Glen Mahabirsingh Contractors Association president

In 2021 the construction industry did not have the smoothest year, but stakeholders within the industry believe there is plenty to build upon heading into 2022.

As it was in 2020, the industry faced disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic as T&T experienced lockdown measures for the second year in a row. However, unlike last year, when certain government construction projects were allowed to continue during the stay at home period, all construction was halted in the wake of a surge of cases, just before and after Easter.

Glen Mahabirsingh, head of the Contractors Association explained that after restrictions were lifted and the industry was given the green light to continue, new challenges emerged.

“This is the really the sixth month since reopening. One of the major challenges the Contractors Association and operators within the construction sector would have experienced is volatility in material prices, as well as availability of materials,” he told the Business Guardian.

“This would have arisen from the shortage of materials internationally, as well as the limitation for freight space as well as increase in freight cost. So, contractors will have experienced increases in acquiring materials which is critical for the important construction projects. The last increase being last week with cement prices increasing by 15%,” he said.

The hike in prices has made it more difficult for contractors to properly budget for their jobs.

“One of the significant challenges contractors and operators would have had was discussions with their respective clients because some of these material prices would have increased by 40-50 per cent. Even as much as 70%. And there is no way that contractors can absorb these costs and continue,” he said.

Mahabirsingh explained that contractors usually cater for variations, but that tends to be 10 percent fluctuations at best. This has not been the case during the pandemic. The volatile supply chain has also meant that getting quotations that stick has been made more difficult, Mahabirsingh explained that in the space of a week price increases often meaning that a quotation obtained could quickly become irrelevant.

“When you receive a quotation if you don’t put a purchase order with the respective hardware or supplier that quotation within seven days expires and they really need to requote you on a new pricing or revalidate the quote before you purchase.”

The price increases have been around since 2020, but Mahabirsingh said the shortages have been pushed by other countries, particularly the larger countries using construction to push their recovery post COVID-19.

It’s a strategy he hopes is continued right here in Trinidad and Tobago in 2022.

“The construction sector was identified as part of the road to recovery as one of the critical sectors to stimulate the economy. And despite the challenges with material price volatility arising from the pandemic, which is really based on international factors, we need to find solutions to have the constructions like really catalyst for stimulating economy and creating employment opportunity,” he said,.

The signs so far have been good, as he noted that since the resumption there has been no report from his members about any major projects grinding to a halt.

“As the association understands, and based on feedback from our members, all projects that would have been going on prior to the May/June stay a home measure would have continued and then we see projects are being advertised in terms of projects coming out to tender,” he said.

He also recognised that there have a few more tenders advertised that has made the industry expectant of jobs to come.

“Over the last couple of months tenders for issued for landslips as well as a couple housing projects. We will assume that those projects once they go through the tender process will come to the market and go into construction. Which the general industry will benefit from,” he said.

This he said should augur well for employment and the economy of the country, as he also noted compared to other industries, the manner of how work is done in the industry is favourable to reduce risk of spreading the deadly virus.

Mahabirsingh also noted there had been an increase in smaller home construction projects around the country.

This again, was a by-product of the pandemic as many made adjustments to their homes based on their work from home or electronic learning needs.

2022 is expected to see the completion of major government projects. The Point Fortin Highway was initially given an estimated completion at the end of 2021, however, Works Minister Rohan Sinanan said earlier this year the project’s estimated completion was set for first quarter 2022.

Eyes are also on work being done on the Sangre Grande Hospital, which according to Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, is to be completed by the end of this year. The Business Guardian also sought to get an update from UDeCOTT concerning the construction of the Port-of-Spain General Hospital Central Block, which is also listed as ongoing. However up to the time of publication, UDeCOTT had not provided an update.