Minister of Works and Urban Renewal, Philip Brave Davis, along with Chinese Ambassador Huang Qinguo, Ambassadress Zhen Chuncao and various dignitaries and department officials toured the North Abaco Port project and discussed challenges on November 3, 2016.
Mr. Davis said “It was my fourth inspection of the North Abaco Port Project and I am pleased with the progress. Despite some of the hiccups we had early in the development I am really pleased to see how we’ve made up the gap that was caused in those initial stages.”
After the contingent completed their walking tour of the site where they view building progress and spoke with workers, a China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) representative made a presentation on the $40 million project that also includes a culvert at the Little Abaco land bridge.
The project is funded by a Government to Government (G2G) concessional loan from the EXIM Bank of China which is government guaranteed. This is also CHEC’s first People Benefit Project in The Bahamas.
While no numbers were given, it was indicated that there are more Bahamians working at the port than Chinese by a small margin. Mr. Davis said he would like to see more Bahamians employed which Mr. Qinguo appeared to agree with as they look to finish in time.
Construction progress was said to be going smoothly, “without any safety incidents or quality problems.”
It was noted that up to now accumulated completed output is about $27 million, which accounts for 80% of the total contract amounts.
“During the projects construction period, CHEC has provided a lot of jobs for Bahamians, transferred construction techniques to local labour, improved construction management of the port in The Bahamas, besides the projects operation will also help to improve the economic development in the area,” the presenter said. Mr. Davis said he was happy with the employment of local labourers and contractors.
The project is CHEC Americas first project in The Bahamas and it was said that its successful implementation will have influence on follow up projects as well as CHEC’s reputation in the Caribbean.
The site saw no significant impact due to Hurricane Matthew, however, the project was slowed and resulted in a month’s delay with completion expected now in February 2017.
This delay has led to an issue as the loan agreement expires on January 13, 2017. The concern is that as the project is funded by a G2G concessional loan that it takes a long time and lots of procedures to amend the issue and potentially lead to delays in payments.
Similarly, as the government changed their mind and will now be proceeding with the work at the Little Abaco land bridge there will also be issues there as the project is expected to be completed in April 2017, which is far beyond the period of the loan from EXIM Bank. The Little Abaco project was amended to be a culvert and not a bridge with Waugh Construction awarded the contract in September of this year.
They asked, to avoid “enormous risk for the implementation of the culvert project,” that the government hands over the construction land to CHEC officially.
Mr. Davis indicated that communications were already under way to deal with the issue and that he was confident there would be no delays. It was also noted that as the land is Crown Land there are no expected issues for CHEC to be concerned with at the Little Abaco land bridge.
He also said he was glad to be accompanied by the Chinese Ambassador “who has shown a keen interest in ensuring that the project is completed both on time and under budget.”
“The challenges identified this morning are what I call force majeure; we had Hurricane Joaquin last year and Hurricane Matthew, and while they did not impact the island of Abaco directly, indirectly it distracts capital and resources to attend to the areas that are impacted. The issues identified simply require us to be proactive and there’s an early indication that these problems will be resolved very quickly.”