Replanting policy is crucial for healthy timber supplies

With 90 years experience in supplying construction materials Mega Star Trading as seen booms, busts, war and peace. Construction Week spoke to Hassan Darvesh, managing director, Mega Star Trading, and Vinay Sharma about how the company has grown and what he makes of the current boom we are all enjoying in Dubai.

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By  Rhys Jones Published  June 21, 2004

Replanting policy is crucial for healthy timber supplies|~|Megastar Body.jpg|~|One of the projects that Mega Star has supplied materials for: the glass staircase at the Hilton Dubai Creek.|~|Explain the history of Mega Star Trading and about your GCC operations?
The company is now 90 years old. It is an Indian family business and is now in its third generation. We began operations in the Gulf in Oman 22 years ago and then slowly diversified by moving into Dubai and onward into Singapore, Nigeria and other African countries where we wanted to establish a foothold. The family business has a long history in the timber industry but with all the opportunities available in Dubai we felt it was necessary to diversify, not only for timber and construction related products but also to become manufacturers of other products. This was made possible by the excellent infrastructure available in Dubai.

What about your product range and your overseas projects?
Basically, we are continuing to carry the torch by importing timber to this region because we have our own forest deposits in Nigeria and Burma. Our offshore office in Singapore takes care of all of our exports from that region to places like the UAE and Egypt. With India being our family base, we also have a large operations there because India is one of the largest importers of timber in the world today. We also do furniture manufacturing and take up large-scale construction projects.

Obviously, being involved in the timber business you must come across numerous environmental issues. Expand upon this.
We constantly replenish the product and it’s an ongoing process. This is done especially in a place like Burma where there is always a deforestation programme going on so this timber is usually replaced. The plantation is re-grown so that is why there has been such a continuous supply for so many years. In terms of the United Arab Emirates at the moment there is a lot of raw and processed timber coming in at the moment as well as ply woods, medium density fibre boards and all of these other value added products which are coming in because the dependency on timber has come down.

What projects have you been involved in over the last 20 years in the Dubai area?
We have been involved in a large number of projects. We do water proofing and roofing work and have been involved in some of the largest roofing projects to date in Oman. We have also been involved with other projects in Oman such as the Al Bustan Palace and the Omani Ministry of Finance but we don’t go for these kinds of projects in Dubai because there are many people already in this specialised area.
Also, labour clearance is a big issue over here [in the UAE] and I think the industry here is facing a big problem regarding a labour shortage and I think the UAE government needs to consider that in order to survive, any industry needs a proper labour department.
At the moment, in all honesty, we do not have the labour requirements and I believe the government policy of letting companies take on people from certain countries is wrong; we need a mixture of society instead is what I believe. However, there are certain types of industries where you can’t get the same kind of workers that you want.
India has long-term connections with Gulf region and Indian construction workers are highly skilled and there is an understanding between the two regions. Workers from some countries don’t really know what’s expected from them when they come here, whereas workers from Asian countries need the work for themselves and they come and work hard to see that they have achieved something. It’s a good thought to get workers from different places to a certain extent but there have to be boundaries. It’s OK to have say office workers but I’m not so sure when it gets to the level of supervisor.
An example with workers is a problem we had with Chinese workers in a factory who just declared a strike because they wanted to go back home for the Chinese New Year and we couldn’t do anything because the workers just walked out so we had to pay their fares and then as a workforce we’re back to zero.
Workers from China are encouraged to come over here but the language is the biggest problem because then you need a person to guide them and tell them what you, as an employee want and guide them in the way of working in this part of the world. When it comes to other labour issues such as non-payment, my view is that any company that is efficiently managed has a responsibility to make sure these wage issues do not arise and workers will runaway and look down other avenues to make more money and these problems will continue despite the laws being so strict.

Which projects have you been involved in more recently?
We have started supplying the Burj Dubai, the Palm Jumeirah middle bridge project and DIFC. We have also supplied timber and glass to the contractor of the Burj Al Arab and to DIFC among other contract. In terms of the Bur Dubai, our products will be used as part of the foundation stage and for some areas of the construction.
The Palm projects have just started and we have put some beams up there so we are very actively involved in those developments. We did the glass staircase and the floor for the Hilton Creek and we see the hotel industry as a very important sector for Dubai and for us.

What do you think of the state of the construction industry in the UAE at the moment?
It’s booming and let’s hope the boom continues. However, with the prices spiralling for cement and steel contractors that are not strong enough might not be able to bear the brunt and we might see some of our competitors unable to fulfil their commitments. As far as the other building materials are concerned I just hope that it’s a steady growth because the demand is there and we anticipate the demand to continue being there for the next five to seven years with the project that are being announced. The only thing that could stop the boom in Dubai is an attack like the recent one in Saudi Arabia because at the moment Dubai is based on local industries, tourism and construction.||**||

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