An Exclusive Interview with the President of the Institution of Engineers,
Sri Lanka

January 2021 |Podcast

In the maiden episode of the SLEN Podcast, Eng. Jasmine Nanayakkara speaks with Eng. K P I U Dharmapala, the President of the IESL about his role as the president of the apex body of engineers in the country and how IESL can contribute to the development of the country especially in this COVID 19 pandemic situation. An edited version of their conversation follows.

Eng. Jasmine Nanayakkara:

Welcome to SLEN podcast. You are listening to the official SLEN Podcast series of the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka, featuring a wide range of conversations on diverse engineering sectors of national importance. This is Eng. Jasmine Nanayakkara and today for our maiden podcast we have a very special individual, who is none other than the President of the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka, Eng. K.P.I.U. Dharmapala. Warm welcome to you sir.

As the President of the apex body of Engineering professionals in the country, what are your prime focus areas during your session in office?

Eng. K P I U Dharmapala:

Thank you, Eng. Jasmine for giving me this opportunity to take part in this podcast series introduced by the SLEN in the occasion of releasing its 50th-anniversary issue.

As IESL being the apex engineering body in the country, needs to play a leading role in affairs related to creation of Policies and Plans at the National level for the development of our motherland, Sri Lanka.

Firstly, I strongly believe that the Engineers should actively engage more in addressing National issues in a wider context. In this regard, I intend to make ourselves available to the decision-makers in formulating National Policies especially in the areas of Transportation, Construction, Energy, Engineering Education etc.

Secondly, I would extend my fullest support to uplift the standing of engineers in the society. I will strive to help uplift the Institution to continue to be the hub for engineers of all ages and intend to lend a helping hand, especially for young engineers to develop their careers.

Thirdly, I shall endeavor to make the IESL secretariat to be even more member-oriented, efficient, focused and productive. Systems and processes of IESL shall be reviewed and established. This will attract the majority of members who now maintain a distant relationship with IESL to actively join in the affairs of the Institution.

Fourthly, another priority of mine will be the development of Provincial Chapters and the Overseas Chapters of the Institution to address their needs to best serve our engineers.

Fifthly, With my experience as the Chairman of the Education Standing  Committee over a two consecutive sessions, I shall look into strengthen the quality and relevance of the Engineering Education nationally.

Finally, It is the responsibility of the institution to improve the quality and standards of PR process and guiding young members to become Corporate Members of the Institution by nurturing them to improve their technical competencies, professional skills, values and ethics.

Eng. Jasmine :

As you correctly mentioned now and during your maiden speech at the AGM as the president, you have determined to play a leading role in affairs related to national-level policies and plans. How would you lead the IESL to go for that?

Eng. Dharmapala:

I have already initiated steps to implement affairs related to national-level policies and planning through “IESL Policy Forum”. As strategic priorities, I wish to concentrate on Education and Transport sectors. Preparation of an Engineering Education policy has been started in the previous session and I’m determined to  complete the preparation of Engineering Education Policy before the end of my tenure. I also wish to initiate a dialogue with the officials of the Ministry of National Policies, Economic affairs, Resettlement and Rehabilitation which is mainly responsible for

  • Formulation of national policies in order to achieve national economic and social development goals.
  • Formulation of national development programs and Projects.
  • Coordination between public and private sectors to facilitate the participation of private sector in economic development.

Eng. Jasmine :

Mr. President, being the President of IESL in one of the most disturbing sessions due to the terrible global pandemic, how would you estimate the effect of COVID-19 to the Sri Lankan engineering sector?

Eng. Dharmapala:

Surely the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the engineering and construction industry is unprecedented. COVID-19 is putting pressures of a different nature and magnitude on each part of the engineering and construction value chain. Both local and global supply chains are under pressure while the health and safety of employees is a concern. The impact of the lockdowns could force some Engineering and construction companies to even restructure debt, seek new sources of capital or risk insolvency.

During the 1st wave of the pandemic situation, construction works fully came to a standstill. As a result, most of the infrastructure development projects could not performed to meet their expected norms and targets. Covid-19 is an unforeseen and unprecedented situation that has turned the whole world upside down. And like all major disruptions, it is pushing the limits of industry resilience.

Production Industry came to a standstill: Especially in export-oriented industries as well as other industries producing products for local use due to the effect of COVID-19 had to close down for a substantial period of time causing a huge financial loss to the industry as well to the country.

Education sector including all primary, secondary and tertiary, training and research sector has severely affected.

In Telecommunications sector a sudden shift to large-scale remote working has led to a significant surge in demand for bandwidth. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) has instructed local telecommunication providers to provide access to emergency air time along with concessions on internet packs and free e-learning facilities.

IESL will continually monitor what practices are deployed around the world to minimize spread of the Corona virus and its impact on the construction industry. I wish to initiate a dialogue among our engineers here and abroad with the assistance of our Overseas Chapters and create a platform to share the best practices around the world on as to how Sri Lanka as a country can collaborate to contribute the upliftment of our economy. 

I would like to take this an opportunity to request all our engineers to come up with novel solutions for upholding the engineering sector as whole for the national economic development.

Eng. Jasmine :

How did the IESL & its engineers support the citizens of this country to battle against COVOD-19 during the 1st wave?

Eng. Dharmapala:

Yes IESL and its members contributed in many instances to medical staff and the citizens of this country with the help of the sectional committees and provincial chapters. I highly appreciate these valuable and timely contribution of our engineers.

Mechanical Engineering Sectional Committee and Building Services Engineering Sectional Committee played a vital role.

Mechanical Engineering Sectional Committee has designed and built a “High-Pressure Steam Decontaminator” using industry-grade material and donated to Teaching hospital, Anuradhapura. Also Mechanical Engineering Sectional Committee of IESL and Wayamba Chapter jointly with Sri Lanka Institute of Textile involved in producing Personal Protective gowns in large scale and donated to Lady Ridgeway Hospital, Kurunegala General Hospital, Anuradhapura and Kandy Hospitals.

Building Services Engineering Sectional Committee redesigned and installed the entire Air Conditioning system of the Intensive Care Unit of the IDH during peak time of COVID-19.

Contribution of the Engineering Faculties of the Universities also to be mentioned here. University Research and innovation teams developed robots for delivering medications to patients, and also involve in making quality face masks.
Provincial Chapters and District Centre Contribution

Kandurata Chapter engaged in donating safety attires such as face masks, Full-face covers, gloves etc.

Mannar District Center under Vadakkin Chapter also organized distribution of dry food rations among poor who lost all avenues of their day to day living income.
Puttlam District Center under Wayamba Chapter also launched a project to repair all defective Ventilators in Puttlam District.

Contribution of engineers attached to essential services such as Ceylon Electricity Board, National Water Supply and Drainage Board, Telecommunication ensured all their respective services to their customers without any hindrance.

Eng. Jasmine :

Does COVID-19 have only the negative effects on the engineering sector? Don’t you see any brighter side of it? Can’t it be considered as an opportunity for the engineering sector?

Eng. Dharmapala:

Definitely, human attitudes and positive outlook are vital in any challenging situation. It is up to us to decide whether we strongly stand as a nation by converting these challenges to opportunities and see the brighter side as much as possible. This is yet another opportunity for engineers to explore new horizons, set examples to others and build a sustainable society

This taught people new culture on safety measures; That is developed an enforceable safety guidelines. No work will resume until health experts and data determine it is safe to do so.

At construction sites, workers must wear face coverings, nonessential visitors will be barred, self-isolation, Limited to essential workers, Clean shared tools, Hygiene facilities, cleaning products, disinfect common areas, Access to personal protective equipment PPE, Work hours will be staggered, break times will be limited, and proper sanitation is required. 

Next one is Less environmental pollution; The global construction industry is estimated to be responsible for between 35 to 45 percent of CO2 released into the atmosphere, making it a major contributor to global warming.   

Less diseases; Due to enforcement of health and safety measures after COVID-19 pandemic situation and the positive response from general public it has reported that frequent minor illnesses have been reduced among them.

So, the recession caused by COVID-19 can be considered a blessing to reduce pollution.

Eng. Jasmine :

Earlier you mentioned about your plans as the President of IESL . How would you adjust your plans with IESL during the COVID-19 “New Normal”?

Eng. Dharmapala:

What is meant by new mornal? A new normal is a state to which an economy, society, etc. settles following a crisis when this differs from the situation that prevailed prior to the start of the crisis. The Engineering Construction industry will have to prepare for a world where old norms will have to be reframed and new Business strategies and different Tactics will have to be put into place to suit the “New Normal” situation. As far as the IESL is concerned we also face these current challenges on daily basis under the “New Normal” situation. As engineers, I firmly believe that we should capitalize on these opportunities by adopting new and safe ways of working.

Eng. Jasmine :

Finally, what is the message that you wish to convey to the membership as the President of IESL through our 1st SLEN Podcast?

Eng. Dharmapala:

Yes. First I must congratulate Eng. Suran Fernando, the Editor and Eng. Chamil Edirimuni, the Sub Editor and including you Eng. Jasmine for introducing this Podcast recording platform to the IESL in the event of releasing the 50th Edition of the SLEN bulletin. This Podcast recording platform is perfect for interviews, remote podcast recordings or any other kind of video Podcasting with same studio quality from anywhere. We being Engineers must now realize that time has come to transform from our outdated concepts towards modern developments of technology. I also wish to request all our engineers to come out with novel solutions and join hands to build the Sri Lankan economy as a responsible and educated group of the society. We should also reinvent new business models and continuously focus on our business continuity plans in order to remain relevant and sustain during this challenging period.  I would like to convey this message to the general membership as the President of the IESL.

Eng. Jasmine:

Thank you very much Eng Dharmapala, president of the institution of engineers of Sri Lanka for having this useful discussion and sharing valuable insights with us. We wish you all the success for the session 2020/2021. This is Eng. Jasmine Nanayakkara from SLEN podcast, have a bright day.


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