While going through the Jamaican Daily Gleaner on Monday, March 10, 2014, an article caught my eyes, “Shortage of Engineers”. During the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee of the Jamaican Parliament on Tuesday, March 11, the Executive Director of the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), Denis Hickey stated that the agency was only able to spent $94M of the $600M allocated in the 2013-2014 budget, while at the same time paying well over $300M for salaries, wages, & administrative expenses. The question that crossed my mind is how are these two items linked?
TPDCo is primarily responsible for the development of tourism related infrastructure in the country and as such utilises the services of architects, urban planners, quantity surveyors, and engineers on a continuous basis. The Executive Director in his presentation to the Public Accounts Committee concluded that the agency lacks the capacity to execute its mandate effectively, hence the low project spend during the fiscal year, which works out to be 30 cents for each one dollar of input cost. The bottleneck created by the current Government of Jamaica Procurement Processes is also one of the biggest contributing factors. Therefore, the end result of this low project spend is the non-engagement of the requisite building/infrastructure professional services that is required to design and supervise the implementation of these projects.
Prior to the onset of the recession in 2008, most private engineering consulting firms were just barely surviving having not fully recovered from the financial sector crash of the late 1990s. The 2008 recession was the final nail in the coffin for most engineering firms. Coupled this fact with the decline in the mining and the manufacturing sectors of the economy, the migration of engineers, especially to Canada where the recession had minimal impact, further depleted the engineering capacity in the country. The policy-makers never saw this as something to worry about, as solving the country’s economic troubles took precedent.
Now we are at the point where the cry is engineers are short. However, what I do not hear is what are we going to do about it? Firstly, the policy makers must realise and have an appreciation that without indigenous engineers being at the core of any development model, the sustainability of the development model is at risk. Government agencies such as TPDCo and the National Water Commission, whose project financing is funded from dedicated sources, must be charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the country as a whole maintains its engineering capacity by keeping local engineering firms financial viable. Spending only 30% of its allocated budget, the TPDCo is moving in the wrong direction, especially in light of the fact that most building consulting firms are under severe financial pressure. National Water Commission sitting on its $5B K-Factor fund and not spending it effectively is also moving in the wrong direction. The only way an economy can grow is unless investment takes place. Building Engineering capacity takes time and is not achieved overnight. As such the Professional Engineers Registration Board (PERB) should be given the necessary resources to be the driver in rebuilding this capacity as Jamaica seeks finally to set its economy on the right path.