By Clint Watson
A disturbing trend continues to follow China Construction America (CCA) as its reputation for signing heads of agreements but not staying true to the negotiated details has raised alarms not only in The Bahamas but in Jamaica as well.
The Ministry of Labour launched an investigation into the company after it was discovered that more foreigners were employed in the construction of The Pointe development in Downtown, Nassau.
The original Heads of Agreement called for 70-30 ratio (Bahamians versus Chinese), but an investigation by the media uncovered that indeed more Chinese have been working than Bahamians.
During a recent meeting with government officials, the reason the company gave for the disproportionate number was the lack of skilled Bahamians to work on the present phase.
It’s a reason that seems all too familiar.
In March, the company signed a Memorandum of Association (MOA) with the government of Jamaica, to build a new Parliament complex. But it sparked an uproar there when Chinese Ambassador to Jamaica Mr Niu Qingbao told Jamaicans to “stop complaining”.
CCA reportedly said the work could not be done by locals, resulting in the need to bring in Chinese labourers. This resulted in elevated concerns, even from a local Member of Parliament Peter Bunting, who said, the design work could easily have been done by any of Jamaica’s 100 architectural companies.
President of the Bahamas Contractors Association (BCA) Leonard Sands told Eyewitness News in phone interview that he finds this excuse by CCA on The Pointe, laughable.
“The workforce they speak of [being unqualified] is absolutely erroneous in all sense of the word. There is evidence we have done that type of project and to a high degree,”Sands said.
The contractors association president said he is convinced something isn’t right and what CCA is standing by has no weight.
He questioned, “At what point was it disclosed they (CCA) would need specialized labour and did the government agree to this? If they knew this, why wasn’t it made known to local contractors and labourers?”
Sands said this latest position by CCA has forced him to seek to take further action.
“I think it’s time for us to stand and say Bahamians can do this work. We looked at the project and can say we can do this. Where did they find this information from that we couldn’t? We want answers as to who confirmed this.”
Sand said, if this view by CCA is true, why didn’t the government amend the HOA to say that in a specific phase, more Chinese workers would be used because of the required construction technique.
“There is nothing in the HOA that spoke to any special phase, where foreign workers would dominate. We await the government of The Bahamas to come back to us!”
Meantime Jamaican MP Bunting, who also spoke to the media earlier this year, noted that his central concern is that what the Chinese have used to “get their foot in the door”, is financing from China Export Import Bank (CEXIM) or China Development Bank (CDB), which lends funds on a conditional basis.
One of the conditions in lending money to many third world or developing nations, is the use of their firms, and to some extent their labour, which often results in hundreds of Chinese nationals being used on the projects for cheaper labourer costs. T
This is said to lead to the shutting out of local talent on the high end and even at the low end.
According to Bunting, the trend is clear, locals are only hired in a menial capacity, which he said, allows governments to “save face” on these projects under the guise that their people are being employed.
However, he said, there is little to no knowledge transfer over the long-term.
Bunting has said publicly that “firms like CCA are able to secure contracts on projects across the developing countries of the world and amass a plethora of concessions along the way, which allow them to bring in their own equipment under concessionary terms, and oftentimes, even the equipment manual is in Mandarin, making it impossible for anyone outside of Chinese technicians to operate”.
CCA is no stranger to controversy, particularly with Bahamian companies, having recently gone through and involved with legal wrangling in local and U.S. courts over the Baha mar Saga when it was under the leadership of Armenian Billionaire Sarkis Izmirillian.
The property went into bankruptcy after CCA reportedly failed to complete the construction on time and to standard.
This was disputed by the company, which blamed the failure of the project on what it was said was poor decision making and a lack of funding by the company overseeing the development.
Associated with Baha mar was also a growing concern for the thousands of work permits approved by the Department of Immigration for Chinese workers.