The trinidad Guardian / Local contractors are hoping that when the budget is read it will include a plan to settle the $4 billion debt still owed to them. They say payment of the debt could assist the country with revitalisation of the construction sector and help stimulate the economy.

President of the Contractors Association Ramlogan Roopnarinesingh said: “Recently we did an evaluation and the debt owed to contractors is over $4 billion, and the industry is owed $6 billion. This includes suppliers, architects, engineers, and other people involved in the industry. It is a hell of a lot of money.”

Roopnarinesingh said thedebt had taken a toll on some contractors.

“A lot of contractors have had to close. They have lost their businesses and properties because they could not meet mortgage payments,” he said, while others had opted to scale down operations and in some cases “sold their equipment to pay the banks.”

“A lot of people are affected and even those operating now are operating at 35-40 per cent of their capacity,” he saod

Commenting on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s call for private enterprise to get involved in the development of the country, Roopnarinesingh said: “If you pay us, we could invest in housing and other services to stimulate the economy.”

He said contractors could start projects, including building homes for middle income families, but if they are not paid they cannot invest.

“By paying the outstanding bills there can be a resurgence in the industry,” he said. “The industry as a whole is suffering. There isneed for new projects and the continuation of projects to revive the industry.”

According to Roopnarinesingh, once the construction sector is at a certain level of production,it employs 15 per cent of the labour force

“The sector in its best time is the second largest employer after the government. We hire from top down, architects, engineers, project planners, carpenters, masons, quarries and even the people who sell food. Everyone in the society has something to gain when construction is going on.”

While highways and road construction is more equipment intensive, Roopnarinesingh said constructing buildings is more labour intensive.

“But everything could be happening at the same time. We need the roads and infrastructure, but we also need other projects,” he said

He is happy that government plans to break contracts into small, medium and large, so that all contractors have the opportunity to tender.”

He is also hoping that the budget will present a plan for appointment of a procurement regulator and is also renewing a call for licensing and registration of contractors.

“We believe this will bring much improvement and quality and standards by people in the industry and it will also give us the opportunity to enter into the extra regional market to earn foreign exchange and assist in diversification,” Roopnarinesingh said.

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