‘Excon 2007’: Building up the Tempo
At the launch event of ‘Excon 2007’, held at the Galle Face Hotel, the glamour element was provided by the Budawatta Dance Troupe. The performers – in their vibrant costumes – infused a liberal dose of feminine grace to the proceedings. It appeared to be a symbolic attempt to bring back a splash of colour to an industry that seemed to have lost some of its allure.
‘Excon 2007’ is the annual trade fair of the Chamber of Construction Industry of Sri Lanka (CCI), which will be held from May 11 to 13. The theme this year is to enhance the capacity and competitiveness of domestic players by eliminating growth impediments. With the predominant presence of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in this industry, their development will also be a focus area.
The CCI has taken a lead role in espousing public-private partnerships in infrastructure development and the fair will help further that cause. The chamber expects over 250 stall-holders at Excon 2007, including prominent suppliers of construction inputs and participants from the SME sector.
Talking to The Sunday Times FT, Dakshitha Thalgodapitiya, the CEO of CCI, said that the chamber had been able to attract sponsorships from Vinci Construction Grands Projets (the French developer of the Colombo – Katunayaka expressway) and Metso Minerals (a New Zealand-based multinational), among others.
Prof. G L Peiris, Minister of Export Development & International Trade was the guest of honour at the launch. He is credited with having paved the way for setting up the Construction Industry Guarantee Fund while he was Deputy Minister of Finance in the previous government. This fund provides financial resources to domestic firms, enabling them to compete with foreign companies.
Prof. Peiris extolled the high calibre of Sri Lanka’s human resources in the contiguous fields of construction and engineering services. He lauded the CCI’s proposal to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the SME Bank for funding of SMEs in the sector. Asking participants to “revamp your conception of exports’, he said, “Go beyond commodities and physical goods… We must export professional services, brain power, talents and strengths. There is a tremendous market for construction and engineering services in Bahrain, Doha and Dubai.”
The construction industry has laboured for long without being under a line ministry. The recent appointment of Dr Rajitha Senaratne, Minister of Construction & Engineering Services and the Chief Guest at the launch, has changed that. Dr Senaratne expressed his intention of working closely with stakeholders.
He also indicated that he would prefer that public-private partnerships to undertake infrastructure projects are entered into with local contractors instead of foreigners. Talking of the foreign exchange earning potential of the industry, Dr Senaratne said, “We must export personnel to be engaged by our own contractors, instead of by foreign contractors.”
Decrying the dearth of construction personnel, he said, “Our youth don’t like to be called ‘mason’ and ‘carpenter’. Give him a uniform; call him ‘Masonry Technician’ or ‘Carpentry Technician’ instead… Give him a certificate to show that he is a qualified person.”
Dr Senaratne indicated that development of new constructions would be a high priority for his ministry. He indicated that he would also try to address the unemployment problem through construction and engineering services.