By Arct. DH Wijewardene, FIA SL
The crisis in Sri Lanka has become a hot topic not only here, but also in the region. While this is obviously due to mismanagement of the economy as a whole, this article is an attempt to analyze the construction of buildings and related activities by the state that may have contributed to today’s financial crisis. today. Some important suggestions have been identified for future reference to get the “system” in order.
Let’s start with the most remarkable urban planning project in Sri Lanka which happened in the late 70s when President JR Jayewardene (JRJ) decided to name Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte (SJK) as the administrative capital of Sri Lanka. At that time, the National Physical Planning Department (NPPD) after many studies, realized the need to control the expansion of the city of Colombo to keep the colonial glory, and identified the Homagama area as the most suitable to move the city. It’s not too far, connects to inland areas and has plenty of upland to develop. But JRJ ignored this long-planned decision and moved the administrative capital to SJK which was too close to Colombo, very few highlands and lots of lowlands. It became a major transportation problem and expensive solutions were sought. Whatever the reason JRJ decided to move, administrative activities were gradually transferred to SJK starting with Parliament. But his lawyer brother has stepped in to move the courts to SJK, saying Hulftsdorp is where the courts are.
The headquarters of the three armed forces and the police were also transferred to the SJK. While the forces have recently moved to a huge compound, the police have been left behind. Suddenly last year the government decided to build the police headquarters in Attidiya, Dehiwala; a clear deviation from town planning. Attidiya land has a dark past. During Chandrika Kumaranatunga’s rule, a police training school was proposed and construction began. This was done in a hurry, so much so that precast piles were imported from Malaysia to reduce construction time. However, after spending millions of rupees, the project was abandoned after completing the pile. Now the proposed new police HQ is being built on these premises, apparently unaware of what lies below.
The same NPPD in the late 70s planned for the second international airport to be at Hingurakgoda, a very central area. This was based on links with the interior of the country and with particular reference to tourism development. But we know where it was built, in another part of the country. What feedback has it brought us so far?
The famous Lotus “Kuluna” in Colombo is another project where investment was wasted. No provision in the national budget, no feasibility study, no rate of return on investment etc, etc. What are these “Telecommunication Towers (TT)”? In major cities around the world, such as Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Toronto, etc., you will find these TTs that were built in the 20th century in accordance with the telecommunications technology of that time. It seems that when we started the tower itself, this technology was obsolete. With the invention of satellite technology, these towers became superfluous. Did we pay over US$120 million for old technology?
There are many similar examples of this nature that contributed to the country’s bankruptcy. Another notable is the 2000 capacity conference hall at Hambantota. To date, less than five major events have taken place and with a huge maintenance cost, it is a burden on the country. This is partially sponsored by the Korean government and was originally planned in Kottawa where it would have been a very successful venture.
The Defense Headquarters is another expensive project for this country. No planning or cost control was practiced. This project was implemented with funds from the proceeds of the sale of the Galle face property (now housing the Shangrila Hotel) owned by the Ministry of Defence. They still have to finish the accommodation part. Do we need such a massive structure?
Boralesgamuwa 5-star public hospital also proves the importance of neglecting financial discipline when implementing a state project. It’s more of an airport than a public hospital. Triple heights, 6m wide hallways, central air conditioning to name but a few luxuries one can see. Operating rooms are the most expensive in the world and laboratory samples are transported through a vacuum system that is not available even in some developed countries.
Immediately after this government came to power, four multi-level parking lots were initiated across Colombo and some are under construction. Now we have no money to import vehicles for many years, but have the parking lots!
The use of “Design and Build” in the building supply system became very popular among politicians and bureaucrats in and around 2008. During a seminar organized by the Institute of Architects, shocking facts about a project were revealed. A project in which about five bidders participated had an engineer estimate of Rs. 600 million. Four out of five offers were rejected for “technical reasons”. The sole successful bidder quoted Rs. 1,200 million, twice as much as expected. This was “negotiated” with this single bidder and offered to him at a price of Rs. 900 million!
But the most interesting revelation is that the project ended at a price of Rs. 1200 million. Nowhere in the world is this type of “design and build” procurement method for building construction practiced where the design scores 20% and the contractor 80%! The best method is supposed to be in China and Hong Kong where in the first round of the tender 80% goes to the design and 20% to the contractor and in the next round the contractor gets 80% while that design gets 20%. which guarantees value for money and a quality product.
Today we have a craze for air conditioning (AC) and there is no state policy on this, unlike many other countries. For example in South Korea, there is a maximum temperature that can be reduced in public buildings with a given relative humidity which are the two factors that ensure human comfort. Recently completed buildings like Provincial Council Building in Battaramulla, Labor Secretariat in Narahenpita, Passport Office/NIC Office in Battaramulla, etc. are all centrally air-conditioned. Obviously for some buildings this could be essential, but a proper ventilation system could certainly be introduced in many places. There must be a state policy on AC. Look at the colonial era buildings, they have retained greater heights and large windows and are very comfortable.
The other area where funds are wasted is resistance to resource sharing. Our universities have auditoriums per faculty in addition to the main auditorium. Each faculty has its own classrooms. No sharing. Apart from the cost of an auditorium, how much does it take to maintain them which are often used sparingly? But look at the world scenario, conference rooms/lobbies, auditoriums are common and they are used via computer generated rotation to get the maximum utilization; therefore, they are busy most of the time. There is a lot of disparity in the distribution of resources. In most rural schools, there are no toilets for students or teachers.
The above clearly indicates the absence of a national decision-making system when initiating construction projects, an inability to prioritize national needs, a serious imbalance in the distribution of resources, aging social egos, systems of frustrating and unnecessary procurement and political and bureaucratic interference. have caused a decrease in our national wealth through the building construction sector as well. I want to offer a few suggestions that might ease them into the long-awaited “system change” we are all looking forward to:
- Update the country’s national physical plan in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
- An equitable distribution of resources must be maintained at the national level.
- A clear policy on standard facilities granted to officials, staff and visitors. Resource sharing within an entity to be normalized.
- When the national budget is prepared, refer to the NPPD plan and implement the projects according to priority and availability of funds. No project can be initiated without allocating funds that will be reserved for it.
- Re-establish the Tenders Commission with an appropriate adjustment where it will have broader powers for controls
- Use computer technology as a mode of operation and not as a complement to traditional systems in the construction sector, starting from approvals.
- Ban cabinet documents that overrule NPPD plans and award consulting and construction projects directly to selected parties, except in emergencies. Use a more user-friendly bidding system to secure projects where the most compliant bids will win the tender.
- Divide large projects into separate lots where everyone will have a chance to participate in government development programs. (There have been many instances where all projects have been assigned to one party).
- Organize design competitions with the participation of architects, engineers and measurement institutes for projects of national importance where young talents could emerge. In many countries like India, Bangladesh, Korea, Japan and China and even in European countries, this is very popular.
- Make professionals more responsible, which will ease state controls and require their respective institutions to maintain their professionalism.
(The author is a former President of the Institute of Architects of Sri Lanka and Chairman of the Architects Registration Board)
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