MONTEGO BAY, St James – There are increased rumblings among some stakeholders in the construction industry in the western region and elsewhere, who claim that their businesses are being negatively impacted by the shortage of cement from the islands major supplier, Caribbean Cement Company Limited (CCCL), in recent times.

Oliver Warren, managing director of OW Construction and Hardware in Clark’s Town, Trelawny, is among those decrying the scarcity of this key element of the construction sector.

“Right now we run out of cement and it is cement that runs the business. A man buy sand, stone, building block and steel but him still can’t do any work, so it slow down production,” bemoaned Warren.

Warren noted that normally, after paying for a load of cement during the afternoon, he would receive it the following morning. However, he said that in recent weeks it has been taking five days to get a load after paying for it.

The owner of a block-making factory in Manchester also bemoaned that the shortage of the building material is having a domino effect on players in the building industry, including workers.

“Cement is a major input in our product so if I don’t have cement, then I can’t produce. So, my production is immediately cut and if my production is cut, my sales are cut and I can’t meet the demands of my customer – so that impacts me on all levels. In recent times…within the last month…we have been having problems. I wanted to work on Sunday and Saturday and I couldn’t because I had no cement. I can’t afford to be running out the cement on those days,” the Manchester block builder stated.

“So there is an impact on the workers, there is an impact on us, and there is an impact on the customers who need the product to continue with their building so their workers can work as well, and that these customers can meet their deadline. It also impacts us so much that we have to finish early some evenings because we just don’t have any more cement.”

A major hardware dealer on the south coast also griped that if the shortage of cement continues their business might have to cut staff, adding that the shortage is exarcerbated by a hike in the prices of construction materials, including steel.

For his part, Lorne Stewart of Hay’s Enterprise Limited, the owner of Solid Concrete Mix which operates in Green Island, Hanover and in Montego Bay as well as in Linstead, St Catherine, also complained of a decline in his business as a result of the recent scarcity of cement.

“I am having it very difficult to get the key ingredient in concrete,” Stewart lamented.

But Chad Bryan, communication and social impact coordinator at Carib Cement – the country’s sole cement manufacturing company – has reiterated that there is no cement shortage. He, however, noted that there is currently an extraordinary demand for cement arising from a boom in the construction sector.

“What has been happening over the past two weeks is there has been unprecedented demand for cement, but we have been supplying the market. And, we are aware of this peak and this demand and we are moving to supplement it, and within two weeks there will be no hiccups. So it is not there is any shortage or anything. We are not having any issues,” Bryan told the Jamaica Observer. “We have increased the production…there has been continous increase in production. There has been some peaks and we might have a little hiccup in getting it out to everybody. Logistic restrictions might hamper, but by and large there is no problem.”

But like other stakeholders in the sector, Stewart emphasised that the time has come for Government to increase the monthly quota of The Buying House Cement Limited, a back-up supplier of cement during the peak demand months.

“What they [Government] need to do is to revise the quota of the second player in peak months…and they know the peak months, they know that we are in peak months. They can watch the market – that’s a simple thing. Every year, at this time of the year, cement sales go up the least by 50 per cent, and they know the market has been exploding. Increase the quota, that’s all. You don’t need to put a next player in the market to do nothing else. All you need to do is, the second player that is there, if they are carrying in 100 bags allow them to carry in 150 bags. That’s all it is – a simple thing. It is nothing genius about it, it is a simple thing,” Stewart advocated.

A similar suggestion was made by Lloyd Thomas of Melloy Distributors Limited hardware store in Kingston.

“Increase their [Buying House] quota. The quota has to be increased, of course. I don’t have one bag of Carib Cement. Had it not been for them [second supplier], I wouldn’t have one bag. With the amount of construction going on, Carib Cement alone can’t supply the market. This has been going on now for years but Government not listening to us,” expressed an agitated Thomas.

The proprietor of the Manchester building block making factory, who expressed that the cement shortage is affecting business, also recommended that Government increases Buying House’s quota to assist in meeting the increased demand.

“There is a second player in the market and because sometimes they exceed their quota, we can’t purchase cement from them. We have a definite problem,” the block manufacturer noted.

Efforts to get a comment from The Buying House Cement Limited, headquartered in Montego Bay, were unsuccessful. But ts is understood that for the last 15 years the company has has been importing 10 per cent of the demand for cement into the island from the Domicem cement plant in the Dominican Republic.

Meanwhile, one construction stakeholder in Montego Bay argued that with plans by the Government to grow the economy after COVID-19, a reliable supply of cement has to be guaranteed.

Government recently announced a raft of infrastructure projects such as the construction of over 7, 000 additional hotel rooms, the commencement of work on the Montego Bay bypass road, the agenda to construct 70,000 housing units, the continued implementation of the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project (SCHIP), among others.

Jamaica Observer