Engage engineers in counties to register meaningful change

A section of Thiba Mega Dam project in Kirinyaga County which is under construction. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

President William Ruto addressed Kenyans on January 4, 2023 on a wide range of issues. This address clarified the inner thinking of the government and the plans it has on issues affecting Kenyans.

This is commendable and I hope it continues so that Kenyans are constantly aware of the government's programmes on matters affecting them.

Engineers keenly followed the address. On energy cost, the president indicated that the government will interrogate the issue with a view to retiring expensive sources of energy.

More focus will be put in building three transmission lines and investment in green energy.

It is important to point out that Kenya has a huge geothermal potential that remains unexploited. This is one way of tapping the energy reserves to ensure that there is cheap power for commercial, residential and industrial use.

Energy is a key ingredient in manufacturing. Lowering the cost of energy will eventually lower the cost of production and will encourage more foreign direct investments as the production costs will be lower. This is also an important step to lower the cost of living.

Industrialisation is key to economic development. As a country, we should aim at exporting finished products, not raw products. While noting that the percentage share of industrialisation on our GDP went down from 9 per cent to 7 per cent, the president promised to grow it to 20 per cent by 2030. This is achievable.

Engineers are key players in this and it is our belief that manufacturing and value addition through agro-processing should be a key focus for our country as this has potential to create job opportunities.

On agriculture, the president came out clear on the aspect of increasing food production through investment in agriculture.

This includes providing inputs like seeds and fertiliser to be our farmers. That said, it is also important to embrace large-scale farming as opposed to subsistence farming.

It is possible to invest in mechanisation and produce more. This way food will be available for domestic use and for export. Kenya can produce enough food to feed herself and the Horn of Africa that still imports food from as far as Russia and Ukraine.

Engineers will play their role in this government initiative through the construction of dams and water pans for water storage that can be used for irrigation. It is now clear that rain-fed agriculture will not meet our food demand.

The president committed to digitise all government business in six months. This is laudable. With mobile penetration at 61 per cent, Kenya stands to gain with more digitisation of government services.

There was a whole lot of difference when I took my passport in 2010 and when I renewed it last year. The same is experienced when applying for the renewal of the driving licence. There is no reason citizens should queue for services that can be accessed online.

Unfortunately, some counties have deliberately collapsed the online building approval system. This greatly frustrates engineers as well as developers.

This is a way of ensuring that corruption thrives as money changes hands during the manual submission of development plans for approval. We urge all the counties to embrace online approval process for buildings.

Education also featured in the president's address. The investment in TVETs is welcome. More training of technicians who can be deployed to address our vast infrastructure needs is critical.

Funding is required to achieve this. We need to train more engineers and technicians. It is important that sufficient internship opportunities are created for engineers and technicians.

There should be budget allocation to allow all the engineering entities in private and public sector to attach a number of graduates for a hands-on training. This will grow the much-needed human capital. The government should also amend the Engineers Act 2011 so that there is only one body regulating engineering in Kenya.

The current situation where engineers and technicians are regulated by different bodies is not tenable. It is a good move that Executive Order No. 1 of 2023 transferred the regulation of technicians from the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Infrastructure.

Last, there are many engineers who are unemployed. Engineering takes five years to train at university and when engineers are not employed, this is a great resource going to waste. It is important that the government absorbs all engineers in national and county governments.

It is sad that counties continue to approve buildings without requisite licenced professional engineers in their employment who can ascertain that the designs being approved are sound.

Collapse of buildings is a menace that can be stopped by all counties employing licenced engineers to ensure safety.

The government should also create opportunities for engineers willing to work in foreign countries. Some countries, especially in the West, have skills shortfall while in Kenya many engineers are jobless. Through engaging these countries, Kenyan engineers should be able to relocate to work in these countries that have opportunities but no workers.