By Keeran Danny
New infrastructure projects are needed to accelerate and sustain growth to ensure Guyana is not left behind while the world is moving ahead. But, critical to this is relevant education and training of the human capital.
This notion was expressed yesterday by President Donald Ramotar, as he lamented the need for efficient supervision of Public Works projects. He was at the time delivering the feature address at the Fourth Ministry of Public Works Engineering Conference held at the Guyana International Conference Centre.
Ramotar emphasised that Guyana needs new infrastructure to continue the process of economic growth which has occurred over the past years. These projects, he noted, must take into consideration what is happening internationally and regionally to ensure Guyana is able to be part of international trade.
Pointing to several global projects including the construction of Cuba’s new Mariel port; the construction of a deep water port in Jamaica; the expansion of the Panama Canal; and the possibility of a new Canal in Nicaragua, he stressed that Guyana needs a deep water harbour.
Ramotar said that these and similar projects indicate that trade in goods in freighting containers will increase enormously in the future.
“We are beginning to see it is more and more difficult to get small ships to come into our country and do some exports and imports. And therefore, we too must keep our eyes on the future and we too must see that we need similar infrastructure, so that we would not be left behind, as the rest of the world is installing needed infrastructural projects.”
Expounding on the importance of a deep water harbour, the Head of State recognized the difficulty of getting bigger ships to export rice. “For Guyana to take full advantage of the deep water port it needs to install complimentary infrastructure and increase and intensify relations with neighbouring countries,” he said.
“Many economies are arguing that international trade is playing a greater role in the economic development of individual countries and if they are right, and I believe they are…we must not be left behind and we must be prepared for this as well,” the Head of State added.
Reiterating Government’s call for cheap energy, Ramotar said this will facilitate rapid development in the areas of manufacturing goods, processing of agro-products, and adding more value to the mining sector. Creating more finished products would help to improve Guyana’s developing economy.
“We would not have to listen to some of the shortages the University (of Guyana) has, because we would have enough, and we have to also train more and more of our human capital to cope with the new world that we see ahead of us,” Ramotar affirmed.
The University of Guyana (UG) in partnership with the Public Works Ministry helped to make this year’s conference a reality. Vice Chancellor Professor Jacob Opadeyi, in his remarks, touched on the limited resources of the University’s technology programme.
He recalled that when he first arrived at the University he was not too pleased with this state of affairs. He pointed out, however, that thanks to the World Bank, the University would be upgrading the building and procuring much-needed equipment.
Emphasizing the need for collaboration, he said the University is open to training and having experienced engineers from the Ministry share their expertise and values with students.
“I want to be bold to make a suggestion to the Government of this country, any major project like the Amaila Project; any major project coming to Guyana, may I ask that 0.1 percent of the budget should be devoted to human resource development,” the Professor said.
As such, whenever there is a new or similar project, the skills would be available locally.
In fact, limited local skilled human resources was highlighted as one of the major challenges to the construction sector.
Head of the Work Services Group, Geoffrey Vaughn during his presentation, highlighted challenges the construction sector is encountering. These include education and training; construction capacity; utility services; material shortages and cost, and quality in construction.
According to Vaughn, Guyana continues to have a shortfall in its most important asset – human resources – to meet the technological revolution of the twenty-first century. He said there is a shortage of professionals, as well as skilled and supervisory personnel to execute projects in the construction sector.
Vaughn said that there is a shortage of Clerks of Works and Chargehands to actively supervise projects. Because the construction sector does not have trained persons for these positions, most times chargehands and foremen are procured from amongst tradesmen, he said.
Providing statistics for this presentation, Vaughn did an overview of 2012/2013 CSEC results. From the figures provided, it was concluded that most students are not passing the Science-based subjects such as Mathematics.
“And the percentage that passed Mathematics between 2012 and 2013 show a meagre 30.35 percent; Chemistry 52.39; Physics 54.34 and English 46.59… and this is where the core of construction challenges begins,” he stressed.
Vaughn also looked at data from UG and related that during the period 2009 to 2013, 2,900 students enrolled for the Engineering Programme from a total enrollment of 31,090. He said this represents 9.3 percent of the university population for that five-year period.
Taking those figures into consideration, Vaughn questioned how the construction sector would be supplied with engineers, Clerks of Works, technicians and supervisors.
The supervision of projects was addressed by President Ramotar, who stated that greater supervision is needed to see the timely completion of quality projects.
According to Ramotar, Guyana has far more to achieve in improving quality of projects, cutting cost, and completing projects on time. He noted that too often he is told of “sand disappearing into the ground” and questioned if sufficient soil testing and preparatory works are not done.
“There is a great need for greater supervision of works. I don’t think enough supervision is done…I understand some of this is unavoidable, but it is far too much, which tells me something is not right. Either preparatory works are not done properly or something else is not right,” he said.
The President noted that sometimes there is a cozy relationship between contractors and engineers, who are given the assignment to ensure citizens get quality for money.
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