Wednesday February 28, 2024

Tardy state decisions: Recipe for troubled times

April 05, 2020

LAHORE: The construction industry package was announced too late as it is practically impossible to execute construction projects in a lockdown. Construction industry has the largest value chain comprising over 42 industries, which cannot operate even in partial lockdown.

A detailed analysis of construction operation would convince any sane person that softening lockdown for construction sector alone was not possible. But this government has a tradition of coming up with great ideas without applying the mind.

The package itself is excellent and should have been announced immediately after taking over power in August 2018. It would have saved the day for the PTI government.

Instead it took measures that devastated the real estate market and pushed investors elsewhere. The no questions asked on construction spending should have been announced when the construction sector was booming even at the end of the PML-N tenure.

Construction is the only sector that is capable of providing employment to largest number of unskilled workers that are in plenty in Pakistan. But with the entire country in almost complete lockdown it would not be possible to carry out construction projects even if it is softened for construction sites and for few crucial industries like cement and steel.

The planners however ignored the fact that no construction project could be completed without waiving the lockdown condition for the entire value chain of the construction industry.

First, we should have a look at the main industries that supply crucial materials at different stages of construction. Cement is the first thing that comes to mind.

There are around 24 cement units in the country. The workers live near these units and do not need any transport.

The cement units have their own transport for picking up workers who live at a distance from the manufacturing facility. Lifting lockdown for cement manufacturers would be easy.

But this cannot be said for the steel mills producing steel rods and garters for construction. These mills small and medium number in hundreds and are scattered around the country.

Most have no arrangement to bring the workers to the mill. They come through public transport (that is banned during lockdown).

Cable manufacturers and electrical wire producers are numerous and most operate when public transport is functional. Ceramic sanitary manufacturers, steel pipe producers, plastic pipes and accessories manufacturers would have to operate at full capacity if the construction package takes off, but the workers would need public or dedicated transport to come to work.

The government would have to manage transport for the workers in these industries or allow the public transport to operate. The project during its completion would need lights of different kinds produced by manufacturers around Pakistan.

Aluminium windows and door, woodwork including door and cupboards are needed during final stages of completion.

Plastic doors for bathrooms, vinyl hard boards for door, sanitary ware (stainless steel), fans, exhaust fans, geyser, kitchen burner, water tank, glass, marble, tiles, steel works (windows-grills) brick kiln or cement blocks and many other industries need to operate fully so that a construction project is finished and ready for handover to the user.

Paint industry is spread all over the country. Paint is used at the final finishing phase of a construction project.

When you open all these industries there would practically be no lockdown or social distancing. The public transport would have to operate to allow employees of 42 industries to commute to work and home.

Social distancing would become impossible and if the virus affected people continued to increase; the public transport would act as a vector for virus growth.

This is not all since all these industries do not supply the construction material directly to the user.

They have dedicated outlets spread all over the country where the builder (corporate or individual) goes and checks the quality and rates before placing the order.

So the government would have to allow thousands of these outlets to open their shops so that construction work goes on smoothly. This cannot happen during lockdown, while withdrawing the lockdown order would be highly risky.

The virus impacted population is still rising in the country. The increase is much slower in Sindh due to strict lockdown while infection rate is increasing in Punjab where authorities are tolerating lockdown violation.