Eyes and ears of key construction issues

The rapid expansion of construction in several economic sectors now impact millions of people in terms of employment and income. Its corresponding relevance to the country’s economy is the contribution to the GDP, directly and indirectly. Consequently, the CCI regularly hosts its concerns on key issues which can sustain growth by avoiding pitfalls in policy and in its intrinsic shortfalls. These have been consolidated in a speech made by the President, Chamber of Construction Industry, (CCI), Dr. Surath Wickramasinghe, Architect/Planner, at the inauguration of the Build SL 2017, held at the BMICH, recently. The Chief Guest at the event was the Minister for Special Assignments, Dr. Sarath Amunugama.

Excerpts of the speech;

Solutions to flooding and water shortage between 2025 and 2030 in the Megapolis area

Flooding and water shortage are important and urgent matters and action should be taken immediately to prevent a future crisis.

Year in year out, flooding happens and people’s lives, private property and damage to infrastructure occur. In 2016, according to the National Disaster Relief Services Centre (NDRSC), 24 out of the 25 Districts countrywide were affected by flooding and landslides. Approximately, 493,319 people were affected (124-398 families), 93 died, 33 injured, and 117 missing. In 2017, in the recent floods, 23,000 houses were damaged, 70,000 acres of land destroyed, 213 dead, and 77 missing.

However, this situation is not considered a priority by successive Governments. The apathy of the political decision makers is indeed pathetic. Our Chamber recently conducted a seminar, with both local and international learned speakers, including the State sector, and the general consensus was that the Kelani River should be dammed and the water diverted to Reservoirs, both, upstream and downstream at Kithulgala and Avissawella. In addition, as the water reaches Colombo District, a similar concept should be adopted by pumping the water to a reservoir at a higher elevation or to existing lakes, or other suitable select locations. Similarly, solutions must be adapted to the Kalu Ganga flooding. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, they have a massive tunnel carrying flood water, and links it to several lakes and conserves the water. During dry months, the tunnel is used as an underground road to ease traffic. In Japan, huge volumes of water is stored underground. The other countries have similar concepts, and Sri Lanka should follow such examples.

However, the irony is, while the South of Sri Lanka has flooding and excess water, resulting in at least 75 % of the water being pumped or directed to the sea, during the same period, the North experiences severe drought. Therefore, the ideal scenario, is to have a mechanism of directing excess water from the South to the North, and vice versa. It can be done, but as in the case of Japan, it is an expensive solution, but, in the long term, it is viable as water will be available for both drinking and agricultural purposes. Consequently, the health of the people and prosperity will prevail.

The Water Supply and Drainage Board has predicted that between 2025 and 2030 there will be a water shortage in the Megapolis area, i.e., Gampaha, Colombo and Kalutura Districts. Therefore, to meet this challenge, it is vital that the solutions mentioned above are speedily implemented.

Minister Ranawaka claims, there are around 1,800 unauthorized structures between Bambalapitiya and Dehiwala. Some projects obtain approval for a lesser number of floors, but, construct several more floors above the limit. They also build on Land Reservations. The danger is that some of these structures are nonetheless being constructed, currently.

Expressways

There is no Regulatory Body to check ongoing projects, (particularly by Informal Developers), to ensure that construction is done in accordance with approved Plans, the quality of material used, method of construction and whether it is within accepted norms and standards. Therefore, before more disasters happen, the relevant State authorities should take appropriate action.

The anticipated expenditure on Construction Projects announced by the Government and Private Sector is Rs 6,500 bn during 2016 to 2020, and the estimated workforce, one million. The shortfall at present, is 400,000.The training institutions are unable to attract youth to fill the gap. Therefore, the Government should conduct a wide publicity campaign to attract young school-leavers and others within the working age group to join the Construction Industry workforce, as it is much more remunerative than any other sector.

In the interim, the Government has approved recruitment of 2,500 workers from Nepal and Myanmar. The main reason for the shortfall, is due to the prevailing unprecedented boom in the Construction Industry. In addition, the Industry has transformed itself from the traditional forms of construction, to innovative areas of specialties, using new technology.

For example, Piling and Diaphragm Walling, Fabricating, Welding, Earth Retaining Structures, Post Tensioning, related to Construction and Finishing Materials, Air Conditioning, Aluminium and UPVC Door and Window fabrication, Solar, Communication and Security Systems all require separate specialized teams of labour. Consequently, the numbers have increased.

As continuity of employment can be assured for at least the next 20 – 30 years, in the interim to bridge the skills gap it would be necessary to import labour to meet demands for the next 5 -10 years. The Government should therefore, have a short / medium term strategy, and authorize Developer / Contractor to import their necessary labour requirements.

Sand supply critical for Construction Industry.

Due to the ban of river sand harvesting, the cost of sand has increased from Rs 15,000/- per cube to Rs 18,000/- per cube, and would increase in the future.

This will affect particularly, the domestic house builders. The CCI is in a position to immediately commence sea sand sourcing, washing and sieving the sand and make it ready for marketing. The CCI will partner with leading contractors, with a view to making the use of sea sand safe and available in large quantities to meet the current demand at a reduced cost. Unfortunately, due to the monopoly by state agencies, no tangible solutions are forthcoming.

The Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation, (SLLRDC), which commenced supply of sea sand a few years back is still not mechanically washing and sieving the sea sand. As a result, many Consultants and Contractors are hesitant to recommend this sand due to the uncertainty of its quality.

The CCI therefore requests Government’s intervention to allocate a 50 - 100 acre site, from Muthurajawela, as given to SLLRDC or alternatively, a suitable land for sand harvesting between Colombo and Puttalam.

FTA with China, Singapore, India

Regarding the FTA with China, Singapore and India, the CCI is pleased, as its benefit to the Industry and to the country would be enormous. According to the Head of the Negotiation Team of FTAs , Dr Saman Kalegama, there will be no agreement signed with any of the countries until Regulations are in place to protect the interests of all, the Chambers and the Construction Industry, in particular.

Anti - Dumping

The CCI welcomes the finalization of the Anti-Dumping Law which Industrialists have agitated for a long period. However, CCI is concerned by the delay in gazetting the Rules and Regulations necessary to implement the provisions in the Construction Industry Development Act, No. 33 of 2014 and also important amendments needed to regulate the Industry. It will be a disaster to liberalize the Construction Sector without any Rules and Regulations.

The Government and the public at large need to recognize the key issues highlighted in this Article. Their futures may depend on a sustainable construction sector. 

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