Sri Lanka’s rapid expansion of construction in several economic sectors now impact millions of people in terms of employment and income. Its corresponding relevance to the country’s economy is the contribution to the GDP, directly and indirectly. Consequently, the Chamber of Construction Industry (CCI) regularly raises its concerns on the key issues which can sustain [...]

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Govt. approves 2500 construction workers from Nepal, Myanmar


Indian workers at a local site. Pic by Amila Gamage

Sri Lanka’s rapid expansion of construction in several economic sectors now impact millions of people in terms of employment and income. Its corresponding relevance to the country’s economy is the contribution to the GDP, directly and indirectly. Consequently, the Chamber of Construction Industry (CCI) regularly raises its concerns on the key issues which can sustain growth by avoiding the pitfalls in policy and in its intrinsic shortfalls.

These comments were made by CCI President Surath Wickramasinghe, speaking at the recent inauguration of the Build SL 2017, held at the BMICH, recently. Given below are excerpts from his presentation:

Solutions to flooding and water shortage between 2025 and 2030 in the Megapolis area

Both are very important and urgent matters and action should be taken immediately to prevent a future crisis.

Year in year out, flooding happens and people’s lives, private property and damage to infrastructure occurs. In 2016, according to the National Disaster Relief Services Centre (NDRSC), 24 out of the 25 districts countrywide were affected by floods and landslides. Approximately, 493,319 people were affected (124-398 families), 93 people died, 33 were injured, and 117 were missing. In 2017, in the recent flood, 23,000 houses were damaged, 70,000 acres of land destroyed, 213 dead and 77 are missing.

However, this situation is not considered a priority by successive Governments. In fact, it is pathetic, the apathy of the political decision-makers. Our chamber recently conducted a seminar, with both learned local and international speakers including from the state sector and the general consensus was that the Kelani River should be dammed and the water diverted to reservoirs both upstream and downstream at Kithulgala and Avissawella. In addition, as the water reaches the Colombo district, a similar concept should be adopted by pumping the water to a reservoir at a higher elevation or to existing lakes, or other suitable select locations. Similarly, solutions must be adapted to the Kalu Ganga flooding.

In Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, they have a massive tunnel, carrying the flood water which links on to several lakes and conserves the water. During the dry months, the tunnel is used as an underground road to ease the traffic. In Japan, huge volumes of water is stored underground. The other countries have similar concepts and Sri Lanka should follow such examples.

Ironically while southern Sri Lanka has floods and excess water, resulting in at least 75 per cent of the water being pumped or directed to the sea, at the same time there is a severe drought in the North. Therefore, the ideal scenario, is to have a mechanism of directing the excess water from the South to the North and vice versa. It can be done, but as in the case of Japan, it is an expensive solution, but, in the long term, it is viable as water will be available for both drinking and agricultural purposes. Consequently, the health of the people and prosperity will prevail.

Surath Wickramasinghe

The Water Supply and Drainage Board has predicted that between 2025 and 2030 there will be a water shortage in the Megapolis area, i.e., Gampaha, Colombo and Kalutura Districts. Therefore, in order to meet this challenge, it is vital that the solutions mentioned above are speedily implemented. In this connection, it is also important to note that the population of the Megapolis area is expected to increase from around 5.8 million to 9 million by 2030.

Building collapse

There are two types of developers – the formal sector comprising traditional developers, such as JKH, Prime Land, Fairmount, Blue Mountain, Havelock City, and a few others and the informal sector consisting of the ad hoc developers. Traditional developers follow the accepted norms of obtaining approvals, appointing appropriate consultants for the different specialities, including for fire and safety and selecting suitable contractors, with experience and knowledge regarding the implications of high rise construction, etc and also registered with CIDA. CCI has no issue with them.

However, informal developers are the problem. In order to obtain the building permit approval, it is probable that they get the signatures of an architect and an engineer, to obtain the clearance from the local authority. However, when the construction proceeds, the owner leads the implementation with a contractor of his choice, or by himself, as the contractor. There are also developers who do their own buildings without any approval. These are the problems.

There is no regulatory body to check ongoing projects (particularly by informal developers) to ensure that the construction is taking place in accordance with the approved plans, the quality of materials used, the method of construction and whether it is within the accepted norms and standards. Therefore, before more disasters happen, relevant state authorities should take appropriate action.


Commuters by road between Colombo and Kandy, are no doubt experiencing the agony of travelling for at least four hours, between these two locations. This has been once again an issue of successive Governments for almost half a century. Therefore, in order to “fast track” a solution to implement the expressway, the latest design techniques, should be used. The most popular internationally, is the elevated expressways as the construction could take place on any terrain, ideally on state land or even in close proximity to the existing railway lines for planning considerations. In different parts of the world, elevated expressways go through cities as in Bangkok, Chennai and several other major cities.

The CCI is aware that the delay in commencing the new projects, are due to a suitable and feasible trace not being decided. One solution to be considered by the authorities will be an elevated expressway concept, combined with ground level areas. This will expedite the construction and thereby save valuable costs in time and energy. The Government should also find an alternative solution to finance and implement the expressway connections. The CCI is confident that the leading Sri Lankan expressway contractors will be in a position to obtain the necessary finance, to undertake more sections of the expressway programme.

Skills shortage

Anticipated expenditure on construction projects is Rs. 6500 billion during 2016 to 2020, and the estimated workforce is one million. The shortfall at present is 400,000. Training institutions are unable to attract youth to fill the gap. Therefore, the Government should conduct a massive publicity campaign to attract young school leavers and others within the working age group to join the construction industry as it is much more remunerative than any other sector. In the interim, the Government has approved recruitment of 2500 workers from Nepal and Myanmar.

The main reason for this shortfall, is due to the prevailing unprecedented boom in the industry. In addition, the industry has also transformed itself from the traditional forms of construction to innovative areas of specialities, using new technology. For example piling and diaphragm walling, fabricating, welding, earth retaining structures, post tensioning related to construction and finishing materials, ACs, aluminium and UPVC door and window fabrication, solar, communication and security systems, etc all require separate specialised teams of labour. Consequently, the numbers have increased.

Therefore, as the continuity of employment can be assured for at least the next 20 – 30 years, in the interim to bridge the skills gap it will be necessary to import labour to meet the demands for the next 5 -10 years. The Government should therefore, have a short/medium term strategy, and authorise developer/contractor to import their necessary labour requirements.

Sand supply

Due to the ban of river sand harvesting, the cost of sand has increased from Rs.15,000 per cube to Rs.18,000 per cube, and will be more in the future. This will affect particularly domestic house builders. The CCI is in a position to immediately commence sea sand sourcing, washing and sieving the sand and make it ready for marketing. The CCI will partner with the leading contractors with a view to making sea sand safe and available in large quantities to meet the current demand at a reduced cost. Unfortunately, due to the monopoly by the state aAgencies, no tangible solutions are forthcoming.

The CCI is requesting Government intervention to allocate a 50 – 100 acre site at Muthurajawela alternatively a suitable land for sand harvesting between Colombo and Puttalam.


The CCI welcomes the finalisation of the Anti-Dumping Law which the industrialists have agitated for a long period. However, CCI is concerned by the delay in gazetting the rules and regulations necessary to implement the provisions in the Construction Industry Development Act, No. 33 of 2014 and also important amendments needed to regulate the industry. It will be a disaster to liberalise the construction sector without the rules and regulations.


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