Malaysiakini Letter

Our construction industry on downward spiral since GE14

Ashok Sharma  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | I read with interest the Prime Minister’s recent statement on the socialist leanings of Pakatan Harapan’s leaders where he urged them to change their way of thinking and cease their continued criticism of the capitalist system.

I disagree that the current Harapan government is practising socialism in the first place. If indeed the thinking is socialist, there will be a distinct benefit to the workers. The consequential effect of the Harapan leaders’ decisions is evidence that we are not moving in that direction.

As a practising engineer in the industry for 40 years, I can clearly see workers being laid off while capitalist owners of businesses continue their lifestyles unaffected, even when projects are indiscriminately and suddenly stopped by our government. The narrative that the government does not have money is also overused.

Does the government realise, the brain drain from the construction industry will affect us for years to come? The capabilities and capacity that our construction industry has painstakingly built up over the years have been rapidly declining post GE14. Experienced people are leaving the country or the industry.

To add insult to injury, the Department of Occupational Safety and Healthy (Dosh) is proposing further punitive measures on professionals supervising construction, which will cause a further exodus. 

The recent statement by the Dosh director-general, reads, “currently only contractors were held responsible for the construction site even though they had to complete the work within the stipulated time. 

When it is tabled and passed this month, severe fines will be imposed on the three responsible parties, namely the employer, the architect and the contractor in the event of an accident at the workplace”.

It is obvious that these amendments were drafted without the input of the stakeholders, as evidenced by the reaction of Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) in their counter-statement made soon after.

"It is inappropriate to put the blame on any construction mishap – such as site accidents – on the architect without proper consideration of the root cause of the accident. This will not be acceptable by the industry. 

"PAM supports the introduction of harmonious new regulations, but it must consider the views of stakeholders and particularly the impacted parties before it is implemented”, said PAM.

Aren’t there adequate laws to safeguard workers and the public? Isn’t it the lack of enforcement that needs to be addressed, rather than increasing the already onerous roles and responsibilities of professionals who do not have the right voices in support of them when laws are enacted?

The regulatory boards of the various professional bodies (covering architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, etc) consist of members nominated by the minister and manned mainly by non-practising professionals. These positions should be filled through a voting process by practising professionals so that the voices of the industry can be heard and considered. 

The Bar Council is operating along these lines and has demonstrated that it is fiercely independent and a force to be reckoned with when laws are amended.

I would appeal to the government and particularly the Economic Action Council (EAC) to expeditiously study the worsening situation concerning the construction industry and talent migration. They should then propose mitigating measures before we lose our talent pool again to other countries.

There is no point in trying to build up engineering expertise in car manufacturing whilst simultaneously allowing our expertise in niche areas of engineering to decline.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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