Engineers rarely engage in press debates about anything.
But news of buildings collapsing and killing fellow Kenyans every other month and lamentations from concerned citizens as to whether those in the engineering construction sector have any conscience means urgent action is needed.
Anyone with engineering papers is jointly liable, through their joint or individual action or inaction. For engineers, the construction industry is the final visible phase of all those rigorous design calculations and drawings checked and counter-checked by consultants working quietly in backrooms.
It is the marketing face of the profession, which describes to the public what engineers do. It is what a student sees and decides that “when I grow up, I want to become an engineer”.
The best engineers must be deployed in construction and not in consultancy as is the case now. Kenyan engineers have their strategy upside down!
We as a profession somehow decided engineering construction is not as important as engineering consultancy. We set up a registration system whereby everyone is invited to be an engineering contractor.
As a result, most of those making engineering decisions (such as the bearing capacity of a foundation, amount of cement in a concrete mix, spacing of reinforcement, time for curing) are not qualified.
Morally and legally, such fans of engineering construction take no responsibility for their actions or inactions. Don’t even bother looking for them when a building collapses. Yet it is not lack of qualified manpower... we produce, at a very expensive price to the taxpayer, about 500 graduate engineers from our universities every year.
Where do these bright young engineers, the cream of our education system end up?
When I last visited Dar es Salaam in 2005, every construction site, even the putting up of a fencing wall or partitioning a building indicating the plot number, the date of approval of the building project, the name of the architect, structural engineer and other professionals on site and the name of the contractor on site.
Every time the municipal authorities visited the site and found that the publicity board hadn’t been yet put up, an automatic fine, the equivalent of Sh150,000 was levied on the contractor. Why have we failed to implement some of these best practices to save lives?
Ambrose Waswa, Consulting Engineer, Nairobi.