Thursday, July 23, 2009

Will the real engineer please stand up!

As I mentioned in a prevoius post, various regulations are being proposed and enacted in relation to the building design sector.

One of these recent regulations that has come into effect is the National Building Professional Accreditation Regulation(NBPAR), which is available for download (direct pdf link).

Basically, the regulation proposes to 'accredit' professionals (architects, engineers, surveyors etc) who works in the design sector. The accreditation being that, certain selected professionals get special privileges, such as being allowed to undertake the design of larger projects, or special treatment during normal government approval process.

Normally, if a client wants to design his house or any building, he hires an architect or engineer. There are registered architects and engineers who are allowed to sign the relevant municipal documents, which is based on having a certain level of academic qualification. This regulation is fine and good. Having completed the design, the client (or on his behalf the designer) submits the drawings to the municipality, which then checks (for municipal, planning and structural compliance) and gives a building permit. This process usually takes about two months.

The currently active NBPAR regulation creates a category of engineers called 'Professional Engineers'. These PEs have magic stamps bearing their names. When these PEs stamp their drawings, the municipality do not check the drawings for structural compliance, and the approval is given after municipal and planning checks. Hence the process is very much expedited. The idea being that, these PEs are experienced enough that no further structural check is required by the authorities.

Which is fine and dandy, until one looks at the criteria for being eligible to become a PE. In Category A1 - Accredit Professional Engineer, the experience requirement given on page 23 states that:
The experience required for registration of an applicant shall be either one of the following requirements.
a) a minimum of 3 years of structural engineering design experience relevant to building work across an appropriate range of buildings out of which a minimum of 2 years of working experience as a structural checker in a relevant government authority OR

b) a minimum of 4 years of structural engineering design experience relevant to building work across an appropriate range of buildings out of which a minimum of 3 years of working experience under a certified professional engineer registered in this Regulation, subject to the Registrar’s approval OR

c) a minimum of 7 years of structural engineering design experience relevant to building work across an appropriate range of buildings subject to the Registrar’s approval.

Note: Under the Experience requirement for the registration of professional engineers, clause (c) is only applicable for the year 2009.
Item (a) is a clause put in to give PE status to existing civil/structural engineers who are working at municipality or construction ministry.

Item (b) is not applicapable as this enforcement of this regulation has just started this year. There is NO one who has 6 months (let alone 3 years) working under a PE.

Item (c) applies to most new engineers, but states 7 years, which is an overly long duration AND it applies to year 2009 only. This means any engineer whose experience reaches 7 years in 2010 or thereafter is not eligible! He has to go back to either (a) or (b).

And no, (b) just does not work in the real world. What it says is that one has to work under a PE for 3 years atleast. I know in developed countries charter-ship and the like are given after working under chartered engineers. But here in Maldives, there are very few opportunities, and the industry is very young. Fresh engineers will not get opportunities to work for existing PEs, and the PEs wont be able to hire that many new engineers as well. Most of the new engineers will have to freelance (as they currently do). Hence (b) cannot produce more PEs.

Hence, anyone who currently qualifies for PE (be it via a, b or c) gets the PE status and very few if any new PEs will be produced. And the PE are given special privilages during checks by authority, and hence they are able to grab more clients. The new graduates won't get the chance, as they don't have these privileges.

It is sad that these regulations are actually benefitting the ones who already have a competitive advantage due to experience and reputation. Some notable engineers have raised issue with using the world 'professional'. They say, it has a specific meaning in the world industry and what we are doing is diluting that name. This I agree. But we have a much bigger problem with the regulation, which unfortunately these prominent engineers are oblivious to, since they themselves qualify for PE. Currently about five or six engineers have taken the magic stamp.

More and more engineers are taking the magic stamp, and it will be even more difficult to revert this regulation. Some PEs now agree that the regulation is biased in their favour, though not enough to work to revert or atleast ammend the regulation.

I personally do qualify for PE status, but so far I have not taken the magic stamp. However, lot of people are asking me "Are you a PE?", and gives funny looks when I say I have not applied. I try to explain the reason why. Obviously, the clients prefer PEs as they can get drawings approved quicker. But if this continues for too long, I might have no choice but do as the saying says:
If you can't beat them, join them!

Monday, July 13, 2009

on liberty and freedom

The recent ban of Airtel has resulted in a bit of a backlash towards MoIA and Adhaalath party. Lots of people have been condemning the ban.

Most of the objections have been due to the fact that Airtel is quite popular among the Maldivians and is being used by a lot of people. It is far cheaper and has more channels than the local cable providers. As such, the religious reasons given could be just an excuse to disguise the behind the scene lobby efforts by the existing cable providers.

But the funny thing is, there will be no public revolt when the government blocks a website, or bans something used by a few people. A ban is a ban, whether it is of a popular item or not. As such, the real question is, do we really want the government telling us what can and cannot be used by us? Have we already given up our liberty and freedom, so that some of them can be given back to us piece by piece by the state? Or are we born free with freedom of thought and expression?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Protective tariffs and taxes

A journalist Jameel who owns a local print newspaper and farmer Fareed who grows watermelon for a living were talking in a local cafe' about their life and work. They were joined by mutual friend Mohamed who sells music CDs at a local corner shop.

Jameel: Fareed, how is your farming business? I hope it will be good since Ramazan is near.

Fareed: Not too bad, but I am finding fewer and fewer buyers each day. Last ramazan was worse than the previous one. Not sure if this ramazan will be any better.

Mohamed: How so? People still do eat watermelons, especially during ramazan!

F: The imported watermelons are eating into my revenue. They are cheaper than the ones I grow.

J: I am having some problems too. Few people are buying my newspaper, despite more marketing and improved content. All they want to do is surf the net and maybe read some news here and there in blogs. It is putting mine and other newspapers out of business. I have an online version of my paper too, but people link to me without permission!

M: Same here. Not many people buy the CDs now. They would rather download from iTunes or over torrent. But I am not standing still! I am doing something about it!

F & J: Doing what?

M: I am proposing a bill via my MP to put a tax on internet traffic. That way people who use more bandwidth will be taxed more, part of which will be used to subsidize the CDs. It will prevent businesses from bankrupting and causing unemployment.

J: Thats interesting. I could use a similar tax. A tax on blogs and news aggregators. In addition, I am going to propose linking without permission as copyright infringement.

F: You guys are brilliant! I can use your ideas to propose high import taxes on watermelons. And chilli, lemon and mangoes too, because I am actually growing those too.

Jameel and Mohamed didn't appear too happy.

J: Fareed, but that will increase my living costs. And I eat a lot of chilli too!.

M: Yeah thats not fair Fareed.

F: But in my farming island, there is no shop where I can buy music CDs or newspaper. I love music, but my only choice is downloading from iTunes. I have to read news and watch videos on the internet especially on youtube. So my internet traffic is quite high.

M: But I am doing this to protect jobs.

F: Me too.

J: Come to think of it, I also use a lot of internet traffic in my newspaper business. I don't download any music. So I don't think its fair to tax us.

F: Maybe these taxes are not a good thing then.

J: I think so too.

M: I agree.

Thus ended the arguments about protective taxes. One would think that such stupid laws don't float around in the political sphere. But no, there are people who are seriously suggesting to bar linking and paraphrasing to copyrighted material and taxing internet.

Such laws only serves the interest of the lobby groups at the expense of everyone else. These laws invade the privacy and freedoms of individuals. It is sad to see that everywhere, the laws are more about controlling every aspect of our lives from what you wear, what you eat, where you go, what you read and what you believe.