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Engineers sans logic

November 13, 2016


SCULPTOR Alexander Calder once said: “To an engineer, good enough means perfect. With an artist, there’s no such thing as perfect.” I wish engineers in Pakistan were more like artists, especially when it comes to winning the rightful share of engineers in projects and departments of national importance.

The Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) was established through the PEC Act 1976. The PEC has been mandated with the responsibility of regulating the engineering profession, including the registration of engineers and accreditation of engineering education, construction and consultancy sectors.

Recently the chairman of the PEC, in a letter to the prime minister, expressed the council’s misgivings on the appointment of non-engineers in government engineering departments in violation of the PEC Act. He stated that appointing a non-engineer as chairman of Wapda, someone responsible for undertaking projects worth billions, is contrary to the law as the position requires knowledge of engineering to discharge top management functions. In his letter the chairman cited other provincial and federal departments that had the same problem.

The letter barely caused any ripples; in fact, those privy to the workings of government would know that said letter might not even have been given to the prime minister by his secretary, who belongs to the fraternity of civil servants that is a beneficiary of the practice of ignoring engineers for appointment to pivotal positions.

Moreover, although the chairman might be making a valid point, the way he communicated his demand leaves a lot to be desired. The PEC charges exorbitant fees from contractors desirous of a licence to work in Pakistan, not to mention annual registration fees from engineers. But, when it comes to fighting for their rights, the chairman merely writes a poorly worded letter to the prime minister.

The engineering council is beset with problems.

A better approach would be to lobby for the issue in the media, among parliamentarians and even consider moving court if required. Such an effort requires genuine concern, which seems to be absent.

The PEC is run by engineers but sadly they don’t care to work for the betterment of engineers or the engineering sector; rather, they make rules that are discriminatory and difficult to understand. The PEC must put its own house in order before advising the prime minister about appointments to important positions in national organisations.

For instance, it is mandatory for contractors and operators undertaking any major engineering project in Pakistan to be registered with the PEC, but it takes months to register a new firm with the council. That too, only if one is constantly pursuing the case, otherwise your application might gather dust indefinitely in some the PEC office. Shortage of staff, red tape and general slackness hamper the workings of the PEC. Such delays are one reason why Pakistan is at number 144 in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index.

The provisions of the PEC Act are implemented via what are called engineering by-laws formed by the governing body in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 25 of the act. The governing body comprises 65 highly experienced engineers from various public and private departments across the country. However, these apparently very erudite individuals have formulated many rules that appear discriminatory and illogical.

As per one such rule, to be eligible for the title of professional engineer, an engineer’s experience is only counted from the date of his registration with the PEC. This is ridiculous to say the least, as registration with the PEC is just a formality. It does not add any value to the engineer in terms of knowledge; it is merely a formal procedure to enter the engineer’s name in the register maintained by the PEC against a fee. It is akin to stating that experience after a legitimately earned degree would only be counted from the date the degree holder got it attested from the Higher Education Commission.

This is even more outrageous when, according to PEC rules, anyone having completed his degree before March 2005 can directly register as a ‘professional’ engineer, whereas the poor souls who completed their engineering degree after 2005 are initially registered as ‘registered’ engineers and must wait five years before they can obtain the more prestigious title of ‘professional’ engineer — that too after passing an exam, which is not a condition for those who graduated before March, 2005. It appears that those who were framing these rules could not think beyond their nose as all of them had obviously graduated before 2005. The PEC by-laws are full of such inconsistencies.

Lastly, if 65 highly experienced engineers can come up with these sorts of decisions and frame such mind-boggling rules and regulations, then the honourable prime minister seems justified in keeping engineers away from decision-making roles.

The writer is a former civil servant.

Published in Dawn November 13th, 2016