Coronavirus impedes lanka’s construction projects | Sunday Observer

Coronavirus impedes lanka’s construction projects

Nissanka Wijeratne
Nissanka Wijeratne

The impact of the deadly coronavirus on Chinese funded and collaborated construction projects such as the Port City and high rise apartments is minimal as many Chinese nationals decided to skip the new year vacation to complete work on projects, officials managing the projects said.

CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd., Manager, Sales and Marketing, Shajeeth Majumudeen said there is no hindrance from the disease to the work on the Port City Project as most Chinese employees did not take their New Year holidays except for a handful who have returned to the country having followed protocol.

“This year is a crucial time for the Port City project as the sales and marketing campaign has been launched to get investments for the project which is now open for investors,” Majumudeen said. Land reclamation on the project was completed early last year and the underground infrastructure which is currently being built will be completed by 2021.

“We appreciate the support extended by the Chinese employees who sacrificed their holidays to meet deadlines of the project which is due to be completed by 2041,” Majumudeen said.

According to construction sector officials, most of those who had left the country for the Chinese New Year are managerial level employees who have returned to the country having followed the protocol on quarantine.

Rough estimates reveal that over 100,000 Chinese nationals are employed in the local construction sector.

The Chamber of Construction Industry, Sri Lanka (CCISL) Secretary General/CEO Nissanka Wijeratne said the shortfall of Chinese workers had to be bridged by local workers who demand the same salary offered to Chinese employees. This has turned out to be a problem for local construction companies.

A Chinese construction sector worker draws a monthly salary of around US$ 1,000 which comes to around Rs. 183,000 according to the current exchange rate. Indian and Bangladesh workers are paid around US$ 500 which is around Rs.100,000.

‘The construction sector still prefers to employ Chinese nationals as they do not waste time and are more skilled than local workers,” Wijeratne said.

However, the pressing issue according to construction sector officials is the sourcing of construction material from China which has been hampered due to the killer virus having a crippling effect on the manufacturing sector.

Sri Lanka depends heavily on China for timber doors, timber flooring, water meters, bus bars, light fittings, lift interiors, PVC pipes and fittings, tiles, geysers, pantry units, fire hose reels and ACMV diffusers, water hummer arrestors, artificial timber deck, marble , pool tile equipment and kitchen hobs and hoods.

“China which is the global factory has dominated the market for these products for years and has been the supplier to Sri Lanka over the years,” Wijeratne said, adding that the impact of the disease has brought work on sites to a halt.

Construction sector personnel said Sri Lanka manufactures PVC pipes but it is not sufficient to meet the needs, which has to be met by imports from China. Sri Lanka’s total annual imports from China accounts for around US$ 4 billion according to estimates.

The delay in supplying construction material will boost construction cost and workers’ payments.

“The problem will be further aggravated if the Government delays in making the 50 percent outstanding payment to companies which undertook state sector projects last year,’ a constructions sector official said.

The Construction Chamber has presented proposals to the President to address issues such as the unfair competition from foreign consultancy and construction companies, lack of workload, factors affecting multi storeyed apartments and office development, delay in planning approvals, cash flow problems due to delayed or non payment for work done, dearth of construction workers, promoting export of construction services, supply of crushed rock, earth and sand for construction projects, setting up Real Estate Investments Trusts under the Colombo Stock Exchange and making government procurement more transparent.

“Local construction and consultancy companies are at a tremendous disadvantage when competing with foreign consultants and construction companies due to many incentives offered by their governments such as access to bank facilities. We have called upon the President to limit all state construction work to local consultants and construction companies,” Wijeratne said.

The CCISL in its proposals had urged the President to take swift action to address the shortfall of construction workers which is around 350,000.

“The construction industry estimated the need for around one million workers in 2016 based on projects to come but currently there are only around 650,000 workers. The gap has to be met by importing foreign workers,” Wijeratne said.

The average number of those passing out annually from NVQ Level three in the basic construction skill program such as bar benders, carpenters, electricians is around 2,000 where as the need is 20,000 per annum.

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