Friday, November 13, 2020

Bhutan's Construction Industry : Episode IV : Engineering Council.

Recently we had a training on CMS "Construction Management System", and god bless all those brains which were cooked in all different modes and forms: rare, medium rare, medium well, well : rarely do we attend a course on a mediumly done software, which is not well. 

I do not know what had happened with the client and the developer, but the software came out as shitty as it could be, no denying in saying that, I have friends on both the ends, but a friendly advice would be to redevelop it. If one functions on CMS and faces contractual disputes, who will take the accountability? 

Engineering Council was nevertheless, ever imagined from my end. I never thought a council would come to assess individuals, and even if it did, I didn't imagine it to have a biased agenda. 

PAST 

The Year 2011, was one of its kind. It was the year when they made it mandatory for all, to use Fe500 and not Fe415. Now, if someone is an expert in earthquake engineering or earthquack engineering, one would have his or her own opinions, good or bad, I am in no position to pass judgement. However, it was also the year that only four of us came back as government scholarship students in civil engineering, and there were 40 or so, civil engineers from College of Science and Technology. In total, we were barely 50, who were funded by government, but there were also others, who had privately studied or had gone on different scholarships. Maybe, we were around 100 or so, and that was the largest number of engineers Bhutan saw for the first time. Yes, 100 was too many for some parties that in the year 2011, it was also decided that an engineer should require minimum of three years of experience to sign on any structural drawings. Later years, I found out that it was written two years and marketed as three years. As arcane as it was, I never understood why only for structural drawings? Back then, I needed guidance, I thought maybe I shouldn't be allowed to sign anything for initial two or three years, until I was taught about everything that involved money: but that's the beauty of engineering and contracts, when you are ignorant, whimsically, you can be used by your seniors as supports to fire their guns. Before 2011, market only saw civil engineers lesser than 100 in number, because government scholarships didn't exceed 10 numbers, CST didn't produce more than 30 and there were lesser people who pursued engineering privately, (I do not have data for this).

Back then, out of four of us, only one wrote civil service examination and most of us waited for Hydro Project Authorities to flood their slots, and some joined private sector. But during those days, when 15 slots were announced, only nine people showed up for job interviews, and some electricity companies black listed us for leaving for better pastures: damn HRs, every HR knows that they don't have any job, but since they have to deal with people, they pretend to have some job and rub it off on others, like they owned the company. Now I am in no mood to sermonize everything that comes on my mind, eventually, until and unless we own something, we are all bunch of proletariats. None trolled the Insurance companies like engineers did back then, as few even took appointment letters and left for their core jobs: this explains that not everybody wants to be connoisseurs, there are still people who wish to do things fervently.   

PRESENT 

Previously if you crossed the 10 years experience mark, you scored full points in tender evaluation. Whensoever they menionted 15 years or Masters Degree required in specific fields for certain works, it was an open secret that those tenders were rigged. Now, as the majority of us hit the ten years mark, we hear about the council. It is like, we are being treated like some sort of herds from zombie apocalypse, that our gluttonous nature will consume everything that was protected, and that we are coming in large numbers?  

One of the sole reasons for the formation of Engineering Council, as mentioned is to assess and certify engineers so that they can practice engineering. I do not have problem on that, personally, why should we be scared? But, I doubt how fairly will it be done? We are a small community, and once we piss off someone, he or her friends might also attack us. The construction industry still functions upon word of mouth principle, if someone says you are a bad person, many will be reluctant to do business with you. This has always been there in private sector. However, the repercussions of failing their assessment will only be paid by the bread and butter of private sector people. Because, I reckon, if one fails the assessment, and if one is a corporate or civil servant, it will not hamper their careers: they of course have their friends to sign on their drawings. But, if a private guy flunks, he cannot sign and we are not sure when he can sit for the next assessment, but those months of he not being able to sign, will directly affect his belly with water and air. It was also mentioned that senior engineers, will be given one-time entry without assessments. An arcane ruse our naked eyes will not see? Already the market is flooded with many engineers that some of them have taken up odd manual jobs, and those employed are paid as low as 13k to 15k (diploma) and 14k to 20k (degree) per month, the younger generation of engineers will face the brunt of not being assessed. If this assessment has the same factor of 2011, i.e., minimum years of requirement to sit for this assessment, then god bless those fresh graduates – a big canon is fired toward the unarmored herd. Why not make everybody sit for assessment if that is the case. I have met engineers bragging about 25 years of experience with no prior knowledge of conditions of contract or site execution. Just wanted to witness the chair though, because that many years, at least friction must have worked on that chair, I thought.

Engineering is a diverse field, and we cannot judge people now. We lack the number in market and we seriously won’t have time. Who will leave their works, study and prepare for assessments, and if his luck runs out, be bombarded by the group of people whom he had recently fought with? It was said that site people will be evaluated with site knowledge. But how can one define site knowledge? There will be engineers who can work better with line and level, who can push works at site with labourers but might not have degree or masters, how can a master’s guy with no site experience evaluate him? There might be few engineers who have masters in structural engineering and they may not be in position to come up with a complete set of drawings? There must be few water resources engineers but must have never practiced! If one doesn’t get a project, one doesn’t learn.

The second reason is for integrity and code of conduct. Ever since I have switched the table, I have been observing a lot of people and their notions towards contractors and engineers of contractors. The glass through which these personnel are judged are very much murky, tainted by preconceived notions of being corrupt and thieves. But, it is interesting to find out how government people look down upon private sector people and how private sector people are told not to work like government people. It is same in every nation I reckon. However, when it comes to the virtues of integrity and code of conduct, I always supported moonlighting, in fact if someday I become a Member of Parliament, I will propose this to be legalized. A, because we are lesser in number. B, why make people waste their times when they can earn extra bucks to make their lives better. I do not have problem with government engineers taking up design works, the construction industry is an ocean, the designers only can take few barrels of that ocean. If any civil servant wishes to work on designing that is better, because they are trained well and have better access to facilities that we private sector people do. That is not compromising integrity, that is working for oneself. Compromising integrity is when one does not pass someone’s drawings, because one has the authority and sees opportunity upon someone’s work. Now, it becomes a very funny affair when one tries to sermonize upon one’s flimsy integrity and code of conduct, when one has intended to falter someone’s job. Integrity is more than having a chair at some fancy office, just because one works for an organization doesn’t mean that a person has more integrity than the ones who didn’t get that job. If positions and designations described our ethics and integrity, then we wouldn’t have heard the old tales of corrupt officials.

The third lame reason I felt was that the data of engineers are not available. This is more embarrassing to hear, because as a Ministry, not having data – I do not have comments on that. However, I just registered myself for CDB recently and there are around 205 engineers all over Bhutan, who in person, visited CDB and signed their letters of commitment. There are more engineers, but only 205 of us have registered, and there too, they have not considered ECE, CSE, Minining, etc., as engineering. I do not have resources like some of the offices, but it took only one click to visit CDB site. My kudos to CDB for their wonderful job, to curb with the problem of ghost engineers.

FUTURE 

My stand on the council is not opposing its formation, who am I but just a law abiding citizen. I never wished to be branded as a renegade of any organization, nor do I seek hatred from few. After all, if I flunk assessment time and again, because I wrote something on the internet, I will also be having more materials to write jokes about. I however, wish that it will be more fair, without corruption, without nepotism and without favoritism, and of all, with a fixed syllabus. We should understand that there are disputes while executing contracts because not everyone thinks a like, and it is also funny to learn that not many will know how to derive factors or percentages to deduct mobilization advances, something simple like that. Or, that many fail to understand interpolation of data, that they always thought that mean or median will always be their last resort. How can we expect everybody to know about deriving equipment hourly charges, when we have all been part of using wrong data? How can one assess when we all are learning?

Let there not be events when smooth talkers have more certificates than their credentials.

The engineering field is for aficionados and not for connoisseurs. Both are alike, just that one has the passion, other one doesn't. The only time nados are appreciated.

I however envisage that engineering council will come to guide us in private sector, because unlike other sectors, people in our sector do not get trainings abroad, so all they can do is google or youtube those pavement or drains and design for our local use. We might not have the benefits of seeing the latest developments in person around the globe, or might not have access to better software or apps, that we might have all been scavenging and surviving on pirated copies. A council that discusses and paves our journey forward, a council that encourages general practices, a council that guides younger generation, a council that facilitates short term trainings for quality assurances, a council that reminds repercussions of negligence in engineering, a council that sets norms so that government doesn’t lose money, a council that uplifts private sector engineers to collaborate better, a council that helps reduce disputes at site, a council that helps in correcting coefficients in BSR, a council that protects victimized engineers, a council that protects unpaid employees, is far more expected than a council that pressurizes the younger generation, shames the folks who flunk assessments and gives green passes to the already uplifted senior folks.

Because, in the end, Karl Terzaghi was a mechanical engineer, now known as father of soil mechnics. Tadao Ando was a boxer, now a famous architect. And Chetan Bhagat was a, well, never mind. 

Ps: My personal opinion.

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