EDITORIAL: Doing it right the first time

Local architect and vice-president of the Antigua and Barbuda Institute of Architects, Colin John Jenkins, came to the defense of the Development Control Authority (DCA) and said that they should not shoulder all the blame for buildings not reflecting building codes.  While we have no argument with that statement, the entire building code situation reminds us of one of our favourite quotes: “There’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s always enough time to do it over.” We love this Jack Bergman quote because it is such an apt description of the way we do things in the Caribbean. We refer to those wise words constantly, but usually take the liberty of changing it to “time and resources.”

The good vice-president stated, “… you have to appreciate that they have a certain amount of staff available, and Antigua is a certain size, and there are any number of projects taking place at any given time. So, I would say that they need more staff.” Duh! You don’t say! This goes directly to the heart of the quote above.

The excuse that is always applied is the lack of resources; whether that be time, money, personnel or other.  However, in the aftermath of a crisis or disaster, there will be the need to find the resources to make things right while a chorus of “we should have (fill in the blank)” rings out. Coulda! Woulda! Shoulda!

The irony is, the resources that are required to fix the problems caused by the initial lack of resources are usually a whole lot more than originally required to do it right.  Take Barbuda for example. It has been reported that the destruction in Barbuda following superstorm Irma was aggravated by the lack of conformity to the established building codes.  It is difficult to know whether that was true or not because we are talking about a superstorm, but we must take the experts’ assessment as factual.  That said, as we look forward, there is no doubt that we should be doing things right the first time and not look to pick up the pieces and do them over in the aftermath.

One area that we are happy that Mr. Jenkins addressed is the responsibility of all the stakeholders to adhere to the building codes.

This is important because it seems to be human nature to take shortcuts to save a few dollars, but in the long run, the dollars saved can often turn into thousands wasted later on.  Beyond that, there is an inclination for people to always rely on government to relieve them of some basic responsibilities when the primary responsibility should, or can, rest in their hands.

When it comes to your home, the workers at the DCA are not living with you, so whose interest is best served by making sure that you deploy the time and resources to do things right the first time and follow the building code?  Who is going to be holding your hand and giving you comfort during the storm?  It will not be the DCA inspectors.  It is up to you, as a homeowner, to ensure that your building is engineered properly and follows the building codes where applicable.  It is also your responsibility to ensure that your plans are executed properly. That is where you will derive some level of comfort as the world spins around and upside down during a hurricane. 

We expect that some people will argue that we are letting the DCA off the hook and giving them a pass when it comes to inspections, but nothing could be further from the truth.  We fully expect that the DCA inspectors will do their jobs to the best of their abilities.  At the same time, we are realists and we know that they can only do so much with the resources at hand.  Plus, whom do you prefer to give you peace of mind in this type of situation?  The over-burdened DCA that has more work than available time and human resources, or the consultant whom you hired and has your best interest at heart.

This brings us full circle to our original, however modified, quote:  “There’s never enough time and resources to do it right, but there’s always enough time and resources to do it over.” These are wise words to live by.  All stakeholders need to ensure that the required resources are allocated up-front so that things are done right, otherwise it is probably better to delay.  Or, as the older folk would say, “if you not going to do it right, don’t do it at all!” 

Getting back to our Barbuda example, the government has spent millions to assist Barbuda recover and there is a strong likelihood that the number could have been reduced if the buildings were built to code.  Maybe if the resources had been made available to the DCA for inspections, there may have been greater resilience to the onslaught of Irma.  Maybe.  What we can take-away from that disaster is that doing it right the first time gives us the best chance at not having to do it over.  And that applies to more than buildings.

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