“Writers don’t give prescriptions. They give headaches!” ? Chinua Achebe
By Achola kevin
On Tuesday March 24th 2015, the Engineers board of Kenya (EBK) launched a five-year strategic plan and a new logo. The strategic plan is to cover five years between 2014 and 2019. EBK launched the document in the second year of the plans’ operational year and gives more promises and aspirations than practical operations, which by its reckoning should have started and given some results already.
Eng. Michael Kamau launched the Engineers Board of Kenya 2014 to 2019 strategic plan and the new logo at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre. This was before he stepped aside from the cabinet later in March to pave way for investigations into allegations of corruption levelled against him.
He said, “The 2014-2019 strategic plan is therefore expected to marshal human, financial and other resources in the provision of regulatory services to the engineering industry”. This presents the document more as a future aspiration than as an operational document intended to operationalize the functions of EBK. The document is thus a plan per say- and not a guide in operations.
The Permanent secretary for Infrastructure Eng. John K. Musonik also present in the function however said, “The strategic plan has been developed in order to operationalize the functions of Engineers Board of Kenya following the enactment of the engineers act, 2011”. This gives the view that it is an action document and since it covers from 2014, then it has been guiding the board for a year now with tangible results. Maybe the document is not a chimera but a dialectical proposal.
In the document, some of the performance indicators for year one include 1800 registered graduate engineers, 180 professional registered engineers, 45 new consulting engineers, 10 consulting firms registered. All these were to be achieved within 2014. This was ambitious considering the history of engineering personnel registration in Kenya. The numbers as indicated on EBK pull out on daily nation of 24th March shows that the country currently, 2015, has 7222 graduate engineers, 1531 professional engineers and 337 consulting engineers.
The numbers given on the strategic plan however show that as of December 2013 we had 1697 professional engineers. On analysis, this indicates a reduction of 166 and not an increase of 180 for professional engineers during the first year of the strategic plan. The strategic plan also shows that as at December 2013 we had 327 consulting engineers. This shows a growth of 10 engineers and not 45 as aspired for the first year.
If the board should be judged on numbers and its performance indicators then it could score 22% on consulting engineers and we will be hard-pressed to accommodate the debacles on the other performance indicators. Perhaps we should look to find someone or something to blame in the face of the continued dismal performance. The Chinese, an act of parliament, funds or corruption… perhaps? Many said a new act was the solution to all the incompetence of the defunct Engineers Registration Board (ERB). Four years with new act, nothing much seems to be changing.
In the face of these crunching realities the draft strategic plans reads like a 80s document in 2015. It is like a dinosaur in the Light Fidelity age moreover it gets its inspiration from the 80s. It says in section 6.2. “The recommended option for funding the training of engineers is to impose a levy on all capital development/infrastructure as was successfully done in the training of the hospitality industry. Through the catering levy, Kenya has been able to develop more than adequate local personnel that have replaced the 1980s predominant expatriate personnel in the hotel industry.”
“Indeed, while Kenya started producing graduate engineers long before Tanzania, currently Tanzania has more than 4 times locally registered engineers as compared to Kenya due to a well structured and funded graduate engineers internship programme” the document adds. One could observe that while we were busy creating cooks our neighbours were designing engineers.
The board would do engineers more justice to compare them to doctors specifically and not caterers. Seeing, as it is that the board has chosen caterers then albeit there is a problem for sure. How are the doctors coping in Kenya then? There are four main medical training institutions for doctors in Kenya. These include Nairobi, Moi, Kenyatta and Egerton universities.
University of Nairobi (UoN) is one of the two training schools for dentists and has been the main trainer of doctors with about 90% of them as UoN alumni. From the first year of college to the final year of internship, it takes about 7 years for one to become a doctor. I daresay that should be the same as the time required for an engineer too. This is because both are entrusted with life and the training for both is a similar mixture of science theory and practice.
While the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board (KMPDB) has registered over 8000 medical doctors and dentists over the past years according to the Pan-African medical Journal, the engineers board has not matched up. From 2003 – 2007, Kenya trained 1,271 doctors and 120 dentists, an average of 254 medical doctors and 25 dentists annually. Current conversion and registration rates from graduates to practising doctors are even more efficient, better structured and rewarding. Backed by a proper trade union the Kenya Medical Practitioners’ Pharmacists, and Dentists Union (KMPDU), and a competent registration board the doctors are making leaps and bounds that can only be dreamed of by engineers for now.
The introduction of medical programmes at Egerton, Kenyatta and Maseno Universities will also enhance Kenya’s training capacity for medical professionals. Additionally, a total of 175 doctors and 22 dentists trained outside of Kenya were added to the registry between 2003 and 2007, an average of 35 doctors and 4 dentists per year.
Doctors once a fledgling lot woke up from their lackadaisical attitude, they have currently taken charge of the health care sector and are working in a steadfast manner toward attaining the desirable number of doctors for the Kenyan population. The recommended World Health Organisation doctor to patient ratio is 1 in 1000. We are unlikely to see the Chinese take over the healthcare system of our country or any other foreigners, neither will we see them advocating and battling with foreigners for ring fencing legislations of certain medical works to be saved for them.
“Bolstering the numbers, Graduate Engineering Internship programmes (GEIP)”
According to the daily nation pull out of March 24th “EBK is in the process of establishing a structured graduate engineers internship programme to enhance employment rate for graduate engineers, thereby removing the barrier to obtaining practical experience “
The first time this was introduced was more than half a decade ago; the statement was as it is today only that the board had a different name, ERB not EBK. Moreover, the engineers’ act 2011 had not come into force. Half a decade later, after a name change and a logo revision, the rhetoric’s have stayed the same. Over the years, different reasons have been given for failure of the system, from technical hitches with the website to court cases.
It is very sorry indeed that within this new unveiled document there are excuses already why this internship program will never take off anytime soon. The plan says a levy will be used to fund the internship program. “With a levy of only 1% on capital/infrastructure projects cost, Kenya would be able to meet the graduate engineers internship costs both for the current number that is unregistered and future engineering graduates of all disciplines. If 0.5% levy is imposed, the amount raised would be adequate to fund graduating engineering graduates while government directly funds the internship of the current backlog of the unregistered engineers,” reads part of the plan.
The plan estimates that the levy will see EBK collect KES 11,935,470.5 in the next five years to cover the training of 9,900 graduate engineers on what, how, when or where nobody tells. This is besides other funds that may be obtained from World Bank. The very interesting chapter six reads “It is important to note that out of the total KES 12.2 billion required to achieve the Key Result Areas Cost (Strategic Plan Budget) (Annex 4), Kshs 11.2 billion (78%) is the amount required for internship for the graduate engineers and which is to be fully funded by the Government”.
The EBK strategic plan does not however define what these “capital/infrastructure projects” set to be levied upon are. However, “The board and the Institute of Engineers should undertake vigorous lobbying with government and MPs for imposition of the levy to ensure the country’s self-sufficiency in supply of professional engineers to meet development goals,” chapter six of the plan assures.
Other than this levy as an interesting proposition to collect monies, it says very little on how the money will be employed to benefit the graduates. Even a philanthropist will be very wary to hand anyone billions without having a clear plan on the utility of the money.
On the thorny matter of accreditation, the plan is mum. The document only defines in chapter five what EBK does in their accreditation department and promises to continue doing what it does. The document is silent on how EBK will relate with the Commission for University Education (CUE). It is noteworthy that CUE has continued to accredit different engineering programs that EBK deem unworthy to produce engineers. This has and continues to cause tension and havoc in different institutions of higher learning.
The document seems to be focused only on infrastructure and consulting for infrastructural development however engineering is broader than this. To develop engineering in Kenya as is mandated in the engineers’ act, 2011 for EBK, the vision for the board must be broader than this.
It is told by Chuang-tzu that, a frog lived down in a well where there was all he had to live. One day, a soft-shelled turtle came by and told him about the sea. ‘The sea? Hah! It is paradise in here. Nothing can be better than this well. Why don’t you come down and share my joy?’ The frog boasted in his splendour.
The turtle tried, but failed, as the mouth of the well was too small. ‘Why don’t you go see the sea instead? During Yu the greats’ reign, there was flooding for nine out of ten years, yet the sea barely grew an inch. During Tang of Shang’s reign, droughts were experienced in seven out of eight years, yet the sea hardly shrank. Being unaffected by such disasters is the joy of living in the sea.’