National policy on construction vital: CCI

9 June 2015 03:07 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
Chamber of Construction Industry (CCI) Sri Lanka President called on the government to develop a national policy on construction to stem the decline of the industry.
“It is imperative to have a national policy on construction declared. To develop a national policy encompassing all important aspects, it will be advisable to consult all the relevant stakeholders... and we will be pleased to proactively participate in its formulation,” Dr. Surath Wickramasinghe spoke in the presence of President Maithripala Sirisena at the Build SL 2015 international exhibition.
He pointed out that such a policy was specified in the Construction Industry Development Authority Act of 2014, which was enacted after over a decade of lobbying.
“However, I regret to mention that some of the important features that were present in the earlier draft Bill tabled in Parliament by Dr. Rajitha Senaratne in 2009 were not included in this Act,” he noted.
Dr. Wickramasinghe accordingly said that the assurance of payments for work done by consultants and contractors must be given, while the planning approval for projects be given within 90 days using a ‘One Stop Shop’ at the Board of Investment (BoI).
He also called on the government to implement the proposed Bus Rapid Transit System recommended by the Transport Ministry in a public-private partnership, since traffic congestion and pollution would only get worse in the future.
Meanwhile, addressing the high costs of construction in Sri Lanka, he said that the protectionist policies implemented on the importation of construction materials must be removed.
“If the cess could be removed or reduced for such materials only, then the building costs can proportionately be reduced, making our industry more competitive.
He added that procurement procedures not being followed was one of the key restraints as well and that the CCI is in a position to advise the government, while a shortage in skilled personnel has also contributed to the high costs.
Dr. Wickramasinghe said that skilled personnel have been going overseas for better job prospects and called on the government to implement a pension scheme and to step up the efforts to vocationally train school leavers from across the island.

The construction industry sector has been growing at 22 percent in the recent years and contributes around 7 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP).
However, renowned economist Professor Razeen Sally recently said that the construction boom in the country has shown false numbers of growth.
The recent budget reduced the spending on  construction, saying that the new allocation could finance the infrastructure projects due to a curb in corruption, while the scope of some projects were reduced as well.

 



Grant BoI power to provide incentives

Dr. Wickramasinghe called for the BoI to be reinstated with the power to provide incentives, which was transferred to the Strategic Development Act.
“Many of the investors and developers are holding on to their projects until this matter is resolved. In the past, the power to provide incentives were with the BoI... however, these powers have now been withdrawn; presumably because the Strategic Development Act is now in operation,” he said.
He noted that the incentive package granted to the BoI by the Inland Revenue Act expired on March 31, 2015.
Dr. Wickramasinghe also called for the renewal of the ‘One Stop Shop’, since projects currently require approvals from 17 agencies prior to obtaining a building permit, which take around one to two years.
“The concept of the ‘One Stop Shop’ is a pre requisite. In the past, the BoI took the leadership with the backing of the head of state to discuss strategic projects once a month with the investors, so that the bottlenecks could be overcome,” he said, and added that Singapore has become successful with this practice.
Recently, Investment Promotions and Highways Deputy Minister Eran Wickramaratne too called for the cancellation of the Strategic Development Project Act, since the BoI can provide the same incentives. He said that the One Stop Shop is back in operation as well.
Meanwhile, Dr. Wickramasinghe called for the development of outdoor sports and recreation infrastructure, to complement high-end tourist projects such as the Colombo Port City.
He expressed that Sri Lanka should become a competitive destination similar to Singapore, which boasts 30 golf courses and 18 multi-sport complexes.
“Sri Lanka could at least promote seven golf courses and facilities for multi sports including indoor stadiums within the Western Province. This concept is possible since land is available bordering the Outer Circular and other Expressways,” he said.
 
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