have heeded and improved, Barbados has gone backwards.

The United Nations recently assessed Barbados’ infrastructure and concluded in its Global Assessment Report (2013) that Barbados is expected to suffer probable maximum losses of over 80% of its gross fixed capital formation (buildings, equipment and infrastructure) if we are impacted by a moderate earthquake, or hurricane.  This is the UN’s worst possible assessment category.  For comparison, the UN predicts that neighbouring St Lucia is only expected to suffer probable maximum losses of 10% to 20%.  When will we wake up and realise that we are doing something terribly wrong?

If the Government is determined to put money into new construction, then why not also strengthen what already exists?  The cost to strengthen a house is in the order of 3% of the construction cost of the house.  So we either spend around 3% now, or at least 80% later.  We either go through a major earthquake or hurricane with minimal adverse impact, or we experience the misery of a national catastrophe.  The UN has determined that we are currently on the latter path, but if we are serious, we can change in a few months.

Strengthening properties requires both disposable income and knowledge of how to strengthen.  To address the disposable income issue, the Government can consider giving people a choice of either paying the new municipal solid waste tax, or using that money to strengthen their properties.

To address the knowledge deficit, Walbrent College has developed a Home Strengthening Guide that provides information to economically strengthen a house against earthquakes and hurricanes.  The Guide can be printed and given to a few contractors to complete for pricing.  It is freely available on Walbrent.com (President’s Blog section).

It appears that the dire warnings about the dramatic decline in construction standards in Barbados over the past 15 years was not convincing.  Therefore, let me present the likely scenario in a more dramatic way.

80% of our schools are expected to collapse on 80% of our students and teachers.

80% of our public buildings are expected to collapse on 80% of our politicians and public servants.

80% of our hotels are expected to collapse on 80% of our visitors and hotel employees.

80% of our commercial buildings are expected to collapse on 80% of private sector employers and their employees.

80% of our churches are expected to collapse on 80% of congregants and pastors.

80% of our houses are expected to collapse on 80% of Barbadian families.

Are we awake yet?  Some may consider this to be alarmist.  They should be aware that earthquakes give no warning, and an estimated 316,000 Haitians died unnecessarily under substandard buildings.  This is a necessary alarm.  Wake up!!!

Grenville Phillips II is a chartered structural engineer and President of Walbrent College.

Reference

UN Global Assessment Report (2013), pg 110, Figure 7.4
Can be downloaded free from:
http://www.preventionweb.net/english/hyogo/gar/2013/en/home/index.html

Distorting the Construction Market Place

It is generally agreed that many Caribbean economies are in crisis.  Economists normally view activity in the construction industry as a reliable indicator of the state of the economy.  However, the market place in which the construction industry operates is distorted to the point where it may not be an indicator that economists can confidently base their assessments.  There are two principal reasons for this distortion and they will be described in two articles, this being the first.

The construction industry is special.  It is a diverse sector that allows persons to enter at any skilled or unskilled level and progress as far as they are willing to go.  Conscientious unskilled labourers can become skilled artisans and technicians.  Artisans can become foremen, site supervisors, and contactors.  Technicians can become surveyors, architects, and engineers.  I have seen this progression happen with others and it is wonderful.

I started at the unskilled labourer level, wielding a cutlass to cut sight lines through dense vegetation, and holding the measuring tape and surveyor’s staff for the land surveyor when required.  The work was exhausting, the sun was merciless, and the weeks were long, but I was enthusiastically grateful for the opportunity.  I then took the technician route and worked as a draughtsman, then progressed to become an engineer-in-training, consulting engineer, director/employer, and now president of Walbrent College.  The construction industry is very special indeed.

The construction industry operates in a competitive market place of consultants, contractors, and equipment and material suppliers.  Each player has the opportunity to improve the quality of their work with each new project.  Government has one critically important role in the competitive construction industry, and that is to regulate a fair market place.  This includes ensuring that contracts are fairly awarded – much like how a referee regulates a fair competitive game of football or basketball and awards the game to the winning team. 

When the market place is fairy regulated, small players can become better as they compete with bigger players in the local market.  Big players have the capacity to compete regionally and internationally, but they must qualify by wining contracts.

The market place becomes distorted when the Government no longer regulates a fair market place, but instead selects favoured consultants and contractors, and shields them from competition by awarding them contracts.  This is equivalent to a referee awarding a game to their favoured team without even allowing the ball on the field of play.

During economic recessions, smart governments tend to spend money on construction projects for two principal reasons.  First, construction projects have significant multiplier effects (many people benefit from each project).  Second, local players can remain competitive and qualify for regional projects as soon as the regional economy improves.  Therefore, the most efficient use of these funds is to clearly define the work to be done, and then invite companies to fairly tender or bid for the work.  Simply awarding consultancy and construction contracts without fair competition not only distorts the market, but significantly harms the national economy.  Let me explain.

Simply awarding a contract eliminates the incentive to provide a competitive cost, and the accountability to do quality work.  Preliminary audits of recently uncontested projects suggests significant functional over design resulting in unnecessary costs in the order of 40%, and/or significant safety under-design to the point where the buildings are expected to collapse in an earthquake.

We had previously estimated approximately 75% of building losses during a major earthquake in Eastern Caribbean countries, mostly due to substandard designs that resulted from decades of poor competition practises.  In its latest assessment report (GAR 2013), the United Nations has determined that Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago are expected to suffer over 80% GDP losses from a moderate earthquake.  Yet, despite the evidence of wasted money, substandard designs, and independently projected catastrophic losses, these market distorting practises continue.

The real damage to the national economies of some of these countries is expected to be realised in 2014, which represents 5 years of the practise of awarding practically all contracts in certain categories to the government’s favoured consultants and contractors.  This practise of consistently picking undeserved ‘winners’, automatically disqualifies the most competent companies from competing in the regional and international arena.

The questions that many Caribbean governments need to consider are:  Why are you artificially propping up your least capable companies, and purposefully disqualifying your most competent companies?  If you think your favoured consultants and contractors are competent, then why shield them from competing with others in the market place?  Do you honestly expect these artificial ‘winners’ to successfully compete regionally and internally when you have harmed their development by protecting them from being tested locally for so long?

 

Attraction is a feeling. Love is a promise.

Love is a promise - Cover ver 1 - no LHS Marriage can be a satisfying and exciting life-journey for a man and a woman who love each other.  However, the significant number of divorced and separated persons indicates that there is a fundamental problem with their marriage preparation.

The dreaded phrases “I just don’t love you anymore” and “where has the love gone” are common among those who mistook their intense feelings of attraction as love.

Attraction is not love.  However, people can be forgiven for making this mistake, because the various love songs, novels, and movies promote the idea that when people share a mutual attraction for each-other, then they are in love.  Attraction is an emotional force that we can feel, while love is a promise to do four progressively challenging things.

Promise number 1 is to accept her exactly as she is right now, with everything that you know and do not know about her – and there is much that you do not know.

Promise number 2 is to accept everything about her as she ages – for better or worse, richer or poorer, health or sickness.

Promise number 3 is to forgive her.  Neither of you is perfect; therefore, you will both make mistakes, and you will both need to depend on each others’ forgiveness.

Promise number 4 is to encourage her.  This provides purpose for the marriage.

These promises are completed or consummated with sexual intercourse after they are formally made at your wedding.  If the promises are not completed, then the marriage can easily be annulled.  To demonstrate your intention to keep your promises, and not reject her for a younger and more shapely rival as she ages, you must restrain yourself from sexual intercourse until after you have formally made your promises.  If you are able to restrain yourself while your level of attraction is at its highest with her, then you show her that you are capable of resisting the future temptations that are certain to come from others.

The couple who is ready to make and keep their promises of love is ready to get married.  Spouses of those with no intention of keeping these promises endure a life sentence of misery.  Do not join them.

I wrote this, my sixth book, to help men and couples understand if they are ready to make and keep these promises.  The official web-site with discussions is linked here.  However, you may purchase the $8.00 book here or at Amazon.com here, which describes this brief summary in greater detail.

Best regards,

Grenville

Happy Birthday Building Code

This year is the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Barbados National Building Code (BNBC) for use by designers, building contractors and government regulators.  It has largely been ignored by its intended users.  Yet, it contains critical information necessary to design and build a house that should be safe during natural hazards.  Barbados is very fortunate to have had the BNBC at a time when so many expensive houses were being built.  Tragically, almost every house built during this time has been substandard.  The reasons follow.

For hundreds of years, proper building methods were passed from masters to their apprentices.  The last building boom in Barbados started around 1996.  It was fueled by mortgage institutions offering 95% to 100% to build houses.  This created a high demand for artisans in the residential construction sector.

The master artisans were generally working in the commercial and public sectors where quality control inspections by structural engineers were required by law to protect the public from unsafe buildings.  However, in the residential construction sector, such quality control inspections were not required, resulting in inexperienced and unsupervised artisans receiving masters’ wages for substandard work.

The building boom also provided an opportunity for designers to prematurely leave the employment of their mentors and start their own design practises.  However, while the structural designs of their commercial and public building projects were required by law to be designed by engineers, there was no such requirement for their residential projects.

This breakdown in mentor-ship created the perfect storm for houses to be both designed and built in a manner that left them vulnerable to significant damage during earthquakes and hurricanes, and attracting higher than normal maintenance issues.  A visit to any new (post 1996) housing development in Barbados will likely find no houses built with the critical life-saving shear walls as specified in the BNBC.  A visit to any residential construction site will likely find persons bending steel reinforcement to the point of failure, and then installing this useless material in the house.

To design the safety shear walls, and to bend steel safely, costs the designer, building owner, and contractor no additional money.  So why don’t they do such minimally responsible actions?  Incomplete mentoring results in persons not knowing that they do not know what they ought to know.

To address this knowledge deficiency, Walbrent College trains construction supervisors to build safe and durable houses in the Caribbean.  Any person building in the Caribbean should check Walbrent.com to ensure that their contractor’s foreman is among the approximately 250 persons already trained to build properly.

A Building Solution for Homeowners

The process of building a house for most people in Barbados follows these steps.

1.  The homeowner contacts a draughts-person or architect who prepares drawings and an application for Town Planning approval.

2.  The homeowner presents these drawings to a building contractor who provides them with a price, which if accepted, builds what is on the drawings.

3.  The homeowner occupies the house and is frustrated with the numerous and avoidable maintenance issues.

Most homeowners believe that the drawings approved by the Town Planning office contain sufficient information to allow their builder to build a safe and durable house.  This is not so. The drawings approved by Town Planning contain no guidance to the contractor to build safely.  Worse, most builders do not know how to build safely, and most if not all homeowners are oblivious to the fact that most of them occupy houses that will be unsafe during a major earthquake or hurricane.

I have often wondered what many of the 300,000 who died in Haiti thought as their houses, which they truly believed were well constructed, collapsed around them.  I have visited Haiti several times since the earthquake and have spoken with hundreds of survivors.  I understand that the dead have a different experience, but I can postulate that in addition to the fearful dread of impending harm, there was also a stunning shock and bewilderment about how their house, that cost them so much money to build, could be collapsing so dramatically.

Let me reiterate.  The drawings approved by Town Planning provide no guidance whatsoever to the contractor on how to build a safe house.  The homeowner is essentially placing hundreds of thousands of building materials into the hands of persons who generally do not know how to assemble them safely, despite their best efforts.  I have spent over a decade actively lobbying successive Governments to facilitate the safer building of houses, but there has been little change in the quality of residential construction practices.   So what is the homeowners’ solution when no-one is looking out for them?

I have decided to dedicate the next 5 years of my life certifying the competence of persons who are most likely to be responsible for supervising the construction of houses in the Caribbean.  These would include experienced artisans and construction supervisors/foremen.  The certification will be provided through Walbrent College, a Caribbean training institution for builders that is registered with the Barbados Accreditation Council.

If you decide to allow your contractor to build the typical unsafe and high-maintenance house for you, then you and your household will have to live with the consequences of your decision.  However, if you follow these simple steps then you should be OK.

1.  Ask your contractor for the name of their certified supervisor or foreman.

2.  Visit the Trained Persons section of www.Walbrent.com and check whether the named person is among the approximately 200 persons already trained.

3.  If no certified foreman is directing the construction of your house, then insist that the contractor send the person who is responsible for directing the building of your house to the 10-day certification course, which is offered in the evenings (6:00 pm to 8:00 pm).  The course includes an inspection of your site during a critical building activity.

The benefits to you and future homeowners is that you can avoid the typical frustrating maintenance problems, including: leaking pipes, cracked and blown floor tiles, rising damp in walls, cracked walls, and the premature loss of the roof and walls during natural hazards.

Regards,

Grenville

My Co-Educational Experience

Dear Readers:

I was sorting some old files when I came across this letter which was published in the year 2000.  This letter started my writing career.

Regards,
Grenville

———————————–

Dear Editor:

I have followed the co-education debate with interest and would like to offer my personal perspective on this multifaceted issue.

I returned to Combermere a few years ago to participate during the Old Scholars’ week of events.  We met with our headmistress, Ms Pile, in her office, and then proceeded to the auditorium.  I recall the combined chatter of hundreds of students as we drew closer, then as Ms Pile led the procession of old scholars into the auditorium, all of the students ceased talking and rose to their feet – I was almost overcome with emotion.

Once the Headmistress had invited the executive members of the CSOSA to be seated on the platform, she approached the microphone.  “Sit please”, and we all sat.  The notices were read, the prayers were said, and the hymn was sung.  Nothing had changed.  My beloved Combermere had retained its character and culture.   Then it was time for the school song.  I could hardly contain myself, for I used to sing in the school choir, and the school song held a special meaning for me then.

Lives are in the making here
Hearts are in the waking here
Mighty undertaking here
Up and on, up and on.

I can attest that these words are true, and what meaning they hold for me now.  As we sang the chorus, I could control my emotion no longer and wept for the first time in 15 years.

Up then! Truest fame lies in high endeavour
Play the game, keep the flame burning brightly ever

It is out of my love for this school, and its current and former students and teachers, and because I deeply treasure the memories and appreciate its culture that I feel compelled to provide my perspective.  To those who would hitherto be offended I offer my sincerest apologies.

I entered Combermere one year prior to the arrival of the girls and was placed in Lower 1D.  I vividly remember the authoritative yet simple manner in which teachers like Mr Roach who taught me English, and was affectionately known as Spoon (however not called that to his face by anyone who respected him), and Mr Sealy who taught me mathematics, were able to convey information.  Then there was our lone female teacher, Ms Jebodsingh from whom I learnt geography and integrity.

I distinctly remember the final day of the second term, happening upon young Hugh, who was weeping.  I inquired the reason for his apparent distress to which he replied that he had placed 8th in class.  I queried what was wrong with that, seeing as how I had placed 27th out of a class of 29 boys.  He bemoaned the fact that the previous term, he had placed 3rd.  There was also young Riley who I believe placed first, however both Riley and Hugh retook the 11+ Common Entrance exam later that year and subsequently left Combermere for HC.

Those were the days when boys seemed eager to learn.  When our teachers asked a question, one answered without hesitation.  Regardless of the answer, something was learnt, and even if I was incorrect, to be called upon was an honour, and the attempt itself was an achievement.

From Lower 1D, we went to form Upper 1F.  The school song was changed from “Up boys” to “Up then”, new bathrooms had been constructed for the girls, and although there were no girls in our class, the subject of much of the conversation centred around them.  However, learning continued and I distinctly remember the feelings of accomplishment in finally grasping the fundamentals of set theory and algebra, which I have not forgotten to this day.

For 2 years, whenever my father drove past Combermere, usually on our way to church, I would sit up and salute the school.  Why would an 11-year-old boy do such a thing that some may deem lunatic?  I suppose that I just loved the school.

We graduated to form 2G where the girls joined us.  They abolished the lower/upper first forms that year, and with the girls sitting so close, learning for me was difficult.  Puberty found me fascinated with these girls.  I can recall little of what I learned from forms 2 to 5, but I clearly recall being unable to concentrate in any of my classes except technical drawing and industrial arts.

I had no problem running around at lunchtime and entering the class perspiring.  A favourite sport would be to run behind a football with a few hundred other boys from first to sixth forms, all hoping to kick it.  It was like a stampede, and for the whole lunch period I only managed to kick the ball two or three times, but what satisfaction each kick provided.  I suppose the satisfaction was partially derived from just playing with the 5th and 6th formers, the men of the school.

I don’t recall being ridiculed much for answering a question incorrectly, but I know that I stopped asking questions after Upper 1F, even when I desperately wanted to.  Many times I was completely out to sea but was afraid to reveal my ignorance to the girls, some of whom I found rather attractive.

To sit next to a girl who I found attractive was a pleasurable yet painful experience.  For our eyes to make contact resulted in my heart feeling as if it were literally melting, and I had to look away.  Of course nothing was learned during that class period as I struggled to keep my heart rate down.  If she would happen to talk to me, then the whole day was lost, for I was usually too shocked and afraid to respond intelligently, and spent the rest of the day rehearsing some words to tell her – although I never had the courage to.

There were some boys who seemed to have no fear of revealing their ignorance to, or conversing with the girls.  They were generally the ones who also boasted about tasting the forbidden fruit.  Having not tasted such fruit untill I was married, I now understand the confidence and boldness such fruit provides a man; however, tasting such fruit before the proper time appeared to only provide illusionary achievement for those boys.  Those boys who boasted in 2nd and 3rd form were notably absent from 5th form.  Those who boasted in 5th form were not with me in 6th form.  Those who succumbed to the temptation in 6th were not with me at University.  And those who succumbed while pursuing their Bachelor’s degree were not with me while I pursued my Masters.

The temptations were real enough.  Some girls seemed bent on provoking the boys.  In 4th and 5th form, some would walk around without bras on, which effectively negated any serious study that day or night, followed by much anxiety the following day as one hurried to school hoping for a repeat performance.

Admittedly, such temptations were also present at university, where some girls (usually arts students) seemed determined to have intimate relations.  One turned up outside my dormitory room at 3:00am scantly clad and proposed sexual intercourse; however, by this time I was emotionally mature enough to respond properly – I politely declined.  However to force boys and girls to go through puberty in a sexually explosive environment, with the sorry excuse that they must all learn to get along, is just not right.

I believe that co-education may have an appearance of success for those studying the literary arts, where the general understanding of such material requires more personal study outside of the classroom.  For one does not need to read the entire English literature or foreign language text in the classroom to grasp the meaning.  However, every fundamental of mathematics, chemistry, and physics must be grasped to understand the more advanced subject matter derived from it.  To understand the rudiments of geometry and algebra require undivided attention, and the only way that I have survived to tell the tale is that from 3rd to 5th form, I spent my summer holidays reading the assigned science text books at home.

It is my opinion that this issue of co-education, while multi-faceted, is much less complex than some are proposing.  For at the end of the day, it is about a boy going through puberty, struggling to grasp the fundamentals of algebra, with an attractive girl sitting next to him, fascinating his heightened sense with her perfume, and distracting him with her skirt raised half way up her thigh.  Do we seriously expect our lads to learn anything?

I respect the learned opinions of Dean Critchlow, former Principal Blackman, and Principal Keith Griffith, and I hope that my perspective can be of some value to the debate.  Perhaps some thought can given to segregating the classrooms in September 2000, and if this seems too bold a step, then perhaps at least the science classes can be segregated.

Permit me to offer my apologies the current students of Combermere, for if someone would have recommended segregating the classes while I was a student, I would have deemed him a spoilsport.

Foes in plenty we shall meet
Hearts courageous scorn defeat
So we press with eager feet
Up and on, up and on.
Ever upward to the fight
Ever upward to the light
Ever true to God and Right
Up and on, up and on.

Colliding With Truth

Dear Readers:

I am announcing the publication of my third book: Colliding With Truth – Restoring the Lost Ministry of Recalibration.

Jesus described His two principal missions while He was on the earth:
1. to restore the Ministry of Recalibration; and
2. to establish the Ministry of Reconciliation.

The ministry of reconciling others to God is directed to those who do not know God, and has been embraced by the evangelical Church. The ministry of recalibrating traditions is directed to those who claim to know God, and its purpose is to ensure that erroneous teachings are not perpetuated. However, this ministry has generally been neglected.

Jesus recognized the vulnerability of His message to manipulation, and warned His followers about those who would try to mislead others. The harshest words spoken by Jesus appear to be reserved for religious leaders who stubbornly defended and taught their inherited traditions that conflicted with God’s commands.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte [convert], and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:13-15)

Given the dire consequences for those who defend inherited traditions that conflict with Jesus’ words, it is the responsibility of every Christian leader, parent, and convert to examine their denominational traditions prior to teaching them to others.

Colliding With Truth examines popular traditions of the church which are in conflict with the words of Jesus.  The book can be purchased Here.

Regards,

Grenville