‘Most projects undertaken during the past regime entertained as unsolicited proposals’

Although many construction projects were undertaken during the past regime there has been no transfer of new technology to the country, a construction industry expert and past CEO and Secretary General of the Chamber of Construction Industry, Daksitha Thalagodapitiya said.

He said while many of the projects were executed by foreign contractors, local construction companies were provided little opportunity to undertake projects in an environment where there was no level playing field.

Most projects were entertained on the basis of unsolicited proposals.

“While there is a visible reduction in construction activity to what extent it has affected the economy needs an in-depth valuation,” Thalagodapitiya said.

The cost of construction has not been monitored. In many projects in the road and urban renewal sectors, the engineer’s estimates have been exceeded often beyond comprehension.

Most projects have been funded by financial institutions such as the Exim Bank of China outside donor agencies.

Construction activities in the conflict affected areas were also undertaken by organisations outside these regions.

More often than not, people who were affected by the conflict were not the beneficiaries. The Government of the day did not look at inclusive development.

Most construction projects even those funded by multilateral development banks were awarded to contractors who were not qualified to undertake such projects. Irrigation projects in the North and the North Central Province were undertaken by contractors who hardly had any irrigation experience eventually resulting in project delays, low quality work and deployment of a large number of sub contractors.

He said the Institute of Construction Training and Development (ICTAD) gradings were lopsided and the construction industry gradings have been awarded to companies which hardly employed 25 workers.

ICTAD did not benefit the construction industry in regularisation, training and development for which purpose it was set up during the time of President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

It is fervently hoped that the present minister will resurrect the agency set up by his late father. Construction labour has been predominantly provided by labour contractors and it is quite prominent in the informal sector which has to be formalised to facilitate accrual of decent employment benefits.

Health and safety standards should be maintained and workers should be entitled to EPF and ETF and terminal benefits. Construction workers are exposed to many health hazards in a country which extensively uses asbestos roofing material. Worker welfare and medical facilities should be made available.

The construction industry does not attract school leavers. It continues to face labour shortages in spite of a well designed national vocational qualification framework being in place.

“The Government should revisit the national construction policy and take steps to ensure worker welfare to make the industry attractive to youth,” Thalagodapitiya said.

The ministry must ensure that training of contractors is done in a rational manner and errant employers not paying EPF and ETF and worker gratuity must be dealt with severely as a part of good governance which does not permit exploitation of workers and must provide a level playing field for all contractors to compete in an open manner.

Reactivating the national procurement agency, adoption of harmonised procurement procedures of multi-level development banks will instill a degree of confidence and trust in the system. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is critical of the Government for neglecting development by putting a halt to large scale construction projects which is a huge loss to the economy.

The Government stopped many of the projects launched by the previous regime for lack of transparency and due to loans being obtained on high interest rates.