The government is likely to award the contract relating to the construction of 65,000 houses for war-affected families in the North and East to ArcelorMittal - an international company run by Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal - despite attempts by some local contractors to secure a stake in the deal.

Amidst growing speculations about the future of the project, President Maithripala Sirisena along with Resettlement Minister D.M. Swaminathan, visited the area last week and observed some sample houses to get a "first-hand understanding" of the quality of the houses offered to the IDPs, authoritative government sources told the Daily News.

"The President and the minister were quite happy about the quality of the sample houses.

Sample house

The IDPs too were consulted when it came to matters relating to the standard of houses. The general consensus among them was that the sample houses were of good quality. On the other hand, it is obvious that the project will offer ample opportunities not only for local workers but also for local sub-contractors. So, we don't see any problem in proceeding with ArcelorMittal who was recommended for the project by a Cabinet Appointed Negotiation Committee (CANC) earlier this year. The Indian company is fully capable of handling the project of this scale" a top government spokesman playing a key role in the coordination of the project told the Daily News yesterday.

Asked about the concerns raised by some local contractors, the spokesperson said there were certain "vested interests" behind their attempts. "One needs to understand the basic fact that these contractors had very close links with the previous regime.

Some of the projects they undertook had no transparency and serious allegations have been levelled against them. In this backdrop, they are trying to secure a stake in the North and East housing project. As part of that plan, they stirred a controversy by bringing the quality of the houses into question. The government is very much aware of the ulterior motives of some local contractors involved in the issue," he said.

Meanwhile, speaking to the Daily News, a senior Cabinet minister said the houses in the project will have a number of value additions such as a temperature controlling system inside the house, a computer, a television system, kitchen equipment, free electricity installation, furniture and a state of the art solar panel system.

"Value additions, quite obviously, will involve an additional cost but they contribute to the quality and the standard of houses. One does not need rocket science to estimate the cost of a 550 square ft house with such facilities," the minister said.

"The previous government was able to build only 1,000 houses in war-affected areas over the past five years.

That explains why various elements are attempting to stand in the way of the construction of 65,000 houses," he said, adding that the first priority would be given to address the needs of the IDPs and not to pander to the needs of certain local contractors with political interests. 


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