Building bridges in Sri Lanka

During Sri Lanka's monsoon season, when water levels rise at an alarming rate, residents of villages all over the country can no longer use the bridges. Labourers are forced to stay home from work, children are unable to attend school, farmers have no way of selling their crops and access to medical services is limited. Some inhabitants even risk their lives by attempting to cross rivers using ropes or tree trunks. A Netherlands-based company, Janson Bridging, will be supplying the bridges that are set to turn the tide for the inhabitants of Sri Lanka's rural areas.

Dutch company with a century's worth of experience in building flood-proof bridges

Over the next few years, Sri Lanka will see the construction of more than 1,000 bridges in areas where there were previously none. At the same time, old, often rickety bridges will be replaced with new ones which are built to resist the floods that inundate the country every year. Janson Bridging, a Netherlands-based bridge designer and manufacturer, will be supplying 463 of these 1,000 new structures. They will serve as gateways to the island’s countryside and help raise the standard of living in the villages. A UK-based bridge construction company is set to supply the other bridges.

Steel-and-concrete construction kits

The bridges Janson will supply to Sri Lanka are made from steel and concrete and are strong enough to withstand the most severe weather conditions and the highest floods. These structures eliminate the need for farmers to transport small quantities of their products to the market, since traders can now reach the village by truck and purchase their products right there. Since this form of trade cuts out the middle man, farmers will also see a significant boost in income.

‘We always keep an eye out for potential opportunities for our clients’

6 to 30 metres

On 21 July 2015, Janson Bridging began shipping the first 50 of a total of 550 units of large sea containers containing steel bridge parts and reinforcing bars to Sri Lanka. 'The civil structures consist of composite steel beams which, after they have been installed, are then reinforced with an in-situ concrete bridge deck,' says Bob Barkel, Janson Bridging's CEO.

'It's a modular system that people can then build into a single structure on site. The bridges range in length from 6 to 30 metres and are guaranteed to provide resistance to flooding for 100 years.'

Involving local businesses

Janson's subcontractor and local partner is responsible for handling all activities from the time of arrival in the Port of Colombo. This includes customs clearance, transport to the central warehouse and the subsequent transport to the total of 463 building sites.
Around 60 local subcontractors, in turn, receive orders from Janson's partner for the projects, which are spread throughout the country. 'Our company believes in contributing to the local community,' Barkel says. 'That's why Janson always involves local businesses in the construction work as much as possible. A team of our own people is supervising the civil engineering work on site.'

Economic boost

It was partly through the efforts of Rabobank Export Finance – the division that provides long-term and short-term loans to export businesses – that Janson landed the contract for the 'One Thousand Bridges' project. 'We have access to a large international network, especially in the food and agricultural sector,' explains Export Finance's Han Bartelds.

'I was discussing a number of projects with representatives from the Sri Lankan government and we got to talking about the 'One Thousand Bridges' project, through which they are looking to boost the economies of the inland regions. We immediately spotted opportunities for our client Janson Bridging, one of only five companies in the world set up to take on projects of this scope and size. All it took in the end was one phone call.'

Hedging risk

Export Finance then brought together various members of its network: its contacts in the Sri Lankan and Dutch governments, various local parties in the two countries, and Rabobank client Janson Bridging. Bartelds: 'We provided export finance to the Sri Lankan government, so they would have the resources they needed to enter into a deal with Janson, and we facilitated the guarantees to be provided by Janson Bridging. The Dutch government, for its part, supports the 'One Thousand Bridges' project because it offers a good opportunity for the Netherlands to position itself as a partner in infrastructure and water projects. Support is provided by Atradius Dutch State Business, the division of Atradius Credit Insurance and Risk Management which insures transactions related to the export of capital goods and services and provides guarantees on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Finance. Their efforts support Dutch businesses and banks in facilitating these exports.'

Setting up facilities

The guarantees are ultimately provided by the local Rabobank Rijn & Veenstromen, where Janson Bridging is a client. Account manager Martijn Cranendonk: 'We are working with Export Finance to ensure that the company can hedge the various risks to which they are exposed, including bad-debt risk, transfer risk and political risk and to set up the required facilities. That is why one of our partners is Atradius, which will hedge the political risk for Janson over the 3-year span of the project. If any political issues should arise during that time which would jeopardise the financing of the project, the Dutch government will absorb this risk.'

Size is not an issue

Bob Barkel: 'It was partly to the credit of Export Finance and its massive network and the Sri Lankan government's confidence in Rabobank's expertise that we were able to close the deal.' He adds: 'We have been involved in projects in Sri Lanka for over a decade now and have demonstrated our commitment to the country’s development. Our efforts are now starting to pay off. We also always make a point of keeping an eye out for potential opportunities for our clients. We do not only serve larger players such as Janson Bridging, but also provide smaller loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises. We will never turn down a Rabobank client’s request for financing simply because of their size.'

Janson Bridging is involved in the design, manufacture and worldwide installation of permanent, temporary and emergency bridges, floating platforms/pontoons (custom-made) and roll-on roll-offs (ROROs) for both sale and rental. Janson's systems are designed on the basis of modularity, based on which the company provides customised engineering solutions.