Can our professionals develop it?
By Sellakapu S. Upasiri de Silva
(Chartered Quantity Surveyor, Chartered Project Manager and Construction
Chartered Engineer Tudor Munasinghe, a committee member of the Chamber
of Construction Industry in Sri Lanka while briefing the press has
expressed the Chamber of Construction Industry's opinion that the
Sri Lankan Government, construction professionals and the construction
industry are not ready to undertake infrastructure development in
Sri Lanka with the (expected) funds from the Donor Conference in
Tokyo. This may be an honest but damaging admission by the Chamber
of Construction Industry. The inability of our construction professionals
and organisations responsible for developing and sustaining the
construction industry, such as ICTAD, CCI and the seat of higher
learning should take full responsibility for this misfortune.
working in the construction industry (those who work in Sri Lanka
and overseas) may disagree with this very damaging conclusion of
the capabilities of a once proud profession by one of its own. The
inability of the Chamber to convince the government reflects very
badly on their capabilities. Sri Lankans are capable of undertaking
any infrastructure development; if they are entrusted with the task
of planning and executing the work from its inception. It is not
mandatory to spend one billion dollars per year, but the investors
may seek results within a shorter period, as they are eager to get
very handsome returns for their money. In negotiating these funds,
the Sri Lankan government should insist on engaging Sri Lankans
(in-house or expatriate Lankans) to plan and execute these development
projects, as the Sri Lankan taxpayers are responsible for settling
some of these loans.
The BOI must
have a special committee of highly skilled technical professionals
(if not in place) to evaluate these proposals and analyse the cost
implications of all development work before any approval is given
to eliminate excessive 'cost hiding' within these projects.
invest on infrastructure development will always give financial
benefits to any construction company of their own to tender for
these projects. So local construction companies are prevented from
winning any of these contracts unless the Sri Lankan government
provides some incentives to the locals to meet the international
contractors on an equal basis.
If the Sri Lankan
government is keen to assist Sri Lankan contractors and consultants
and help them to get these development projects, the government
should allow a preference system over the international consultants
and contractors by offering the locals a cash inducement (not a
cash advance from the contract) for keeping the money at home and
for employing Sri Lankans. This is a very successful method used
in many developing countries. In most African countries they provide
a preference system to their own contractors over foreigners to
prevent double dipping into the poor man's breadbasket.
The LTTE may
or may not take part in the Donor Conference in Tokyo if the UNF
government does not meet their demand for an interim administration.
They may buckle under the heavy pressure exerted by foreign powers
such as USA, Japan, India, Norway and the EU but even without the
LTTE the Donor Conference may go ahead as planned. The big question
Mr. Munasinghe raised was, would it be possible for the Sri Lankan
Government and the LTTE to undertake the necessary infrastructure
development to meet the expectations of the donor countries.
LTTE is already planning and assembling its construction professionals
from the "Tamil Diaspora" around the world. Is the Sri
Lankan government assembling the troops to undertake these infrastructure
Mr. Munasinghe purposely may have avoided discussing the
development capacity of the LTTE, the (so-called) partners in development
who should share the booty with the Sri Lankan government if we
can achieve peace. The big question for planners will be, are they
going to be equal partners or will they get a larger share of the
booty through the Sri Lankan government? Does the LTTE have the
capacity to undertake these development projects as equal partners
with the Sri Lankan government? A very knowledgeable Tamil expatriate
who works in the construction field with a very good insight into
the way the LTTE operates, believes that the LTTE may face more
daunting problems than the Sri Lankan government in handling these
They may have
to import most construction professionals and planners from their
expatriate population (Tamil Diaspora) living and working in the
Western world. Will the best be willing to leave their comfortable
homes for the jungles of Wanni? Some Tamil expatriates are already
in Sri Lanka working with the present UNF government with the blessing
of a senior bureaucrat. It is a (well) known fact among moderate
Tamils that most development experts in the LTTE are only namesake
experts without any real experience in large-scale development projects.
the LTTE may also fail to undertake these development projects without
the co-operation of the Sri Lankan government, even though, for
the last few years, six construction companies belonging to the
LTTE have undertaken construction work in Sri Lanka. Mr. Jay Maheswaran,
the present Economic Adviser to the LTTE, is a resident of Melbourne
(Australia) and he holds qualifications in agriculture. But for
the LTTE he is an expert in economics. So he may not be the real
Economic Adviser to the LTTE, but he may be able to bring his and
others' experience to advise the LTTE in all aspects of development
economics. Will this affect the administration of the funds we may
receive from the international community? Not if they get their
way and establish an interim administration.
Mr. Munasinghe stated that our past records indicate that
the construction professionals, especially the engineers who control
the industry, the Sri Lankan Government and the construction contractors
were able to spend only 15 percent of the funds allocated. He hid
the true facts and placed the blame on a high level of budgetary
allocation (by the successive governments) for not providing the
allocated donor funds. What a fallacy! If he is right what was the
Chamber of Construction Industry doing? What are they trying to
do to upgrade the construction industry in Sri Lanka and train the
There is an
urgent need to re-organize and re-model the construction industry
especially the procurement system, so as to meet the modern management
methods that can save billions of rupees for the Sri Lankan government
and the Sri Lankan construction professionals. For many years the
construction industry has been criticised for its perceived inability
to innovate and its slow adaptation of new technology and modern
management methods. Engineers control the construction industry
in Sri Lanka. They failed to advise respective governments since
1958, and to change the procurement system to achieve the maximum
output from donor funds.
While Sri Lankan
professionals were refusing to evoke changes, in the UK in particular,
(where many of our engineers and other professionals were trained),
there has been a seemingly endless procession of reports and enquiries
about "Controlling the upward spiral; Construction performance
and cost in UK" with the aim of improving the performance of
the development process. When all other Western and Third World
countries were developing ways to control cost and performance in
the construction industry, we in Sri Lanka were holding to the age-old
construction methods and other systems as our engineers were afraid
to introduce changes to the system as they may lose control of the
Good infrastructure development is said to be a key to
attract investors. Unfortunately this theory does not hold water,
as most investors are eager to maximise their profits and will go
to any lengths to make their money grow. We do not have to worry
about getting investors to Sri Lanka, as the main concern of most
investors is to get a good return from their capital than the terrain
in which they are going to invest.
It is true;
we need a high-speed rail network, optical fibre cable network to
operate our telecommunication system, and mass transit system to
transport people and a very good sewerage system for the country.
These facilities are what businessmen are willing to invest in as
the returns on all these are the best. We have to develop these
facilities with the funds we are going to get from these investors.
If all these facilities are available in Sri Lanka then the "economic
investors" will embark with their projects to earn money and
exploit the environment and the people of Sri Lanka. The donors
who come to Sri Lanka to develop the infrastructure of the country
always try to get a better return for their money. They will invest
billions but they need results. Other than this they have no interest
about the project formulation. As we are the recipients of the funds
they may insist on restrictions but good negotiators may be able
to overcome all these restrictions by providing them value for their
methods used in Sri Lanka are cumbersome and outdated. Most Sri
Lankan professionals as well as the Treasury officials are not so
familiar with the procurement system. The misunderstandings of the
procurement system hinder all our construction work and create corruption
among all the people connected with any given project. Our construction
professionals allow defective contract documents in procurement
contracts thus creating variations and corruption among all those
people connected with the project.
professionals in Sri Lanka are not familiar in dealing with international
or foreign construction contractors to achieve high quality cost
effective projects within time. Most of the projects we completed
during the last decade cost excessively as most of our professionals
were unable to administer a contract properly and safeguard the
Most bureaucrats and construction professionals all over
the world are poor in decision-making. In the construction industry
any delay in making a decision will cost the client very dearly
as a day's delay may mean one week's delay on site. The bureaucrats
and all other construction professionals are afraid to take decisions,
because they are afraid to lose face among subordinates if they
are proved wrong as they are not thorough with their work. Those
people who are not technically thorough with their work and not
capable of thinking ahead will not even attempt to take a decision
and will keep passing the buck. If you don't take a decision you
will never know whether you are right or wrong. If your decision
is wrong then you can take appropriate action to correct your mistake.
taken by top-notch engineers who served the Sri Lankan government
were atrocious and forced some projects to be abandoned costing
million of rupees to the poor taxpayer. These senior engineers are
treated as national icons (even now) and construction geniuses,
and the truth was hidden from the general public. Two of these projects
are: - Abandonment of the construction work of the proposed mail
Sorting Office (near Fort Railway Station - now the site is use
for the night market). Decision to abandon a site investigation
for the Samanalawewa dam project (after shifting the position of
the dam), thus creating a leaking dam. All these bad decisions or
poor judgement by some senior engineers cost the Sri Lankan government
millions of rupees.
a very critical issue and without delegation it is not possible
to run the construction industry efficiently. We delegate work to
other colleagues and subordinates to enable them to work efficiently.
Over delegation or under delegation will kill the idea of delegation,
as over delegation will make the person carrying out the delegated
work frustrated as he is not in a position to complete the goals
set out by the employer. Under delegation will make the person waste
his time, as he does not have enough work to keep him fully occupied.
Such delegation should be done with great care and the person delegated
with work should have the authority to carry out the work.
investors look for a good return and at the same time try to help
the recipients in the long run. Most BOOT/BOT projects are coming
into the country with the approval of the BOI. It is advisable to
have feasibility studies completed before these projects are advertised.
I have discussed with some leading developers about the Mass Transport
System. But they were afraid to undertake the work, as they were
not sure what the Sri Lankan government was looking to improve.
We are struggling to get investors to the country, but we do not
prepare the path to attract them. We should establish the actual
requirements through a feasibility study or a client brief before
we get these investors. If we do so we may be able to check these
investors properly for the good of the people in our country. I
was involved in a few BOOT projects from the investor's end and
the regulatory body was so strict we spent much time before we got
As suggested by Mr. Munasinghe it is very essential for
the government to take appropriate steps to establish an authority
to undertake infrastructure development at the earliest with suitably
qualified technical people, even borrowing from other organisations
(UN or CFTC) or from the expatriate community. This authority should
have the bipartisan support of the President and the Prime Minister.
If we delay this we will delay the implementation of the infrastructure
The IDA should
be established under an Act of Parliament with all the checks to
prevent any corruption. The authority should be under a Director
General who can command a high level of knowledge in the construction
industry and understand the cost, time and quality constraints necessary
to deliver projects on time.
The authority will be able to resolve some of the development problems
raised by the LTTE.
The MD and the
senior staff in the IDA should be able to prepare proposals for
international investors highlighting how we are going to use the
diverse cultures (Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and other groups)
of all Sri Lankans to deliver these projects meeting the client's
service requirements within the cost, time and quality framework.
How are we going to benchmark the design and the construction process?
The methods used to achieve Total Quality Management while securing
the goodwill of partners using partnering methods.
construction management levels are the standards most foreign investors
are looking for and expect from the consultants undertaking these
development projects. If we are not in a position to impress the
donors with the new management techniques and our knowledge in completing
these projects to their satisfaction then we lose their trust.