Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bin Laden, Noam Chomsky and Climate Change

If there is anything common between Osama bin Laden and Noam Chomsky, it is their criticism of American imperialism across the world. Only that bin Laden is waging the battle in the deserts, while Chomsky is battling it out in the intellectual sphere.

Unlike his normal religious calls for Jihad, Bin Laden blamed America and the West's industrialisation for causing climate change. In addition, with reference to Chomsky, he portrayed US foreign policy as that of the policies of Mafia. Maybe this was a reference to what Chomsky said back in November 2009.

Also, Bin Laden attacks at the heart of American imperialism by calling to get rid of the US dollar as a reserve currency. Maybe he supports a Gold Standard, whereby politicians and their cronies cannot control the supply of money at their whims. Interestingly, such gold standards are advocated by Islamic organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and also by the Far Right.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Breaking a cartel

In a previous post I mentioned about the problems with the current NBPAR regulations as implemented by Ministry of Housing, Transport and Environment

The regulation effectively creates a cartel of engineers, called 'Professional Engineers', who get special privileges in the building approval process. The problems associated with this system has been mentioned in my previous post linked above.

Luckily, the Ministry has listened to opponents of such a regressive scheme. As such, during a meeting (between practising engineers and MHTE) in late September 2009, I submitted a paper (with input from like-minded engineers) outlining an alternative proposal. The changes are proposed in such a way to remove the unfair advantages the PE gets and to prevent the marginalisation of the new and upcoming engineers. The paper is produced below:
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ALTERNATIVE PROPOSAL FOR BUILDING APPROVAL

1. Introduction

The current system of building approval, where MHTE undertakes the structural checking of the said buildings has been in place for many years. Recently, in early 2009, MHTE introduced NBPAR (National Building Professionals Accreditation Regulation). Under this regulation, an accreditation scheme was created, where practitioners with selected qualifications were given the accreditation. Currently, there is a single category called A1- Professional Engineer, or PE.

Buildings designed or checked and stamped by a PE do not undergo any further structural checks at MHTE. As such, the overall building approval process is greatly expedited. What is left is municipal and planning regulation checks, which are undertaken by the local authority (such as Male' Municipality and HDC).

2. Problems with NBPAR

There are serious issues with the existing NBPAR regulation, and the accompanying building approval system relating to PE. Major issuess are listed below:

1) The experience requirement for qualifying for a PE is very stringent, and favors the already established and experienced engineers. The criteria given is quoted below (NBPAR, p23):
  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.

2) Criteria 1(c) is applicable to year 2009 only. This is the only practical mechanism in the regulation to enable new engineers to qualify for PE. By restricting the criteria to year 2009, practicing engineers who attain 7 year experience in 2010 or there-after is not eligible. As a result, they will have to pursue another three years working under a PE as stipulated in 1(b).

3) Criteria 1(b) makes it impractical for new practitioners to work under a PE. In addition, the scope of working under is not clearly defined. It is not apparent whether this means the new engineer has to be employed by a PE, or the PE has to supervise the work of the new engineer, or PE should be stamping the works of the new engineer.

4) Criteria 1(a) is obviously made to favor engineers working or who already has worked at MHTE.

5) A PE can stamp his own structural drawings. Given that there are approximately 15 engineers who qualify for PE, the result is that a handful of PEs get a disproportionate advantage as their submissions are expedited. As a result, new engineers are unable to find work and are legislated out of the market. This reduces competition and ultimately will result in higher costs and lower quality of output in the industry. It is understood that reducing the number of suppliers stifles competition, and ultimately results in lower quality and higher costs.

6) The NBPAR regulation has no parent Act or law. Hence it is unconstitutional.

7) The NBPAR regulation does not have any requirement for site supervision experience. Site experience assists in making practical design decisions. Technically, an engineer designing for years in office, without any site visits can become a PE under the current regulation.

3. Proposed alternative

This alternative mechanism for building approval rests on the following principles:
1. A better informed client base provides considerable market-based regulation, hence the regulatory body can utilise this mechanism.

2. The regulatory body should work in the interest of the general public. All regulators should consider the economic costs incurred by the public. It is a right of the public to choose who they hire for their projects, and should be given relatively free choice in this. Overly restrictive regulations are counter productive.

Based on the above principles, we propose the following amendments to the NBPAR regulations:
1. A PE should not be able to stamp his own drawings. It should be stamped by another PE. Non-PE engineers can get the drawings stamped by a PE. Existing procedure of non-stamped submissions should also be retained. This reduces the problems of item 5 as stated in section 2.

2. Loosen up the experience requirement for PE qualification. Our suggestion is 3 years of design and site supervision experience. No distinction should be made between engineers 'working under' a PE and those who are not. No special provision required for engineers who worked at MHTE.

3. Significantly reduce the fees charged by Male' Municipality, though technically this is not part of NBPAR. This is because, additional stamping will incur additional costs to the public and also this reduces the workload of the regulatory body. Hence it is advisable to reduce these fees charged by the regulatory body.

4. Design engineer shall be responsible for the design (whether signed by another PE or not).

Also of note:
1. The above mechanism can also be adopted for checking compliance to architectural or planning regulations.
2. In cases where a design is not compliant to the regulations (but was designed and stamped), the designer and/or stamping professional can be penalized via temporary revoke of license or other suitable penalties.
3. Parent law or Act for the regulation has to be enacted.
4. As the ultimate responsibility for regulating still rests on the government, the regulatory body should undertake random checks of the stamped drawings,
5. A well informed public plays an extremely important role in a productive industry. It is better to spend the resources on increasing public awareness, than creating overly restrictive and regimented sets of regulations. This protects the rights of the public and preserves the competitive spirit of the market, which ultimately will result in better services.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Government's Religious Policy

Last night on TVM program 'Q&A with Miqdad', the SMS question (paraphrased) was:
Are you satisfied with the government's religious policy? yes/no
On one side was MoIA minister Dr. Abdul Majeed, MP Ahmed Rasheed. On the other side was MP Dr. Afrasheem and MP Mutthalib. With lots of attacks and counter-attacks from both sides (and Miqdad unable to moderate), the show had to be abruptly stopped without any concluding remarks, because they ran out of time.

Before answering the above question, one must consider another crucial question. What could a government's policy towards religion be in the first place? There are three possiblities:
1. President himself becomes the supreme authority on religion. He decrees what is and what is not allowed as per his interpretation of religion.
2. A group of scholars is selected to be the authority on religion (MoIA/Fiqh Academy).
3. Government gets out of the business of being the authority on religion

Option 1 has been tried during the Maumoon regime, where he cuts and molds religion to his discretion. Religion was being used as a political tool for controlling the population. Obviously, only Maumoon and his cronies who got control were happy with the policy.

Option 2 is the current one that is being tried. A selected group of people (Adhaalath) party has the current monopoly over MoIA. A lot of people are satisfied with this policy. This was clearly seen in the SMS results for last night with ~70% voting yes. But the MoIA has been criticised from both ends of the spectrum (liberal/modernist to conservative/'extremist'). I wonder how many of the supporters of the current policy will feel when and if MoIA is monopolised by some people who they don't like (perhaps Afrasheem & co, the Dots or any other).

The third option has not been tried. Both option 1 and 2 make everyone else follow the whim of the one in authority, whether they like it or not. Everyone is clearly aware of the corruption and nastiness of the political game. Is it not time that we evaluate a policy where religion is not left to the whims of the politicians? Religion is too important to be given to politicians to be made a weapon of mass control.