Royalton Dilemma… Picking Up the Pieces

The Daily Gleaner headlines of May 11, 2016, screamed “A Royal Mess”, and just  below another tag “Engineering company not registered”. Continue reading

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Heritage Preservation MEP Engineering, the Missing Link

I was invited to visit the head offices of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, specifically to carry out a pre-proposal inspection.  Having previously worked on the renovation of the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity located in Kingston, I have a particular passion for historical buildings and their preservation. Hence, my answer to the request was a quick yes. Continue reading

Thinking Outside The Box

On June 2 I turned 51. Being that it was my birthday I left out a bit later than usual as I was not going directly into my Kingston office, but was instead heading to a meeting with a Government consultant who is working on the development of a new engineering workflow for a new government statutory body. Continue reading

The Engineers Role in Infrastructure Development

Engineers play a critical role in the development of any country’s infrastructure. Therefore, it is incumbent on society to maintain its engineering capacity to engender growth and economic prosperity. Continue reading

Substantiating the Value of Engineering

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Engineers are having great difficulty substantiating the value of proposed fees to potential clients. With more than twenty-two years in the business, I still face each request for a fee proposal with a certain amount of trepidation.  The million dollar question is will the client accept the proposal? This trepidation is born out of the fact that I may be forced to convince beyond a shadow of a doubt that the proposed service is value for money

Tertiary engineering education did not prepare me adequately for this reality, as my first few positions as an engineering graduate were far removed from the reality of business.  Would any one readily question GE about their value for money?  After all GE’s tag line was “We bring Good Things to Life”.  Goodyear Jamaica was the sole tyre manufacturer and as such could determine the price of their tyres, and the consumers was left with no choice but to purchase their brand or brands that they offered.  The Caribbean Cement Company was void of competition leaving  consumers with no choice.  The practicing consulting engineer on the other hand has to work in earnest to receive confirmation of an accepted proposal.

I have practiced my craft in several jurisdictions and the reality that I faced in each jurisdiction as a practicing consulting engineer is the same.  Multi-lateral agencies such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank, all have a healthy respect for the practice of engineering and the value an engineer brings to the projects they funded in the public sector.

The private sector on the other hand, is a different scenario, specifically in jurisdictions where regulation of the profession is not strictly enforced.  Jamaica, for example, has an Engineering Registration Act, the Professional Engineers Registration Act 1987.  The Republic of Trinidad & Tobago also has similar registration legislation, however, the enforcement in both jurisdictions is nothing compared to the requirements in Florida.  The Registration Board in Trinidad encourages citizens to use a Registered Engineer for construction design or works, but their legislation does not effectively prevent non-registered engineers from practicing.  The local authority does not insist on signed and sealed design documentation.  In Jamaica it is slightly different, as the Registration Board can prevent unlicensed engineers from practicing.  The problem is local authorities do not require mandatory signed and sealed construction design documentation.  This does not apply in Florida, where the signing and sealing of design documentation is stringently enforced.  Registration Boards in defined jurisdictions are mandated to ensure public safety from sub-par engineering designs and works.

Furthermore, apart from the  public safety issues, engineers add value, which is one of the most important intangible products. The homeowner whose cut-stone retaining wall failed the moment it was backfilled placed trust in his construction workers, void of a design executed and supervised by an engineer. This is just one such avoidable and costly catastrophe.  The operator at the water treatment plant whose plant suffered a total shutdown on a ground-fault failure event, because the electrical protective devices where not properly coordinated by an engineer, is yet another example.  The business owner, who having taken the decision to expand his operation and belated discovered that the cost of the electrical infrastructure needed to support this expansion is not affordable, as the earlier electrical distribution system was not designed by an engineer, but rather installed by an electrician devoid of expansion capacity.  Engineers bring value to the table by ensuring that designs have the necessary capacity for current and future needs. Thus the failure to use design professionals can be costly.

The number one barrier to accepting the necessity of engineering consultancy is the fee. Clients usually pay attention to the magnitude of the fee proposal and not the tasks as outlined in the proposal. A client’s first reaction to an engineering fee proposal many times is “This is expensive!”.  However, on careful analysis it becomes patently clear that the cost of using engineering services as a percentage of the project construction cost is a mere 4%.  The logical question that an engineer hopes a client would then ask is can I afford NOT to use this professional input?

Variations can and will occur on construction projects whether or not there is a professional engineering input.  However, the variations are significantly more costly to the client when incomplete designs are used in the absence of the required engineering services.  As a consequence clients are left with the only option of paying significant premiums during construction by way of variations.

Using consulting engineers from project conception to implementation gives clients the best value for money.

Is there a Shortage of Engineers in Jamaica?

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.Image

Chinese Investments – Roles of Construction Professionals

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Nain Early Childhood Institution, Nain St. Elizabeth

Fifteen years ago, and five hundred years after the arrival of Christopher Columbus on our shores, a second Spanish Invasion took place.  Five years before the start of the “invasion”, the country was warned about the impending investments, and that the pipeline was filling up at a rapid pace. The Minister of Development at the time, Dr. Paul Robertson was aptly titled Minister of the Pipeline.

The pipeline opened up, and the Spanish investment in the tourism sector started flowing like a river during a hurricane.  Sadly the expected economic impact did not materialize for the construction industry sector.  Architects, engineers, and quantity surveyors were left standing on the sidelines, not participating in this investment boom.

I am not sure what took place during the negotiation phase for these investments by the Government agencies and the Spanish investors, but a critical sector of the local construction industry was left behind, that is the architects, engineers, and quantity surveyors.  Ignoring the roles these construction professionals play in the local construction industry resulted in numerous accidents, such as collapsed slabs during the construction of these hotels.

Fast-forward to 2013 and the same mistake is about to take place unless the policy makers do and think otherwise, and more so respect the Laws of the land.  On the just concluded official visit to China by the Honourable Prime Minister, it was announced that the Chinese would be constructing two new infant schools, one in Tower Hill, in Kingston and the other in Morant Estate, St. Thomas.  These schools will be gifts to the Government and people of Jamaica.  The Press release from the Office of the Prime Minister stated inter alia:

“Under the agreement, the Chinese government will assist in constructing the classrooms, playing rooms, auxiliary rooms, outdoor corridors, outdoor playground and other facilities. The Chinese will also be responsible for the design of the project, supplying the necessary construction machinery, equipment, materials and dispatching the necessary number of Chinese technical personnel to Jamaica to organize construction.”

If one should take this announcement at its face value, then it would be safe to conclude that there is going to be absolutely no work for any Jamaican construction professionals, as the Chinese will be dispatching technical personnel to Jamaica to design and execute the construction.

When I read this I was appalled, because I wondered where are the Jamaican construction professionals in the scheme of things as it relates to both these schools, and the much bigger Logistics Hub investment?

Two out of the three named construction professionals are regulated in Jamaica under an Act of Parliament.  The architects are regulated under the Architects Registration Act 1987, which was amended in 2005 and the engineers under the Professional Engineers Registration Act 1987. These two Acts of Parliament require all architects and engineers intending on practicing in Jamaica to be registered and issued with a practicing certificate much the same way as doctors and attorneys-at-law.  The Quantity Surveyors are self-regulated through the Jamaica Institution of Quantity Surveyors.

Fifteen years ago, the construction professionals were left behind because these two Acts were in their infancy.  These two Acts are now considered mature and it is my hope that the two Boards entrusted with the Regulations and the Administration, act  accordingly in the public’s interest and of the professionals who they regulate.  After all, the Chinese are international investors, and we must ensure that they abide by the rules as laid down by our Sovereign Parliament.