Structural Engineer Grenville Phillips III Knows Construction – But Little About Laws And The Rule Of Law

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Quotes From Grenville Phillips III

“Yet, for some inexplicable reason, the Government has not required that builders follow the national building standards. In my opinion, requiring builders to follow the minimum building standards does not require the proclamation of any new laws…

“Whenever I am driving through a new housing development, I habitually stop and inspect the building construction work. Sometimes I photograph what I observe. I have yet to observe a house being constructed to the minimum structural standards of the Barbados National Building Code.

“The new DLP administration has promised, in their manifesto, to build 500 houses in 500 days. Will they be as sub-standard as the ones built by the last administration? I have inspected houses being built for the Government last week and can confirm that so far, nothing has changed…

Our Construction Industry Is Creating Dangerous Structures Throughout Barbados

Our friend Grenville Phillips III is a structural engineer who obviously knows his stuff. Grenville is upset about the low quality of construction in Barbados – and rightly so. In the past few days he has put up some detailed articles and photographs that should frighten Barbados homeowners and prospective homeowners to death. If you are even thinking about purchasing a home in Barbados you need to read Grenville’s articles. (here and here)

But like many Bajans who have never lived off the island in a society that is governed by the rule of law, Grenville doesn’t understand that without proper laws, and adherence to the rule of law, a society cannot enforce compliance to standards of any kind. He doesn’t understand that without laws that formally set the standards and provide mechanisms for enforcement and penalties – there are no real standards.

Successive Barbados Governments Have Failed To Enact Proper Laws In Many Areas

This problem is at the root of many of our frustrations on Barbados. We can’t enforce environmental responsibility if we don’t have standards set in law and penalties to hammer the worst offenders with. That’s one of the reasons why the previous BLP government allowed Shell Oil to get away with the toxic disaster at the airport jet fuel pipeline: there was no law against what Shell did! (Shell story here, here and here)

That’s why corrupt members of the previous BLP government could get away with unethical behaviours that would have seen them thrown in jail in the United States, Canada or the UK: their behaviours were not against the law of Barbados.

There was no law against former Public Works Minister Gline Clark building a house on land that his government expropriated. There was no law against Minister Clark withdrawing “campaign donations” cash from his personal bank account at the ScotiaBank and then using the cash to pay his house contractor. (Gline Clark’s story is here)

We have more road deaths than murders, yet we still don’t have the breathalyzer laws and the equipment that would reduce drunken driving and save lives. With no effective laws and without the deterrence provided by roadside testing by police traffic officers, drunken driving remains a national weekend pastime. (story here

Without proper laws – anything goes.

So having laws is the first requirement for setting standards, and Barbados does not have a Building Code that is law. We have a draft Building Code that has never been proclaimed as law.

Our “Barbados Building Code” should rightly be called “Unenforceable Suggestions For Building In Barbados”.

Rule Of Law Lacking In Barbados

The second requirement for an effective Barbados Building Code is societal adherence to the Rule of Law: a concept that is sadly lacking in Barbados. The rule of law, in its most basic form, is the principle that no one is above the law. (Wikipedia explanation here)

Any Bajan can tell you that the law is not applied equally in Barbados. If you are rich or one of the political elites you can get away with pretty well anything on this island. Heck, you can even beat your wife and the police will not answer her call for help for four days if you have money and live in a gated community. (BFP story here)

Grenville missed this point about the rule of law when he wrote his anti-corruption piece Protecting Barbados From A Culture Of Corruption.

Grenville has done a magnificent job highlighting the dangerous chaos in our construction industry, but unless the new DLP Government proves itself capable of passing effective laws and returning our society to the Rule of Law – foreign investors and domestic home buyers in Barbados will remain at grave risk.

* The above photo is courtesy of Grenville Phillips III and illustrates one of his articles that we linked to. The wall is apparently not safe and Grenville or another competent engineer can know this merely by looking at the photo. I think that the new DLP Government had better pay attention to Grenville. Were I David Thompson, I’d offer him a position right away and pair him with other competent professionals and lawmakers so we can get Barbados construction up to the standards that our citizens and foreign investors deserve.

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9 Comments

Filed under Barbados, Building Collapse, Crime & Law, Offshore Investments, Political Corruption, Politics, Politics & Corruption

9 responses to “Structural Engineer Grenville Phillips III Knows Construction – But Little About Laws And The Rule Of Law

  1. GreenBB

    “Unenforceable Suggestions For Building In Barbados”.

    I love it…great title. It is time that someone around here make some rules regarding construction and land use.

    Why not just adapt the International Building Code…that would really ruffle some feathers around here.

  2. Red Lake Lassie

    What a well done article Marcus (?). Grenville deserves a lot of praise too.

  3. Hi BFP:

    I agree with you that adequate laws are essential. However, I believe that we have sufficient laws in Barbados to effectively enforce the building code. Permit me to explain.

    Were additional laws required to enforce the water tank requirement? No. The Chief Town Planner simply specified a new condition of planning approval requiring that all new properties must have a water tank of a specified size.

    Was this enforced effectively? Yes. If you did not show the water tank on your planning application drawings, then your application would be refused. If you commenced building without planning approval, then the planning department would affix a stop order on your property and if you did not demolish it, then the planning department would.

    After you have completed constructing your building, the planning inspector would visit your property to check whether you have connected the roof gutter to your water tank before issuing their certificate of partial compliance. Your mortgage institution requires this certificate so that you can start paying your mortgage at the agreed rate.

    The Chief Town Planner already has the authority to specify various conditions of planning approval and enforce those conditions. The Town and Country Planning Act (Chapter 240) Clause 16 (1) (a) states that the Chief Town Planner can grant planning permission subject to such conditions that he thinks fit. One condition specified in Clause 56 (1) (d) is the design or structure of a building.

    In my opinion therfore, there is nothing stopping the Chief Town Planner from specifying a new condition of planning approval that states: all new construction must comply with the Structural Requirements of the Barbados National Building Code. It really is that simple.

    Regards,
    Grenville.

    PS. I am Grenville Philips II. The III has his own opinion.

    ****************

    BFP says,

    Hi Grenville’s dad. You make some excellent points, but again, you lose it at the end because as much as you and the others say that we have a building code, WE DO NOT. We have a draft that was never made into law.

    What you are proposing is that a group of bureaucrats choose the law that they wish to enforce. A solution cobbled together because of the failure of the government to provide the construction industry and the inspectors with the legal tools they need to enforce safe construction techniques and designs in Barbados.

    Although your solution might “work” it actually undermines our entire society because once again it breeds disrespect for legally-enforceable laws and standards. It is “might is right” rather than the rule of law. It defines much about what is holding back our country, our people, and our industries.

  4. building fool

    When the big hurricane or earthquake happens then people will die or suffer in their homes because of poor building standards. Even the big construction companies in Barbados do not pay proper attention to building codes or good construction practices. The engineers are overworked and don’t have enforcement powers against their own clients if they see a violation during an inspection. The builders don’t want a Barbados building code because it would cost them too much. When a catastrophic event happens, these builders will have their money safely offshore, and at the same time you can be sure they will be in the forefront of the disaster recovery to get a piece of the international disaster funds while they act like national heroes to rebuild Barbados.

  5. De Orginal

    Interesting Mr G Phillips !!! have made such pronouncements where was he all the time. I say look forward to hearing more from him. I am sure he have been briefed and given his mandate.. What is of interest where was he during the granting of the flyover contract. What we need do is check his history find out who he is and that would explain his pronouncements at this stage.

  6. Hi BFP:

    I suppose that we will have to agree to disagree on this one. However, let us clear up some nomenclature.

    The Barbados National Building Code was incorrectly called a Code, which implies the passage of law. It is not actually a Code. It should have been called the Barbados National Building Standards, for that is what it contains.

    The 1992 version was a draft document, and it was provided to stakeholders for review and comment only, not for use.

    The current edition of the Barbados National Building Code is not a draft document. It was published in 1993 and is sold for $100 for builders and others to actually use.

    Therefore we have had national building standards for the past 15 years. Any relevant Government agency can then require that the applicable section of the building code be complied with, and enforce such requirements with their existing enforcement mechanisms.

    For example, the Environmental Protection Department can specify that the room and window sizes of your house comply with the national building standards. They actually do this and will not approve your application unless you comply. No additional legislation is required. The existing legislation already gives them that authority.

    This also occurs with the Coastal Zone Management Unit, Fire Service, Barbados Water Authority, National Petroleum Corporation, Environmental Health Department, National Housing Corporation, National Assistance Board, Urban and Rural Development Commissions, etc who can all specify the applicable section of our national building standards and enforce them with their existing enforcement mechanisms.

    Similarly, the existing legislation already gives the Town and Country Planning Department the authority to set appropriate building standards. They may have been in a quandary 20 years ago, but 15 years ago we had national building standards available for them to specify. But they have not.

    Therefore, in my opinion, we do not need more laws for the construction industry, we just need the existing ones utilized and enforced effectively.

    Regards,
    Grenville

    *************

    BFP says,

    Hey Grenville,

    I sure wish I had of hired you when I was having my little shack built. (It is not a shack but the construction isn’t far off sometimes)

    I understand where you are coming from, but again at the end of the day it is all rather arbitrary without laws. By codifying standards under law we have, well – standards that survive changes in bureaucrats and governments.

    Grenville… if you were put in charge of the whole mess: construction standards and compliance, what would you do and how big a staff would you need? And seriously, in a perfect world wouldn’t you want some formal laws passed that legalise the Building Code and establish compliance mechanisms and penalties?

    Thanks for all your work on this subject.

    a very tired Marcus

  7. Hi Marcus:

    If I were in charge, I would do the following.

    1. Instruct the Chief Town Planner to specify the following automatic condition of planning approval on every building application: The construction must comply with the structural requirements of the Barbados National Building Code.

    2. Instruct the Chief Town Planner to inform new applicants that they must include structural details on their application drawings. They can simply photocopy or redraw the drawings in the Building Code. They do not have to retain an Engineer!

    3. I would train the front desk staff and planners in checking the structural drawings.

    4. I would train the existing inspectors to carry out structural inspections.

    5. I would ensure that an experienced structural Engineer was employed at the Town and Country Planning department in order to sustain the training of staff and inspectors.

    6. I would carry out an audit of the Planning department every 6 months for 2 years in order to assess the effectiveness of the mechanism and determine any supplementary training requirements.

    After 2 years, I would resign. I have already offered to do this work pro bono publico and at any time, both in letters to the national newspapers and on my blog.
    http://researching.wordpress.com/2007/09/26/is-this-explicit-enough/

    The existing laws are adequate.

    Regards,
    Grenville

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