Proved at international forA:
Lanka among the top in construction industry
The Construction industry is one of the key industries that can put
any country on the fast track of development. For the past three decades
in which Sri Lanka was engulfed in a conflict situation what we witness
was not a developing construction industry but a dying industry in the
face of terrorism. Many efforts were taken not to construct but to
protect many of our structures such as bridges, roads and other
infrastructure facilities. But the end of the war in May 2009 has paved
the way for the construction industry to bounce back and catch up with
what they have missed for the past three decades. For the past three
years it has shown tremendous progress and has become a major
contributor for the economic development of the country.
Secretary to the Ministry of Construction, Engineering Services,
Housing and Common Amenities Gotabaya Jayaratna joined the Sunday
Observer to discuss about the fast growing construction industry of the
country and its benefits and future challenges.
Following are the excerpts of the interview:
Q: After the end of the war the entire land mass in the country was
free for development activities. Out of them the construction industry
took an important place to lead the country towards prosperity. Can you
explain the current position of the construction industry in Sri Lanka
and its contribution to the economic growth of the country?
A: In the year 2011 the second highest sector of growth is the
construction industry. The tourism sector has shown a 30 per cent
growth. Economic growth of the country in the last three quarters of the
year 2011 is 8.3 and based on that details those are the areas which
have made maximum contribution to the GDP.
The leading is the tourism sector with 30 per cent contribution and
the second highest is the construction industry with 17.3 per cent . It
has shown a tremendous growth after last ten years. Actually, it shows
the importance of the construction sector. If we take the economic
infrastructure development it really shows the real potential for the
When allocating resources for each sector by the Government, the
construction industry should have been given more priority, because it
makes employment generation, it makes the balance development of the
country, and it shows the level of development.
If we take infrastructure development of the country, it facilitates
to expedite the development of the economy. Therefore , it becomes an
investment but not a recurrent expenditure. Investment means we are
gaining more for the country in every aspects.
After 64 years of Independence, we are giving more priority for the
relief based programs, specially for the poverty alleviation programs.
But if we think about the future, may be ten years, if we invest more
for the construction sector it will support the economic development of
the country tremendously.
Q: The Ministry of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and
Common Amenities is the key Ministry handling the construction industry
in the country. How is your Ministry handling the affairs of the
construction industry while keeping an eye on the industry as a whole?
A: The national responsibility on construction industry has been
assigned to the Ministry of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing
and Common Amenities. One of our major responsibilities is to give our
fullest coorporation for the country to maintain economic development
instead of construction.
The next thing is the construction sector which has been more or less
contributed by the private sector. All the construction associations,
all the contractors and even the provincial contractors amounting to
more than 5,000 have been engaged in this sector all over the country.
Most of them have taken Institution for Construction Training and
Development (ICTAD) registration which is a major criteria to maintain
the qualities and standards of the construction industry. That is a
must. This qualification is essential for those entitled for the
At the moment we are developing the Construction Industry Development
Authority. That has now been discussed under Cabinet sub-committee.
Construction Industry Development Authority is based on Construction
Development Industry Act. This mainly focuses on regulating the
construction industry. This is going to be formed as a regulatory body
for the construction industry for both government sector and private
Q: Establishment of permanent peace, I think is the key factor for
the construction industry to see such higher growth. Other than that
what are the key factors that have contributed for the construction
A: More than 5,000 contractors are engaged in this sector. They are
really based on government construction as well as private sector
construction. All the big companies based on foreign aid are already
engaged in Sri Lanka now.
The National Planning Department and Finance Ministry and even the
BOI has allowed them to invest in Sri Lanka. Based on that situation the
biggest contractors are engaged in Sri Lanka. At the same time
international reports are highlighting Sri Lanka as a very good country
to invest within Asia. Business ranking has also compared to earlier
situation and stated we are now in a higher rank. In the construction
industry we are in a better position. Based on these data it has been
proved at the international level, Sri Lanka is a very good country to
invest in the construction industry under the current situation. Sri
Lanka is ranked 102 out of 183 countries in business ranking. Even in
starting a business Sri Lanka is maintaining the 34th place, according
to Central Bank Report 2010.
These data shows that we are in a good situation. This kind of
situation actually supported the international community to come into
In the meantime, the government economic policy has also given more
priority for the construction industry in Sri Lanka. Especially our
corporations under our Ministry SEC SD&CC State Engineering Corporation
, State Development and Construction Corporation, together have invested
more than Rs.15 billion for major constructions in Sri Lanka. This is
based on the government projects.
Even private corporations have invested big amounts for the
construction industry, specially for the construction of hotel industry,
housing construction and also for constructions for the infrastructure
based Ministries such as Health, Education . They have spent billions of
rupees to ensure the basic facilities for the people in the country.
Q: What are the direct and indirect benefits to the country due to
the fast growing construction industry in Sri Lanka?
A: These projects have generated employment opportunities for Sri
Lanka and they have strengthened the skilled human resources in the
country as it always require skilled human resource like engineering
capacity, and skilled craftsmen like carpentry.
Tremendous opportunities are made available in the country after a
long time. Otherwise they had to go to middle East countries as
labourers. Now they have a very good industry, for them to have
employment in their mother country. Compared to other industries they
get much higher salaries because all the contractors are happy to pay
them and even in the remote areas it is very difficult to get labourers.
The Government has also increased the salaries and allowances
specially for the engineering skilled personnel. In this budget too the
Finance Ministry has increased the allowance by 15 per cent for the
Government engineers to ensure that they work with Government. Because
the private sector companies pay high salaries for the engineers, it is
very difficult to get them to the government sector.
Q: How does the Ministry work towards getting a skilled labour force
and qualified people for the construction industry to meet the demand?
A: Having worked in collaboration with the Vocational Training
Ministry we have given so much priority to provide National Vocational
Qualification certificate that is internationally accepted to train the
skilled personnel to make use for the construction industry.
At the moment we have great difficulty in identifying skilled
personnel to the construction industry. We even have collaboration
programs with the international agencies.
ICTAD, has given priority to train more than 7,500 skilled personnel
last year. But still we need skilled personnel for the construction
industry. When they pay a bigger salary they maintain a high level of
economic development because they reached the middle level income group
in the society.
Q: Development of the road network is a fast moving sector in the
construction industry. How will this benefit the country and its masses
as a whole in its march towards prosperity?
A: After independence now we see a well developed road network in Sri
Lanka, because we didn't have such opportunity in Sri Lanka. Within the
past three years after the war, the government has given much priority
for the development of roads.
The Economic Development Ministry has given much priority for this
and billions of money has been allocated for the highways and road
development. Not only that, the rural and provincial road development
has also been given priority by the Government.
The road sector as the fast moving programs in the construction
industry has all the activities of development. It is carrying forward
all development programs forward and enable the people to move fast. As
a result all economic activities get faster because of the low cost. The
wastage is also very minimal. Whatever they earn they can make use of.
If we take Dambulla as an example, they produce and bring vegetables
from Dambulla to Pettah during the transportation. In the past there was
a lot of wastage. Now it is not happening. Within a few hours they can
reach Colombo and the time waste is so low and fuel and other
operational cost is very low because of the well developed
In the meantime, physical features of a country is also quite good
for the country. When we assess development, we normally get roads as
one of the main development indicators to maintain the level of
development of a country.
When the country is developed a well maintained road network shows
the level of development. Now more or less the entire country has
recovered and in the next five years the government has planned to
establish another two or three highways. Kandy Highway, Trincomalee,
Puttalam and the highways have been planned and they have already been
started. Because of that the investors are coming. A lot of investments
have been gone to the peripheries without confining them to Colombo.
Q: There is very big competition among the contractors. In this
process maintaining quality constructions has also become a challenging
part. What kind of mechanism is put in place to maintain the quality and
the standards in the construction industry?
A: Yes, there is a very big competition among the contractors to get
contracts. Quality-wise they all are maintaining good standards. Even
though the standards are maintained by the ICTAD, the University of
Moratuwa, Peradeniya and Ruhuna Engineering Faculties and other
professional institutions are giving support to maintain the standards.
That is already there. Standard Institution is there. The well developed
professional agencies like Engineering Institute, Architects Institute,
and professional bodies are also supporting them. That is happening
automatically as they are happy to maintain the qualities and standards.
Private sector institutions have been developed like that but not like
earlier. To maintain the competition to get more contracts they maintain
the quality and standard.
Q: Major local and international contractors are engaged in many
construction projects in Sri Lanka. What are the benefits that we can
reach through their presence in Sri Lanka and how is the Ministry
encouraging the key players in the construction industry?
A: This is a very good industry that makes money. Very big
contractors have maintained a healthy economic situation now. Not only
in Sri Lanka but they do all over the world. Some of our Sri Lankan
construction agencies are not doing construction in Sri Lanka but within
Asia they are active. Companies like MAGA, SIERRA have brought
international knowledge to Sri Lanka. The government is not in a
position to bring international knowledge. These companies pay higher
salaries and they hire internationally skilled personnel and also they
bring technology to Sri Lanka. The construction industry really depends
on the technological development. All the people are happy to join the
modern era. Modern era means the new technology they have adopted. With
that knowledge also our engineering personnel develop their capacity not
fitting to the Sri Lankan standards but fitting to the international
They use more IT. They use computers and information technology to
design buildings and it also support them to minimise the cost and
wastage. This is quite good for the industry and also for the country's
economic development. Our responsibility of the Ministry is to maintain
the standards and qualities in the industry, maintain coordination among
the private sector and private sector corporation and professional
bodies, universities and with other agencies. In the meantime we do
share our experience and give government leadership to create very good
While we are felicitating we allow them to develop the industry. In
the meantime we have developed construction policies and we are allowing
the private sector to move as soon as possible to the industry. In the
meantime we do our collaboration with professional agencies and
Then we allow intellectual people to give more support to the
construction industry. Now there are hardly more small contractors in
Sri Lanka because contractors are getting bigger and it need biggest
support to the economy. Because of that it has been developed to fit
into the international standards. Then we are giving fullest support to
Q: When our construction industry is growing so fast don't you make
any effort to bring back Sri Lankan experts in the construction industry
employed in the middle East to Sri Lanka?
A: Now it is happening. It has been started. Now they can have a
higher income than they have been earning in the middle east. Even
engineers get ample opportunities to more salaried jobs in Sri Lanka.
Q: If we talk about the post conflict situation in the country how
does the North and East areas benefit from the growing construction
A: At the very first stage, the government has given priority to
establish the road network in the North and East and the basic
infrastructure. Now they are almost completed in the North and East than
in the southern part of the country. Public feeling is that the North
and East is getting larger benefits than the people in the South. That
is natural because the Government was forced to go there.
It is happening now. Almost the entire area there is well established
with road network and bridges. Even after 34 years and 44 years after
independence we didn't see such huge bridges in the Northern and Eastern
part of the country. Now basic things have been established and the only
thing now is housing construction which sector is also developing now.
In the Eastern part of the country we see the biggest development in
the tourism industry. All the biggest tourist companies have taken over
the lands and the hotels are being constructed now.
The areas facing the sea in the Eastern province is so valuable for
the tourism industry. Now actually the biggest construction boom is
going in that area. Because of that, there is a shortage of labourers
and shortage of skilled labourers.
They have taken to the North. Very recently in Ampara they have
caught one Indian person who had come to Sri Lanka taking tourist visa
and he has been working there as a machine operator. That type of
opportunities are there in the East because opportunities are there.
Q: Does that mean do we need to get labourers for the construction
industry from South India or any other country?
A: No. We are not going for that. Our skilled and unskilled labourers
are there in the middle east.
They have gone to the middle east due to economic difficulties. Now
over 1.5 million are employed there. There is a better situation in the
country and they can come back. Now it is gradually happening. But in
the meantime all the youth male and female are happy to join for the
employments in the construction industry.
Q: For a fast growing construction industry we need building
material. How do we manage to get those building material and control
the quality of the material?
A: The qualities are maintained by the ICTAD and Sri Lanka Standard
Institution. When the construction industry is growing, we need building
We are importing iron and cement the key material for the industry.
Q: When the construction industry is growing so fast, there will be
problems unless there is proper planning in the construction industry.
How does your Ministry tackle this situation?
A: Based on economic infrastructure development the President has
declared the national physical development plan for the next 20 years
That also effected to the growth of the construction industry. After
Independence we had not developed a national physical development plan.
Now it is already there.
It is expected to maintain the integration development of Sri Lanka.
It is also very clear path for the development process in the country.
It is actually done by the National Physical Planning Department in our
Ministry guided by Minister Wimal Weerawansa and National Operational
Committee headed by the President.
Q: Are there plans to produce much demanded building material locally
and introduce low cost construction technology?
A: Already such things are being done by the Coast Conservation
Department to use the sea sand for the construction industry.
In the meantime we are introducing low cost technology. Because our
corporation SEC and SD&CC having collaboration with the Moratuwa
University try to develop low cost construction technology, because we
can't afford the existing construction methods. 2500 years ago we had
very good construction system in this country.
One is low cost housing construction technology and the other one is
the green building system to make it open for the air and open for the