Builders Law set for renewal, sparking industry hopes

The Builder’s Law, almost a relic of Cayman’s prosperous past, is set for a revival this autumn, sparking hopes for both a regulatory and economic boost to the construction industry.

The law, originally passed in 2007, never gained promulgation because the regulations that detail rules and enforcement were not passed in the legislature. However, President of the Cayman Contractors Association Heber Arch says the bill is again under discussion with the Department of Planning and could be ready as soon as next summer.

“We are going to have a new building code, probably in February,” Mr. Arch said, “moving from the old Southern Standards Building Code (Cayman Islands) to the International Building Code, used by the whole U.S.

“And once that is in place, I think the contractors will fall into place.”

Mr. Arch was among those who conceived the original Builders Bill nearly 20 years ago. Government sought public consultation in late 2001, but received only two submissions, while resistance from the Contractors Association, who “wanted things structured in a certain way,” Mr. Arch said, stalled the legislation.

In the wake of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, both the industry and Cabinet renewed efforts to pass the 26-clause bill, seeking to combat post-storm abuses within the industry. The administration created a review committee comprising six government departments, the Chamber of Commerce and the Cayman Contractors Association, which itself consulted with industry organizations such as the Cayman Society of Architects, Surveyors and Engineers.

The group submitted a final draft in 2006, tabling it in March 2007, gaining passage later that year. Government set New Year’s Day 2008 as the effective date.

The legislation seeks to license and regulate contractors in five categories – general contractor, civil contractor, building contractor, residential contractor and subcontractors. Each is prohibited from working outside their registered expertise.

The law also sets up a 10-member oversight “Builder’s Board,” comprising industry personnel, two representatives from the administration, a lawyer and two “other persons.”

“We are just starting to talk to government now,” Mr. Arch said, “and we think, in a couple of weeks, we should have some good progress, some real information, to report.”

He remained uncertain if the elusive regulations had yet been completed and said he expected “tough” going because “there is a lot of work to be done. We are looking at fees and how the whole thing is going to work. We have just started looking at it. The Department of Planning has been very helpful.”
The department is eager to implement the law, but recognizes that changes and updates need to be made.

“The CCA came to us wanting to move it forward … and to talk about what both sides need,” said Planning Department Director Haroon Pandohie. “We want to make sure we are strengthening the industry, so if we can get going and meet most people’s needs, it will help with inspection and compliance.”

“Once we can move, we can deal with political objections. Crafting changes will be critical,” he said, particularly with regard to smaller companies.

“There are hundreds of contractors,” Mr. Pandohie said,” and smaller firms make up a large percentage of the industry. I have heard of a lot of smaller guys going dormant, so it would be good to get a system in place and get the economy really going.”

Mr. Arch was enthusiastic: “It’s not a perfect bill,” he said, “and we think it will need changing, but the important thing is to get it passed, even if it’s not perfect, and then go back in about a month and amend it.

“But I think the push to get it is there now and we will definitely get it by the middle of the year.”

Among the anticipated changes, Mr. Arch said, echoing Mr. Pandohie, the Cayman Contractors Association will try to include some of the smaller contractors that originally “felt left out” of the bill. “The CCA is better organized now,” he said, pointing out that both his own company, Arch & Godfrey, and Cayman’s largest contractor, McAlpine, had resigned from the association, rejoining only last year.

“There were some problems, but some members came back last year and asked me, and I had some time. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll have some program and publicity materials. We’re moving ahead nicely now and I think it’s going to work this time,” he said.