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Navigating sustainability and governance in infrastructure development

Insights from Prof. Chitra Weddikkara


In the realm of building economics, architecture, and dispute resolution, the indomitable Emeritus Prof. Chitra Weddikkara of the Department of Building Economics at the University of Moratuwa stands as a luminary, seamlessly weaving her expertise into the fabric of Sri Lanka's infrastructure development. A charismatic and multifaceted leader in her chosen field, Managing Director of Q serve Group of companies, the Dean of the Colombo School of Construction Technology and Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), and Fellow of the Australian Institute of Quantity surveyors and the Institute of Quantity surveyors Sri Lanka and the fellow of the Sri  Lanka Institute of Architects and the Fellow of the Institute of Project Managers as well as Dr of Science University of Salford UK, Prof. Chitra Weddikkara stands as a luminary, seamlessly weaving her expertise into the fabric of Sri Lanka's infrastructure development. Join us as we delve into her profound perspectives on sustainable infrastructure, transparency in large-scale projects, and the crucial intersection of governance and community accountability. It's an intimate conversation with a visionary paving the way for a greener, more equitable future in Sri Lanka's infrastructure landscape.


Considering your extensive background in building economics, architecture, and dispute resolution, how do you perceive the intersection between sustainable infrastructure and economic development in Sri Lanka?


I feel that with a background in building economics, architecture, and dispute resolution the way I perceive the intersection between sustainable infrastructure and economic development in Sri Lanka is by recognizing the importance of environmentally conscious construction practices, by efficient resource allocation, and the integration of dispute resolution mechanisms in project planning.  It can be emphasized as the role of sustainable infrastructure in fostering economic growth while minimizing environmental impact and addressing social needs.  However, these have to be identified firstly by the procurement commission as being necessary with necessary guidelines and executed by the government implementing agencies. 


I remember as one of the former members of the Procurement commission, the 2018 guidelines that were formulated after much discussion with all the stakeholders. But I am not sure currently whether any action is taken by the relevant organizations to give importance to the intersection between sustainable infrastructure and economic development in Sri Lanka?


As a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and a member of various professional bodies, how do you see the role of these institutions in promoting transparency and accountability in large-scale infrastructure projects?


Professional bodies like RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) and other Institutions often see their role as promoting transparency and accountability in large-scale infrastructure projects as crucial. They may advocate for ethical conduct, adherence to international standards and the use of best practices in project management to ensure fair and accountable processes


Given your involvement in evaluating tsunami damages and consultancy work, could you share insights into how infrastructure projects can be designed to be more resilient to natural disasters and other unforeseen challenges?


In the context of evaluating tsunami damages and consultancy work, designing resilient infrastructure, incorporating risk assessments, utilizing advanced engineering techniques, and implementing early warning systems were some aspects that were considered in order for us to be resilient against such natural disasters. 

Further, incorporating strategies such as community engagement, public-private partnership, nature-based solutions, transparency and accountability etc. are also considered important aspects. Promoting such collaborations between the government, private sector, and civil society can ensure that infrastructure development serves the public interest while addressing the challenges of a rapidly changing world.


With your leadership roles in multiple professional organizations, how do you believe collaboration between government, private sector, and civil society can be optimized to ensure the public interest in infrastructure development?


Leadership roles play a crucial part in optimizing collaboration between government, private sector, and civil society for public interest in infrastructure development. Leaders can facilitate communication, encourage public participation, and ensure that projects align with community needs while promoting sustainable practices


As Past President of the Institute of Quantity Surveyors Sri Lanka, how does the institute contribute to addressing the consequential land and livelihood rights of poor and marginalized people in the context of large-scale infrastructure projects?


Institutes can contribute towards addressing land and livelihood rights of marginalized people by conducting impact assessments, advocating for fair compensation, and promoting inclusive policies. They can act as intermediaries to ensure that the concerns of the poor and marginalized are considered in the planning and execution of large-scale infrastructure projects


Considering your expertise in project management and dispute resolution, how can participatory governance be reinforced throughout the entire lifecycle of infrastructure projects to ensure community accountability and best practices?


Expertise in project management and dispute resolution can reinforce participatory governance by incorporating community input throughout the project lifecycle. This involves transparent communication, community engagement, and mechanisms for dispute resolution to address concerns promptly


You've researched space planning and maintainability of high-rise buildings. How can such research contribute to the creation of infrastructure that aligns with environmental conservation and minimizes displacement of communities?


Research can contribute to environmentally aligned infrastructure by providing insights into sustainable construction methods, identifying eco-friendly materials, and proposing designs that minimize the displacement of communities. This knowledge can inform policy and project implementation.


Being an advocate for sustainability, what policy and legal reforms do you believe are crucial to ensuring transparency and accountability in infrastructure procurement, as well as protecting the environment and the rights of affected communities?


Advocacy for sustainability involves promoting policy and legal reforms that ensure transparency in procurement, protect the environment, and uphold the rights of affected communities. This may include pushing for legislation that mandates environmental impact assessments and community consultations


Your involvement in international organizations like the Commonwealth Association of Surveying and Land Economy is notable. How can lessons learned from global experiences enhance sustainable infrastructure practices in Sri Lanka?


International organizations like the Commonwealth Association of Surveying and Land Economy can enhance sustainable infrastructure practices in Sri Lanka by providing expertise, sharing best practices, and fostering collaboration between Sri Lankan stakeholders and international experts. They can also facilitate knowledge exchange and capacity building


As a speaker at various conferences, what advice do you have for aspiring professionals and activists seeking to promote sustainable infrastructure and participatory governance in their communities?


As a speaker, advice for aspiring professionals and activists includes emphasizing the importance of education, collaboration, and advocacy. They should seek interdisciplinary knowledge, engage with communities, and work towards building consensus for sustainable infrastructure. Participatory governance and accountability should be central to their efforts


Last but not least, what do you think of the Transparency on granting projects in Sri Lanka? In Sri Lankan context, there is no such thing as participatory management in contract granting monitoring. In some countries communities gets involved with the process of granting contracts. What are your thoughts? Do we have something similar in Sri Lanka


Improving transparency in project awards in Sri Lanka may involve advocating for reforms in the procurement process, introducing mechanisms for community input, and pushing for greater public disclosure of information. Efforts could be made to introduce participatory management in contract granting and monitoring, involving communities in decision-making processes related to infrastructure projects. Public awareness campaigns and lobbying for policy changes can also be effective strategies



Compiled by Shanika Gamage

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The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article reflect the author’s views, and not the wider views of the Alliance for Sustainable Infrastructure.


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