Cuba decentralizing construction decision-making to
strengthen role of local contractors in housing

By Marc Frank

Cuba's president Raul Castro (C) waves a greeting during a meeting of the National Assembly in Havana July 11, 2008. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa (CUBA)

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba has begun decentralizing decision-making in construction, in the second major reorganization of an industry since Raul Castro became president in February.

A parliament hearing on Wednesday focused on disorganization and theft plaguing the state-run industry and its failure to meet apartment building plans or conclude larger projects on schedule and within budget.

"We are strengthening the role of local contractors, decentralizing the administration and day to day operations of construction projects," the Communist party newspaper Granma, reporting on Wednesday's hearing, quoted Construction Minister Fidel Figueroa as stating.

After years of crisis and strengthened by allies Venezuela and China, Cuba launched a major effort three years ago to solve a chronic housing shortage and repair crumbling buildings.

However, goals were not met and had to be scaled back, but the industry is still falling short, Granma reported, blaming theft of materials and poor organization.

Vice President Carlos Lage announced housing plans would be drawn up at the local level beginning in 2009.

"The local authorities must say what they prefer to do with the resources assigned them, be it finishing new apartments or prioritizing the repair of others, because it is at the municipal level that authorities know best an area's urgent needs," he was quoted as saying.

A similar decentralization began in agriculture soon after Raul Castro was named president in February after ailing older brother Fidel Castro resigned for health reasons.

The elder Castro, who turns 82 in August, underwent intestinal surgery two years ago from which he has not fully recovered.

Municipalities were authorized to decide how best to use resources and land, organize distribution of produce and deal with the day to day issues in agriculture, decisions previously made at higher levels of the government.

State and private farmers and cooperatives were offered more land and given more leeway to decide what to use it for.

Cuba began granting licenses to individuals to privately engage in building trades in the 1990s, but has not granted new ones in a number of years. While the state construction business has a chronic labor shortage, thousands of licensed and unlicensed skilled tradesmen and laborers work privately.

(Editing by Patricia Zengerle)

— July 10, 2008