Mega projects: Local companies should be given preference say experts | Sunday Observer

Mega projects: Local companies should be given preference say experts


Construction sector experts firmly advocate that local companies should be given preference in carrying out mega development projects and that importing foreign labour is not a solution for the shortage of construction workers in the country.

Experts regret to note that certain construction related bodies have resorted to importing foreign labour as a panacea for the dearth of workers in the sector.

An expert in the construction sector said that around 35,000 to 40,000 construction craftsmen are currently needed for around 8,000 sites.

Major Constructors of Sri Lanka (MCSL), an association comprising leading construction companies states that local construction companies should be considered over foreign construction companies for the strategic mega projects as mobilization of local companies has distinct advantages over their counter parts in many facets.

“Our local companies are able to master the synergies to obtain money from local banks or foreign banks and do the strategic mega construction projects on public-private partnership (PPP) basis,” a MCSL official said.

MCSL notes that a mega water supply project in the South has been awarded to a foreign company using local funds.

MCSL CEO Madura Wijeyewickrema said that there are local companies quite capable of doing these projects.

Attempts made to award low cost houses in the North and East to an Indian company based in France is a case in point. Pressure exerted by stakeholders prevented the unscrupulous proposal of providing unsuitable houses as per the climatic conditions to people in the North and East. The anomaly was rectified by the government with instruction given to construct conventional houses, which are preferred by people of North and East.

With regard to the shortage of construction workers MCSL has initiated programs to programs to train youth for more lucrative employment in the construction sector rather than engaging in trishaw driving which very unproductive to the economy.

However the response of youth has been unsatisfactory according to the MCSL. Former CEO of the Chamber of Construction Industry Sri Lanka Dakshitha Thalagodapitiya said that importing foreign labour is not a means to address the shortage of workers in the construction sector. With a well structured National Vocational Qualification Framework with necessary administrative mechanisms in place such as the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC), the Vocational Training Authority of Sri Lanka (VTA) and the National Apprentice and Training (NAITA) being created over decades ago to train construction craftsmen in the country there is no need to re-invent the wheel.

He said with the government looking at private public partnerships as panacea for the ills in the private and public sector a dialogue should be initiated between the public sector training institutes, industry association such as the Chamber of construction Industry, the National Contractors Association and the Ceylon Institute of Builders to come together with their stakeholders to create a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to promote, undertake classroom training and on the job training facilities.

“Construction contractors while providing on the job training facilities should also guarantee employment to trainees on securing the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) which will make them eligible to obtain bank loan facilities during the period of training. To render the construction industry as an attractive sector to the youth the SPV should have the participation of the Foreign Employment Bureau and the Foreign Employment Agents from the private sector,” Thalagodapitiya said.

Sector experts also noted that with construction craftsmen being in short supply and no meaningful steps being taken by successive governments and industry associations in the recent past what is needed is a multifaceted approach in terms of providing training, financing facilities and local and foreign employment opportunities.

“Training must be taken to the door step of the trainee. Village level organisations such as temples, community halls and other underutilized buildings and infrastructure could be used to offer classroom training which will be dearer and nearer to the targeted trainees,” Thalagodapitiya said.

He said there is no doubt the image of the industry needs continuous upgrading. Construction workers welfare and security must be assured with regular payments and payment of EPF and ETF. It is unfortunate that many industry stakeholders attaché least importance to occupational health safety.

Construction sector officials also noted that a large number of foreign contractors undertaking construction subcontracts in an informal manner receiving payments in local currency. Such anti national operations must be looked into by the authorities as they not only pose a threat to the industry but also to the national security.