The Friday Forum has called on the Government to immediately halt the controversial 65,000 housing project in the North and East, while emphasizing upon the need to consult the communities concerned and systematically review the options available for suitable housing and a process of construction most beneficial to the affected communities and the public interest.
In a statement issued today, the Friday Forum, an informal and self-financed group dedicated to democracy, good governance, human rights and the rule of law said that the deeply questionable scheme for prefabricated steel houses on some of the most vulnerable in Sri Lanka’s minority communities, risks alienating the very people it is meant to benefit, and jeopardizing the Government’s reconciliation efforts.
“The Cabinet Decision in September 2015 that 65,000 houses be built by the government for war- affected people was commendable. However both the manner and the consequences of the awarding of the contract to Arcelor Mittal, a multinational company building prefabricated steel houses, have rightly attracted public concern and serious criticism,” the statement said.
The forum noted that the 65,000 house construction project is one of the few substantial development projects put forward by the current Government for the war-affected Northern and Eastern provinces, and the project will also be seen as a litmus test for the Government’s commitment towards reconciliation.
“Rising local and national opposition to this housing project has raised the following issues: transparency and haste in tendering process; manipulation by vested interests in decision-making; significantly greater cost of steel housing over conventional alternatives; colossal 1 billion USD national debt to be incurred; denial of the secondary benefits to local construction industry and local labour that would accompany a more customary scheme; culturally and practically inappropriate design that does not match community lifestyle and preferences; unknown durability of steel housing under Sri Lankan conditions, challenges for locally-sourced maintenance by residents, and over-hasty and confusing applications processes for this scheme being implemented at district level,” the statement added.