About time construction sector restarts in phases: experts
Work in the construction sector should resume in phases with proper safety measures for the sake of the country's infrastructure development, according to experts and industry insiders.
The last quarter of a fiscal year is very important for the construction sector as many infrastructure projects under the government's annual development programme (ADP) come close to completion during this quarter, said SM Khorshed Alam, president of the Bangladesh Association of Construction Industry.
"But there has been no progress in the implementation of the projects because of the pandemic," he said at a virtual discussion on "sustainable solutions to overcome the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the construction sector," jointly organised by The Daily Star and BSRM yesterday.
About 30 per cent of the raw materials bought for the projects will remain unutilised because of the slow progress in execution, he said, adding that 80 per cent of the ADP implementation target could hardly be met.
All the construction activities have been put on hold for the last two months due to the ongoing pandemic leaving about 65 lakh workers in the sector jobless, said Alamgir Shamsul Alamin, president of the Real Estate & Housing Association of Bangladesh (REHAB).
"Now we should take those up again gradually following the safety guidelines."
The real estate sector will need a huge amount of cash to recover from the losses inflicted by the pandemic, Alamin said, adding that they will not be able to hand over about 30,000 apartments under construction to the customers on time.
The government should allow investment of undisclosed money in purchasing apartments in the upcoming fiscal year to help revive the real estate sector, he said.
However, Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, was not in accord with Alamin, saying that the idea of investing black money in the housing sector goes against ethics.
"It's not a sustainable solution to the problems of the real estate sector," Mansur said, while advising the realtors to seek incentive from the government to shore up the industry in a transparent manner.
He also called for devising short and long-term strategies and removing the weaknesses from the existing policies for the advancement of the sector.
The novel coronavirus will not go away anytime soon, so people have to learn how to live and deal with the crisis, said M Firoze, adviser for marketing and product development at BSRM, a leading steel manufacturer.
"Already people are getting used to some behavioural changes while fighting the virus. This is a new reality and we have to adopt the new norms," he added.
The government should allocate adequate funds for the healthcare sector in the upcoming budget such that people from all strata of society, especially workers, get access to healthcare at affordable cost, said Md Abdur Razzak, general secretary of Imarat Nirman Sramik Union Bangladesh, a platform of construction workers.
Construction workers are finding it hard to make ends meet as the ongoing shutdown in the country has squeezed their earnings.
"We have already applied to the government for help, but no response is yet to come," he said.
At least 50 per cent work should begin at the construction sites with proper safety measures and maintaining social distancing, said AFM Saiful Amin, a professor at the civil engineering department of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet).
Banks can help the real estate sector by providing low-interest loans as the developers incurred huge losses in the last two months, said FR Khan, managing director of Building Technology & Ideas, a leading real estate company.
"Prices of apartments may increase due to the disruption," he added.
The country's overall development activities will grind to a halt if work in the construction sector does not resume soon, said Mohammad Abu Sadeque, executive director of the Centre for Housing and Building Research.
He called for adopting innovations and new technologies in the real estate and construction sector to minimise the adverse impact of the rogue virus.
Banks should cooperate with the realtors so that they can get low-cost funds to continue work of their projects, according to M Shamim Z Bosunia, chairman and managing director of Abode of Consultants.
Md Tarek Uddin, a professor of the Islamic University of Technology, and Md Shamsul Hoque, a professor of Buet, also spoke at the discussion moderated by Muhammad Zahidul Islam, a senior reporter of The Daily Star.