Down with it

by Shawn Cumberbatch

Barbados’ already challenged manufacturing sector has been dealt a second blow emanating from the fire which destroyed one of the island’s main industrial spaces in April.

Minister of Industry Denis Kellman today voiced disappointment that five months after the large Spring Garden Industrial Estate building housing Workbench Furniture Limited went up in flames the gutted structure was still standing.

He disclosed it had now caused a major delay in the construction of a planned special showroom for the local manufacturing sector.

The official, who recently returned from an overseas trade mission, told Barbados TODAY he intended to find out from the board of the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation, the agency responsible for industrial estates, why the demolition had not yet taken place.

At the same time, Auditor General Leigh Trotman said auditors under his responsibility were now out “in the field” investigating various government departments and agencies. Once that was completed, the official said, he would know if a problem of under insurance of the property at Spring Garden, other BIDC holdings and elsewhere in Government had persisted.

Kellman’s main concern today was the demolition delay and the resultant setback for the large new showroom.

“I would have to find out from the board whether they have made a decision on it or not, but I know that the decision from my end has been dealt with, in terms of what I want to do with it,” the minister said.

“So in order for that to happen they will have to demolish it. What I can tell you is that they are behind time with it because I really thought we would have been in the process of rebuilding what is going to be a showroom for the manufacturers.

“My speed and other people’s speed might be different and the way the private sector operates and the public sector operates in terms of speed might be different too. The whole of Barbados has got to recognise that the world isn’t waiting on us and we have to find another way to approach things.

“They are the executing agency, I speak on policy … I think they should soon have a board meeting, the last meeting was not held because of certain things,” he added.

One of the concerns about the former Workbench home related to the extent to which it was adequately insurance, following a Barbados Audit Office 2010 Special Audit of Estate Management at the BIDC.

This probe not only found that “under insuring buildings has placed the assets of the Corporation at risk of incurring significant losses due to disasters such as fires”, but that “this could affect the Corporation’s efforts to repair or replace damaged buildings”.

The Auditor General told Barbados TODAY that the extent this problem of inadequate insurance, about which he had previously raised concerns in relation to state buildings, would be known when current audits were completed.

“I wouldn’t know until the end of this cycle, the auditors are in the field right now so when they report to me I will be in a better position so off the top of my head I can’t really say yes or no. We audit every year and then at the end of the year we table a general report,” he noted.

Covering about 24, 000 square feet, the former Workbench complex is one of the prime pieces of local factory space.

It is not the first time that a fire there has caused concern, including from an insurance point of view. After a previous blaze it was found that while the cost of damages was more than $178,000, only $66,602, about 37 per cent, was recovered because the structure was not full insured.

In responding to concerns raised about the problem in the special audit, the BIDC had responded: “BIDC recognises that the buildings are under insured. BIDC’s management therefore made an attempt to change the type of insurance coverage and pursued the option of a first loss limit of 50 per cent of total declared values of the property portfolio.

“The BIDC’s board, however, expressed great concern at the high premium quoted given the state of the economy and Government’s cash flow position.”

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