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The Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka (IESL) informed that they would conduct an inquiry into the structural engineer behind the construction of a building in Wellawatte. The extension of a wedding hall, complete with a five storey multi level vehicle park under construction, collapsed last week, resulting in the death of one and the hospitalization of many with injuries.

The IESL will be writing to the director in charge of the subject of planning at the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) requesting the details of the structural engineer who approved the structure.

A building permit issued by the CMC is mandatory for construction work within the municipality. The Municipal Commissioner can obtain a report, in a case such as what transpired in Wellawatte recently, from the city planning division of the CMC.

Municipal Commissioner at the CMC, V.K.A. Anura whilst noting that the said unauthorized construction had been carried out sans approval or permit from the CMC, confirmed that they would be taking legal action against the owner of the building in Wellawatte.

Standards pertaining to the construction of houses or buildings including what materials are to be used and technicalities pertaining to engineering are formulated by the Construction Industry Development Authority (CIDA). Although British standards were used in this regard previously, the CIDA subsequently formulated their own standards. Currently, the CIDA is working on introducing Euro standards.

The CIDA meanwhile said that two engineers had been sent to the site to investigate into the matter, and once the investigation is complete they would know the cause of the collapse. “Afterwards, we will decide on what action is required of the CIDA, to avert such situations in the future,” said Director of the CIDA, architect, H.K. Balachandra.
According to Deputy Executive Secretary and Acting Chief Executive Officer of the IESL, Neil Abeysekera, this was the first such incident in the country. He acknowledged that previously a minor incident was reported to them by a Government institution located outside Colombo. As per the Chamber of Construction Industry (CCI), a car porch had previously collapsed while under construction, at the Taj Samudra due to faulty scaffolding. Vice President of the IESL and Chairman of the Committee appointed by the IESL to educate the Condominium Management Authority (CMA) on formulating amendments to the condominium management policy, Dr. Kamal Laksiri explained further that this was the second or third time a building had collapsed. Structural engineers are appointed and nominated by the IESL.

Meanwhile, President of the CCI, Dr. Surath Wickramasinghe pointed out that if a building was properly designed and constructed nothing could go wrong. On the other hand, he explained that if design requirements were disregarded in construction, anything could happen.

Abeysekera noted that it was mandatory for building owners, including those who owned high-rise buildings, to obtain the authorization for their constructions from a recognized or reputed structural engineer appointed or nominated by the IESL.

The IESL publishes an official directory, available for the general public, which contains information on structural engineers. “Structural engineers and engineering consultants can apply to us. We go through their records. Sometimes we do panel interviews too. All of this is done prior to the publishing of the registry,” he elaborated. Construction companies and contractors, Government institutions and high-rise owners can use the services of structural engineers listed in the said registry.

Dr.Wickramasinghe highlighted the need for the supervision of the contractors. “We will also initiate an investigation into the matter. Aside from this, we have to get involved in the process of formulating amendments to the condominium management system because the CIDA only looks at the technical aspects. We are raising engineers’ awareness of the codes through awareness programmes. We have appointed a sub-committee to educate the CMA on formulating the policy document, emphasising on the need to take into account aspects such as effects on the environment, traffic and congestion,” Abeysekera added.

Chief Executive Officer of the CCI Secretariat, Engineer Nissanka N. Wijeratne elaborated upon the issue, maintaining that even though more and more development and construction related work was being carried out by the private sector, there was no proper institutional mechanism to monitor and regulate the industry.

Prior to 2014, there was no legal authority to regulate the quality of the industry and promote the industry. There was the Institute of Construction Training and Development (ICTAD). The ICTAD however could only engage in industry cooperation. As far as regulating the industry was concerned, they could reign in the Government sector through administrative circulars to a certain degree but they could not regulate the industry, in particular the private sector.

A CIDA was then mooted. In 2009, an initial draft of a bill for the CIDA was presented in Parliament by Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne. The Parliament was however dissolved within weeks. In 2014 October, a new bill in the form of the CIDA Act, No. 33 of 2014 was passed. The CIDA is the successor to the ICTAD. The Act provides for the registration and regulation of major buildings and the quality thereof. The CIDA Act includes functions such as the provision of technical audits, where the CIDA has to provide for the inspection of a building and attest to the quality of such.

The CIDA, according to Wijeratne, was at present hamstrung by the fact that the Ministry of Housing and Construction had not passed regulations for the purpose of implementing the provisions of the said Act and because the Government was not in favour of establishing the Construction Industry Development Fund to fund the enforcement activities of the CIDA. All contractors were to provide a certain percentage from all contracts to the said Fund. The capacity of the CIDA must be looked at.

“We envisaged this problem. Fortunately, thus far, this is the first time there has been a big collapse. Four storeys have collapsed. This is a question of the structural quality. From what we gather, the Wellawatte building was handled by a small time subcontractor. There seems to have been no reputed contractor in charge of the project. We have been fighting with the Ministry for the past year to get the required regulations passed in order to implement the Act. The national advisory council approved 13 regulations to be passed in Parliament. They further approved other amendments. They also called for the inclusion of important provisions in the 2009 draft of the bill which had been omitted from the 2014 Act. The Government has not made a move in this regard yet. The Government gave Rs 50 million to the CIDA. This is wholly insufficient. The institutional mechanism must be strengthened in order to prevent such disasters in the future,” Wijeratne added.

Dr. Laksiri further pointed out that, “It is unfortunate. In India, Bangladesh and other countries in the region, standards are not maintained. Here, there are mechanisms for building a structure including a multi-storey building. We maintain a directory of certified engineers with specifications of who can handle buildings up to four storeys and who can handle beyond. This is a requirement of the Urban Development Authority (UDA) and other regulatory bodies. This is mandatory. Still certain people get their constructions certified by those who are not professionally qualified structural engineers. Whenever a member of the general public undertakes any construction, they should do so upon professional advice and get the design certified by qualified professionals to avoid disasters. People should understand the gravity and the public should utilize professionally qualified structural engineers.”

Meanwhile, Chairman of the CMA, C.A. Wijeweera noted that the CMA was not involved in the exercise, adding that it was the responsibility of the CIDA.
“During construction, they have to obtain a provisional construction certificate from us and thereafter we monitor. Specific standards for registered contractors are  the CIDA’s responsibility. The CIDA has to find out whether a contractor is registered and whether he or she has the ability and the qualifications to perform the task,” he said.

The Society of Structural Engineers – Sri Lanka (SSESL) emphasized that the UDA Act and the Municipal Councils Ordinance too had provisions for such. President of the SSESL, Engineer K.L.S. Sahabandu said that according to information available online, the particular construction had been going on for the past seven years, adding that not much in terms of a monitoring process to stop the construction had taken place.
Abroad, when getting approval for housing, information on the zoning system and the structural system that is to be used must be provided. Yet, in Sri Lanka such is not the case.

Sahabandu highlighted that there were also instances where professionally qualified structural   engineers whose names were in the registry, unfortunately signed off on designs done by others without much scrutiny, for monetary gains. He further added that the Government and regulatory authorities should have a mechanism to improve the conditions of the industry. He maintained that they should also focus on repairs and rehabilitation as though buildings, especially those in coastal areas are sturdy, those not durable would eventually collapse.

“According to the law of Sri Lanka, all construction designs must be supervised by qualified structural engineers. The CMC has to obtain information from the IESL and SSESL. The IESL maintains a directory that members of the general public can refer to and obtain a name from and find out whether such a person listed is qualified or not. The CIDA Act also contains certain directions in this regard and the CIDA also obtains names from the IESL and the SSESL and publishes them. In the future, the CIDA will do a comprehensive analysis and it will be more detailed,” he explained further.

A head of a certain department involved with professional services at the CMC who wished to remain anonymous objected to blame being placed solely on the CMC, adding that the UDA was also responsible with regard to the said unauthorized construction. “The IESL has the right to see whether an engineer is involved in the said project.”

She, an engineer, added that bassunnahesbor masons were involved in such constructions, adding that a lot of such constructions were done without input from professional engineers. She opined that the CMC may have sent a letter to the said contractor ordering that the said construction be halted, but she could not be certain whether such was in fact the case.

Additional Secretary (Technical) of the Ministry of Housing and Construction, C.D.W. Alahakoon whilst acknowledging that the CIDA was the regulatory body, confirmed that regulations were presently being formulated which would in turn allow for the regulation of the construction industry as a whole.

Regarding the matter of the Fund, she once again acknowledged that although the Act provided for such, and attempts had been made to establish such, it could not be implemented yet as they had not received money for the Fund. She opined that the recent State, Governmental policy with regard to not allowing various new funds to be maintained owing to various irregularities that could occur, could be the reason behind the predicament that had befallen the Fund.

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