Many of Bangladeshi engineers and workers are working in the various ongoing megaprojects, alongside foreign experts, and our own expertise is growing in the process
The international construction consulting firms who design tender proposals for projects in our country design them in a way that excludes local companies from gaining the contracts. Often, they will include conditions in a contract which will favour construction companies based out of their countries.
For example, under the Mongla-Khulna rail link project, Indian construction companies are building the railways. The contract was made including the condition that we will buy the materials from India. The same is true of the Karnaphuli tunnel project in Chattogram. China Communication Construction Company (CCCC) and China Road and Bridge Engineering Company (CRBC) are implementing the project, and the contract says that the materials will come from China. We don't have much say in such cases.
In these cases, our government also cannot negotiate as we are dependent on international funding agencies or foreign countries. If the government can better negotiate the terms, I believe we can compete in the bids. Besides these, we pretty much can compete in other projects.
Again our local construction firms are still at a developing phase and building their experience and capacity to deal with big construction projects of international standard. We didn't have such mega projects before. However, many of our engineers are working abroad on many mega projects. All engineers, after all, have studied an almost similar curriculum. But they do need to work on enough projects to build their expertise.
Bangladeshi firms too, have started working on big projects. For example, Toma group has worked in joint ventures to build flyovers. Now they have gained expertise.
When we bring the latest technologies from abroad, we bring in experts to run the machinery and also train our local engineers and workers. Many of our engineers and workers are working in the Padma bridge project. The Chinese company has sent some experts just for supervision. But our workers and engineers are learning. Again, the machinery they are using to build the project; the company won't take them back with them. They will sell those to us. If we can use these equipment in coming projects, we won't have to bring foreign experts anymore.
In the future, our policymakers should be strong enough to negotiate the conditions. The factory owners should think of future possibilities when they bring in experts from abroad. And our government should also think of building local expertise. We need to be confident enough to decide that we may take loans from other countries, but we will build our project with our technology and expertise. If we can implement this policy, our experts - who are scattered around the world - will return and work on projects here.
In the steel manufacturing industry, we need metallurgical engineers or experts. Earlier, we didn't have such experts in our country; as a result, we couldn't participate in the bidding process. But now, we produce quality steel as we have expertise here. We don't have to bring river construction materials and tools from other countries, except for HR coils or hot rolls. But we are working on such technologies and hopefully we will produce these here very soon.
You may ask why we have to wait for funded projects to train our workers? Why can't we send them for training? We cannot concentrate on training because we have to plan according to the timeframe of the projects that the funding organisation sets. It takes a lot of time and investment to send our engineers for training. Expertise grows more by working on projects and that's what we are focusing on now. It will take time, but we will have experienced engineers of our own.
We face challenges in the international bids because the financing groups have their preferred companies that they want to appoint. They place conditions that advantage their preferred companies. But in another sense, in the international market, we are not the most trusted as we don't have the expertise and the technology to compete in the international market.
And funding organisations do not want to take a risk with inexperienced engineers and workers. But if the projects are government-funded, in that case, our workers can get opportunities to work and gain expertise.
S.K Masadul Alam Masud is Managing Director of Shahariar Steel Mills Ltd and the Founder Chairman of Bangladesh Steel Manufacturers Association